How to Capture Attention, Build Trust and Close the Sale

The Power of Story

All of us love a good story. We are swept into the latest book or blockbuster film or we are enthralled by a particularly talented storyteller in our office. Those who tell a story well have our attention.

Leaders should strive to be good storytellers, painting a vivid scene and picture of what’s ahead. That’s the art of persuasion and influence. It’s also the skill of most sales leaders, who use narratives to explain a difficult concept. We are creatures who love a good story.

 

“At the end of the day, people follow those who know where they’re going.” -Jack Trout

 

I know that I may review spreadsheets and be dizzied with statistics, but one emotionally connecting story can have more immediate impact.

Former Procter & Gamble executive Paul Smith is now a speaker and trainer on storytelling techniques. His latest book, Sell with a Story: How to Capture Attention, Build Trust, and Close the Sale, attracted my attention. Because I’m a big believer in the power of story, I wanted to connect with him to talk about his work.

 

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” –Maya Angelou

 

Stories Influence and Persuade

You witnessed, first-hand, the power of a sales story when you purchased some art. Would you briefly share that with us?9780814437117

Sure. Last summer my wife, Lisa, and I were at an art show in Cincinnati. She was on a mission to find a piece for our boys’ bathroom wall at home.

At one point we found ourselves at the booth of an underwater photographer named Chris Gug. Looking through his work, Lisa got attached to a picture that, to me, looked about as out of place as a pig in the ocean. It was a picture of a pig in the ocean! Literally. A cute little baby piglet, up to its nostrils in salt water, snout covered with sand, dog-paddling its way straight into the camera lens.

When I got my chance, I asked the seller (named Gug) what on Earth that pig was doing in the ocean. And that’s when the magic started.

He said, “Yeah, it was the craziest thing. That picture was taken in the Caribbean, just off the beach of an uninhabited Bahamian island named Big Major Cay.” He told us that years ago, a local entrepreneur brought a drove of pigs to the island to raise for bacon.

Then he said, “But, as you can see in the picture, there’s not much more than cactus on the island for them to eat. And pigs don’t much like cactus. So the pigs weren’t doing very well. But at some point, a restaurant owner on a nearby island started bringing his kitchen refuse by boat over to Big Major Cay and dumping it a few dozen yards off shore. The hungry pigs eventually learned to swim to get to the food. Each generation of pigs followed suit, and now all the pigs on the island can swim. As a result, today the island is more commonly known as Pig Island.”

Gug went on to describe how the pigs learned that approaching boats meant food, so they eagerly swim up to anyone arriving by boat. And that’s what allowed him to more easily get the close-up shot of the dog-paddling piglet. He probably didn’t even have to get out of his boat.

I handed him my credit card and said, “We’ll take it!”

Why my change of heart? The moment before he shared his story (to me at least), the photo was just a picture of a pig in the ocean, worth little more than the paper it was printed on. But two minutes later, it was no longer just a picture. It was a story—a story I would be reminded of every time I looked at it. The story turned the picture into a conversation piece—a unique combination of geography lesson, history lesson, and animal psychology lesson all in one.

In the two minutes it took Gug to tell us that story, the value of that picture increased immensely. It’s the kind of story that I now refer to as a “value-adding” story because it literally makes what you’re selling more valuable to the buyer.

 

“Everyone is necessarily the hero of his own life story.” –John Barth

 

5 Reasons Stories Matter

Why is story telling so important?

I could probably give you dozens of reasons, but here are my favorite 5.

  1. Storytelling speaks to the part of the brain where decisions are actually made– Human beings make subconscious, emotional, and sometimes irrational decisions in one place in the brain and then justify those decisions rationally and logically in another place. So if you’re trying to influence buyers’ decisions, using facts and rational arguments alone isn’t enough. You need to influence them emotionally, and stories are your best vehicle to do that.
  2. Stories are more memorable– Lots of studies show that facts are easier to remember if they’re embedded in a story than if they’re just given to you in a list. And you can prove that to yourself right now. All of you reading this know that by this time tomorrow you won’t remember this list of 5 things. But you will remember the story of Pig Island. And next week, next month, or next year, you’ll be able to tell the Pig Island story and get most of the facts right. But you won’t remember any of the 5 things in this list.
  3. Stories can increase the value of the product you’re selling– as you saw in the Pig Island story.
  4. Stories are contagious– When’s the last time you heard someone say, “Wow! You’ll never believe the PowerPoint presentation I just saw!” Never. But they do say that about a great story.
  5. Storytelling gives you a chance to be original– Most buyers have seen every pitch, tactic, and closing line in the book. They’ve heard them from you, your competitors, and the last three people who had your job. Storytelling gives you a chance to go “off script” and say something they won’t hear from anyone else.

