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The Art Of Storytelling In Enterprise Sales

April 10, 2012
Where I’m from (the south), “storytelling” is a term often used for slick-talk’n hucksters. People who start their tales with an audience of one, and end up attracting an audience of many, usually to garner a laugh, preach a sermon, or set up a sales pitch (sometimes all three at once).

Because Boardroom Insiders is in the business of helping sales pros craft a more relevant story, I’ve become fascinated with the art of storytelling as it relates to enterprise sales. And it appears that I’m not alone. John Burke, Oracle's Group VP , “has become a big believer in the power of storytelling when it comes to sales acceleration.”

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More from John: "Probably the biggest change has been consciously interlacing some humility into my stories… Nobody is perfect and no company is perfect. It alienates customers when executives and salespeople try to pretend that they're like Superman and will fix all their problems.”

“Before I was conscious about my storytelling, I would talk about facts and figures, this much faster, that much productivity improvement, etc. and after a typical speech I'd get one or two people who wanted to speak with me. Now that I'm telling real stories that exhibit real emotion and real humility, I have 20 or 30 people come up afterwards. People react positively to real stories about real people.”

To further explore using stories to drive sales, John Burke engaged famed selling consultant
Michael Bosworth and the guru of sales listening, Ben Zoldan. In an interview, Bosworth explained, “At a basic level, the top reps were selling more intuitively. They had a better sense of the customer and were better able to connect with the customer's emotions about purchasing. More specifically, it turns out that they were able to achieve this level of rapport largely through a skill that not only wasn't taught in sales training, but which has been largely ignored in the business world: storytelling.”

The point is, productive storytelling doesn’t come naturally for most sales reps—including, as it turns out, John Burke--and he’s as successful as they come. He recognized this, and humbled himself to perfect his craft, developing a sincere method of telling stories that earn trust, and convert big prospects to loyal customers.

Heck, I’ve even tried this recently in our own blog (The "moment of truth" for enterprise sales pros).

The opportunity is there for all of us. And the cool part is that we can draw from our own authentic and personal stories, and not rely just on those of the companies we represent.

I'd love to hear your thoughts.

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Lee Demby

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Lee Demby