Write your sales story backwards

More thoughts on Ditching the Pitch

One of the problems with sales pitches is that you need to presuppose what will happen at a later time. You create your story, begin to tell it to your customer, and then hope that the story makes sense as the future unfolds.

The beauty of an improvised sales conversation is that you don’t need to guess whether your story will stay relevant in the future, because you don’t write the story until the future arrives.

In a sales conversation, you and your customer create the story of the sale together, through a fluid, mutually-affirming process that looks a lot like stage improvisation as pioneered by organizations like The Second City. Actors improvising a scene on stage create the story of a scene on the fly, as they listen to each other, affirm what each other says, and react in a way that builds a story, one step at a time. Yet, when it’s done well, there is never a point where the actors look like they don’t know what the story is. They always look comfortable and confident.

How do they do this? While watching some remarkable improv at the iO Chicago Theater, I was struck with the clearest way to describe this: They write the story backwards.

Here’s what I mean by this: As details appear in the scene, it’s not always clear how those details will play into the emerging story. But as the scene unfolds, the actors make sense of the emerging story by referring back to previously-unconnected ideas and tying them into the story. In one scene, two actors appeared on stage, and one said, “You’ve got to stop acting like this. Start thinking of how it affects the kids.” The second said, “Hey Sharon, you know my work keeps me on the road a lot, and tempts me to act a bit wild.” “I should have never married a rock star,” Sharon retorted, “They make bad fathers.”

Notice how, in this very simple start of a scene, the actors wrote the story backwards. The first line of dialogue established that one character was acting badly, and that it was affecting his kids. When it was delivered, that line was not part of a story, but it gave the actors the idea to turn one of the characters into a touring rock star. Once this was established, the previously-disconnected idea of the first line made sense, retroactively.

As the scene continued, the actors continued to “write the story backwards.” We knew that the rock star had behaved badly, and that it had affected his kids, but we still didn’t know what he had done. Another actor entered from the side, perfectly playing a teenager disgusted and embarrassed by a parent. The rock star went up to her, put his around her, and started singing a song about the wild life of a drug-crazed, groupie-chasing rock band. Now, well after it was established, we could make even better sense of the first line of the scene.

This is exactly how you can “write the story backwards” in a sales conversation, except I suggest that you don’t act like a rock star singing about the hedonism of the road. Let’s explore how it works.

Let’s imagine you are an insurance broker (I know that’s hard to imagine for many of you, but, play along with me.) You’re meeting with a prospective client, and as the conversation unfolds you begin to learn a number of things about his business. He believes that some of his employees are stealing items from the warehouse. His best-selling product is highly flammable if not handled properly. He has a warehouse in South Florida that has flooded three times during severe storms and once lost a roof in a hurricane. He has a factory where numerous workers have slipped and fallen, creating many worker’s compensation claims.

As he tells you these things, you’re not yet sure how they will fit into your eventual sales story. (But you’re certainly getting excited by the fact that this guy needs lots of insurance!) However, as your conversation continues, you will be able to tie back to these issues and weave them into your evolving story well after they appeared in the conversation. When it’s time to discuss product liability insurance, you will be able to include the tale of his flammable product, as though it had always been part of your story. You will be able to create a story about how he can reduce risks in his business that connects back to the story of his slippery factory floor. In short, you will be able to write the story backwards by lacing in items that were previously floating on their own.

Stage improvisers and other comedians call it a “callback” when a reference is made to something that was said or that happened earlier. As I wrote in this blog post, audiences love callbacks. Callbacks create a continuity that helps establish a story, making it easier for an audience to understand what’s going on.

The same thing happens with your customer. When you write the story backwards, and tie in things that were not connected before, your customer will be much more likely to understand and appreciate the story you are creating. Like with the actors on the stage, it will seem like the story has always been there. He will be more comfortable, more engaged… more likely to buy.

Steve Yastrow

Tagged with: , ,
Posted in Ditch the Pitch, Improvisation, Newsletters

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

Subscribe to the Blog
Email:  

On Steve's Mind
Get Steve's newsletter featuring his ideas and practical advice delivered to your email inbox.
* = required field
Latest Tweets
Testimonials
Alex von Bidder
In these high pressure times of bite-size communications we all hunger to be listened to and cared for individually. Our customers know great hospitality, the kind that is not about selling but treating their needs as our highest priority. Steve Yastrow’s teachings are applicable to any business that values long-standing success based on personal relationships.

Alex von Bidder

Managing Partner, The Four Seasons Restaurant, New York
jim-winter
Steve put together a program that produced spectacular results, and the quality of our communication and customer satisfaction is vastly improved. I’ve been in business for 40 years, and Steve’s the first consultant that I’ve gotten my money’s worth from. We’re going to continue to work with Steve and the bright, energetic people that are on his team.

Jim Winter

COO, Dimension Design
Tom Peters
When Steve Yastrow writes, I pay close attention.

Tom Peters

Founder, Tom Peters Company
Craig Dwight
Steve’s approach to integrating all customer contacts into a comprehensive marketing message is a must in today’s information age. We have partnered with Steve to develop our integrated and comprehensive marketing message, and as a result of his excellent work, his new book is required reading for all of our employees.

Craig Dwight

Chairman & CEO, Horizon Bancorp
Doug Ducey
In one morning, Steve re-energized the way we look at marketing. The only question we had at the end of the session was, ‘When can we get him back?'