 

Many people may think, “Oh sure, a sales person should be a good story teller.” But you turn that around and say it’s more important to have a buyer tell their story. I love that. Tell us more about that.

I figure if you don’t hear their stories first, how will you know which of your stories to tell?

A colleague of ours, Mike Weinberg, says it this way: “You wouldn’t trust a physician who walked into the examining room, spent an hour telling you how great he was, and then wrote a prescription, would you?” Of course not. Then why would a buyer accept the recommendation of a salesperson who did the same thing?

 

How to Get Others to Tell Their Stories

Why Leaders Must Deliver on Promises

Setting Expectations

Recently, I purchased a gift basket for an employee who goes above and beyond, day after day. She never seeks praise, but quietly serves others in a way that is admirable. She consistently demonstrates the 9 Qualities of A Servant Leader. The basket we picked was pictured on the website and looked like this:

basket2

 

Yum, right? Full of fresh fruit and other goodies, we thought it would demonstrate some small measure of gratitude for all she has done for others. That picture set our expectations and it seemed a fitting thank you.

 

“Be so good they can’t ignore you.” –Steve Martin

 

Unexpected Disappointments

When she received it, she was grateful. That’s who she is, part of what makes her successful. But then she took a picture of the basket, and I did a double-take. Because here is what it looked like:

basket1

Not exactly as advertised, huh?

We were shocked.

A brand isn’t a logo. A brand is a promise. It’s an experience.

 

“Building a brand is about a thousand little new touches.” -Eric Ryan

 

This particular business has destroyed its reputation with the experience.

We all know that this destruction can happen with corporate brands. It can also happen with personal brands:

12 Intentional Behaviors That Lead to Big Impact

 

What’s different about the most remarkable leaders?

How can I have a bigger impact?

 

How Small Acts Can Equal Big Impact

Author and serial entrepreneur G. Shawn Hunter is the founder of Mindscaling. His latest book, Small Acts of Leadership: 12 Intentional Behaviors That Lead to Big Impact, argues that it’s the simple things, when done extraordinarily well, that make a great leader.

Shawn and I talked about his book and how it’s not always the most extraordinary, sweeping actions that make the biggest impact.

 


“The greatest leaders cheer us on when we try something new.” -Shawn Hunter

 

I love this philosophy because all of us can make just a few adjustments and improve our leadership today.

 

Do One Thing At A Time

G. Shawn HunterYou advocate that small, incremental choices can lead to a big impact. In your research for this book, what one small choice have you noticed in the most successful leaders?

I would say the one thing that successful people do is that they do one thing at a time. That might sound small and trifling, but, honestly, the way successful people get things done, or have meaningful conversations, is to do only that one thing. They turn off their phone when talking to people. They turn off email. They schedule time for writing and reading. They block off time for exercise and reflection. It sounds small, but it adds up.

 

Successful people do one thing at a time.

 

Is it possible to teach self-confidence? What are some ways to increase it?

The biggest contributor to building self-confidence is building competence. Nothing makes you feel confident like being prepared. There is also a type of self-questioning that can be quite helpful. Instead of repeating the mantra, “Yes, I can do this!” to build self-confidence, try asking yourself if you have the capabilities to achieve what you are envisioning. If you ask specific questions of yourself, you will be forced to answer to your weaknesses and reconcile them.

 


“The biggest contributor to building self-confidence is building competence.” -Shawn Hunter

 

Build Your Resilience

You talk about building resilience through challenge. Do challenges make the leader, or does the leader seek out challenges?

From what I understand through studying flow states, it’s a self-reinforcing paradigm, but only if you get the challenge part right. As your readers may know, flow states occur when the level of challenge presented meets (or slightly exceeds) your skill level. In that state we can become hyper-aware and hyper-focused. We also accelerate our learning. Once we feel that state, we often seek out those experiences which create flow states. There are people who can actually get addicted to inducing this type of state. They’re called Type T people, also known as adrenaline junkies.

 


Pronoia: believing the world is conspiring for your success.

 

Develop Persistent Curiosity

Persistence. I love the story of your daughter and how she ended up with a rare poster of Taylor Swift. What are some ways to develop persistent curiosity in everything we do?SmallActs-front (1)

Good question! The great physicist Richard Feynman once described how you can spot a real expert versus a phony. Look for three little words, “I don’t know.” The phony will have all the answers, while the experts will be willing to admit what they don’t know. Real experts are relentlessly curious, even assertively curious – that is, they will demand explanations for things that many others simply accept as rules.

Here’s an interesting fact about people who describe themselves as curious. These people are also assertive. Curious people are decision-makers. They are influencers. They often say they have direct influence over the outcome of decisions and change. If you think of the people in your company and community who consistently drive change, I bet you will be thinking of inquisitive people – people willing to ask the hard questions.

