Let a shared story emerge through your conversation

On Steve's Mind: a Newsletter

One of the main reasons we need to ditch the pitch is that our customers really don’t want to listen to us talking about ourselves. Customers are much more interested in talking about their own stories than they are interested in hearing the stories we tell about ourselves. How do you make your story relevant to a customer who is not predisposed to hearing it?

Your challenge when communicating with a customer is to evolve from “your story” and “my story” to “our story.” “Our story” is a shared story, in which your customer comes to see you as integral to her own story. Here are a few examples to help you envision the possibilities:

You are a financial advisor:

When your client thinks about “your story.”

Your customer thinks about just you, he thinks about your office, your credentials, and the products you sell.

When your client thinks about “our story.”

Your client thinks of his retirement, he can’t help but think of the plans and strategies you have created together, and of how your capabilities have made it all happen. The story of his retirement planning is a story in which both of you figure prominently.

You are a dentist who has just finished a long process of reconstructive implants for a patient:

When your patient thinks about “your story.”

The patient uses words like “proficient” and “highly satisfied” if someone asks him about you.

When your patient thinks about “our story.”

The patient is incredibly impressed with your skills, but when he talks of the experience with his friends, he talks about so much more, emphasizing the way you counseled him through the process and helped him make decisions about his best course of treatment.

The process of creating a shared story is straightforward but requires patience. As you have a conversation with your customer about her issues, you will inevitably find opportunities to bring small, relevant threads of your story into the conversation about your customer’s story.

Imagine that you sell software to large companies and, after a long, arduous sales process, you have a meeting with the company’s CEO to seal the deal. Despite the hours of technical conversations you have had with the company’s IT team, all the CEO wants to talk about is how important it is that you don’t miss the project’s deadline. It’s clear that the CEO has a story playing in his mind about the importance of finishing the project on time.

Instead of telling the CEO about your company’s technical prowess and listing out all of the features of your software, engage him in a conversation about the deadline, since he clearly wants to talk about it. As you show concern for his deadline issue, you can describe your company’s airtight project management process that will keep the project on track. Since he is hearing about your project management process in the context of a conversation he cares deeply about, he will likely see your abilities to manage the deadline as a solution to his issue. He will see you as a partner in helping him get the project done on time. He will have formed a shared story in his mind, in which your offering has become part of his personal narrative.

Ditch the Pitch Habits to help you Let a Shared Story Emerge

In our next two issues, we will explore two Ditch the Pitch Habits, along with their related practices, to help you Let a shared story emerge through your conversation. These habits are:

Ditch the Pitch Habit #5: Focus the conversation on your customer

Let’s spend more time talking about what our customers care about. This habit teaches you how to ensure that the conversation you have with your customer is about your customer, and not about you and your offerings.

Ditch the Pitch Habit #6: Don’t rush the story

It’s very easy to overwhelm a customer with too much information at one time. This habit teaches you how to build the shared story at an appropriate pace for your customer.

For the next two weeks, focus on the concept of shared story. Which of your customers sees your narrative as well-integrated with her own story? Which customers see themselves and their stories as completely disconnected from yours? When have you been particularly successful at creating a shared story with your customers?

Letting a shared story emerge through your conversation is an important step for ditching the pitch. The next two issues of this newsletter will focus on the habits above, and will help you develop this important skill while improving your ability to persuade your customers.

Steve Yastrow

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