Doug Ducey

CEO & Chairman, Cold Stone Creamery, Governor of Arizona
roma-maxwell
Rancho La Puerta has enjoyed continued success because of the work we did with Yastrow and Company. Together, we implemented business strategies that have contributed to our success. Steve and his team truly believe in our brand, and our experience with them was empowering, fun and a great learning opportunity. I highly recommend Yastrow and Company to any business that needs help building the bottom line

Roma Maxwell

Roma Maxwell, Director of Sales and Marketing, Rancho La Puerta
Alex von Bidder
Steve Yastrow's teachings are applicable to any business that values long-standing success based on personal relationships.

Alex von Bidder

Managing Partner, The Four Seasons Restaurant, New York
roma-maxwell
Rancho La Puerta has enjoyed continued success because of the work we did with Yastrow and Company. Together, we implemented business strategies that have contributed to our success. Steve and his team truly believe in our brand. I highly recommend Yastrow and Company to any business that needs help building the bottom line.

Roma Maxwell

Director of Sales and Marketing, Rancho La Puerta
Jennifer Whelan
Our work with Yastrow and Company yielded the best long-term value of any consulting engagement we’ve ever had. As we grow and expand internationally, Acuative continues to depend on the branding approach and marketing tools Steve and his team developed. Yastrow and Company genuinely partnered with us, were exceptionally responsive and remain committed to our success.

Jennifer Whelan

Vice President of Marketing, Acuative
Kathleen Phillips
Not only is Steve's content sound, but the energy he displays in delivering it will knock your socks off.

Kathleen Phillips

Ernst & Young, Chicago, IL
David Sank
I highly recommend Yastrow and Company to any business that is intent on enhancing their customer experience. Prior to working with Steve, we were communicating various messages to customers. Steve and his team helped us achieve a cohesive brand message that we as a company live daily. Steve is an incredible listener and learned the nuances of our business rapidly. I can’t imagine anyone Yastrow and Company couldn’t help.

David Sank

President and CEO, Calico Cottage
Jennifer Whelan
“Steve’s workshops helped bring out what is best at Acuative. His insights were fresh and long-lasting—we continue to use his tools and approach years later.”

Jennifer Whelan

Vice President of Marketing, Acuative
jim-evans
Yastrow and Company introduced Brand Harmony and their Be the Brand concept to our team at Jenny Craig.  I believe these new ideas contributed in helping us triple the company's revenue during my years as CEO.

Jim Evans

former President and CEO, Jenny Craig
Chris Tucker
Steve is a creative and collaborative speaker who communicates his ideas clearly and concisely. He immediately understood our business needs and provided a better perspective on how our customers see us as a company. I have referred Steve to our customers in the past and I will continue to do so. He’s intuitive and has a unique way of looking at business. Steve has the experience to turn a project into something extremely valuable for any organization. I strongly recommend working with Yastrow and Company.

Chris Tucker

Director of Business Development, MBX Systems
Marc Allen
We are absolutely better off after engaging Yastrow and Company. They helped us look at our business from our clients’ perspective, resulting in a cultural shift throughout our organization. These changes have made a big impact - we’ve gained new clients and strengthened relationships with existing clients. The investment was well worth it.

Marc Allen

Vice President of Sales, AMD Industries
Mike Depatie
Steve Yastrow is at the forefront of the next evolution in marketing. We have implemented many of his innovative ideas... and have seen very positive results.

Mike Depatie

CEO, Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants
Ditch the Pitch is a great read-- interesting, fun, and easy to follow. And I’ve already seen the concepts work. Just yesterday, I called a client and had a conversation that was 95% about the client, as the book suggests. At the end of the call, he sent a new matter my way. I ditched the pitch and it resulted in new business.

Attorney

Chicago, IL
Chris Miller
I rarely book speakers more than once. But I’ve used Steve four times! Steve has our association’s interest at heart and works tirelessly to deliver customized programs. He always ranks highly with our affiliates because he is outcome-focused, fast-paced and highly engaging. Anyone looking for insight and understanding into marketing, branding and sales should book Steve!

Chris Miller

Executive Director, Professional Systems Network International
Ward Alles
Steve Yastrow knows his stuff. That's why our management team has read all of his books. And that's why we've had him as a keynote speaker at both client and employee events. From creating brand alignment, to selling more effectively, to providing top-notch customer service, Steve offers words of wisdom based on real-life experiences. He always engages his audiences with questions, interactive exercises and great storytelling that keep you coming back for more. Read Steve's books. Then book Steve. You'll be glad you did.

Ward Alles

CEO, Core Creative
Rhoda Olsen
Steve Yastrow has clearly described the emotional reality of customer relationships and their impact on profitable business growth.

Rhoda Olsen

President, Great Clips for Hair
roma-maxwell
I give Steve two thumbs up—five thumbs up, if I had that many!

Roma Maxwell

Roma Maxwell, Director of Sales and Marketing, Rancho La Puerta
american-licorice-logo
We have seen huge benefits from Steve's input. Steve is unlike any other consultant I've ever worked with. He takes a genuine, deep-seated interest in our business. He is intuitive and able to identify problem issues quickly. We wouldn't be as far along in acheiving of our long-term growth strategy if we hadn't actively and aggressively pursued Steve's Brand Harmony.

Michael MacDonald

Executive VP Sales and Marketing, American Licorice Co.