 


“Creating confidence is the result of applied effort and work.” -Shawn Hunter

 

Take a Break (even if you’re busy!)

You advocate the counterintuitive advice of taking breaks when we’re busy. Why is taking a break so important? How do you get a type-A, driven leader to follow this practice?

All-nighters don’t scale. Period. In some corners of business, we have created a work environment in which it’s cool to brag about how many hours we work, and how little sleep we get, and how many deliverables we accomplish. I worked in a company once that mandated a rapid response time to every incoming message. When you create an environment which requires people to constantly monitor correspondence over email and text, the next thing they do is constantly initiate messages.

Studies demonstrate what we already know intuitively. That is, our intellectual and productivity capacity diminishes rapidly when we are sleep deprived and when we are distracted. To answer your question, organizations and leaders should reward people who deliver meaningful, thoughtful contributions, not who puts out the highest volume of email noise.

12 Intentional Behaviors for Big Impact

1: Believe in yourself.

2: Build confidence.

3: Introduce challenge.

4: Express gratitude.

5: Fuel curiosity.

6: Grant autonomy.

7: Strive for authenticity.

8: Be fully present.

9: Inspire others.

10. Clarify roles.

11. Defy convention.

12. Take a break.

Defy Convention

Of the 12 critical competencies, is there one that more leaders struggle with than others?

How to Transform Promises into Results

Be An Agenda Mover

It’s not enough to have an idea.

Ideas without action, without execution, without forward-momentum don’t matter. To make a difference, you need to have the skills to turn an idea into reality.

Leaders are people who turn ideas into something tangible, turning promises into results.

 

“If you cannot move your agenda, you’re not a leader.” –Samuel Bacharach

 

It’s a skill that anyone can learn. And Samuel B. Bacharach, the author of The Agenda Mover: When Your Good Idea Is Not Enough, is an expert in execution. He is also co-founder of the Bacharach Leadership Group, which focuses on training leaders in the skills of the Agenda Mover, and is the McKelvey-Grant Professor at Cornell University.

I recently had the opportunity to ask Sam about his newest book and turning ideas into reality.

 

Develop the Qualities of an Agenda Mover

Having a great idea is not enough. You teach a process for taking an idea into actionable reality. Before we go into your process, what leadership qualities are essential to being an effective agenda mover?

First and foremost, Agenda Movers keep their egos in check. They are aware that – no matter how good they think their idea is—there may be other perspectives out there. They understand that confidence is one thing, but they know ego can lead to delusion.

Second, Agenda Movers are deeply empathetic. I use that word in a very specific way, meaning that Agenda Movers are capable of standing in the shoes of other people and are capable of seeing the world from varied perspectives. They can see their agenda not only from their perspective but also from the perspective of others.

Third, Agenda Movers tactically focus. They are mindful of small details and tactics. They understand that charisma, bombastic ideas, and grand promises work only up to a point and that what is really needed to get things done are micro-behavioral skills.

Lastly, Agenda Movers understand that they can’t do it alone. To get anything done they need to have others in their corner. They understand the importance of coalitions, and they are able to adopt a coalition mindset.

If you look at the great Agenda Movers out there—these are the characteristics they all share.

 

“Agenda Movers understand what it takes to move things forward.” –Samuel Bacharach

 

Anticipate Motivations

The first step of your strategic blueprint is to anticipate others’ agendas and know where they’re coming from. I recall one person just totally missing it, oblivious to what seemed to be obvious signs. How do you help aspiring leaders to be more situationally aware of others and their motivations?

I think this is the number one mistake leaders make: They don’t spend enough time focusing on where others are coming from.

I remember years ago a student of mind was asking for advice on defending her dissertation in front of five faculty members I knew. The main advice I gave her was to stop focusing on her dissertation and instead to focus on the dissertations and research that the members of the committee had done. Simply put, I told her, “You know where you’re coming from. Make sure you know where they are coming from.”

Good Agenda Movers do their homework and I mean that literally. They dedicate time to figuring out there others stand, how they think, and what they want. They don’t presume they are born with situational awareness—they develop it and work on it.

Too often we look for shortcuts in trying to figure out the agendas of others. We think that if we understand their background or their personality, we can generalize their motivation and intention. This belief is both lazy and wrong. For most people, whether in organizations or in politics, motivation is determined by the specific agenda, not simply by personality.

An individual may be a staunch traditionalist on one issue and a complete revolutionary on another issue. Leaders who make quick summations about the agendas of others and don’t do their homework are bound to make mistakes.

 

“Leadership is about building a coalition that can turn an innovative idea into reality.” –Samuel Bacharach

 

How to Deal With Resistance

Gaining traction and initial support is crucial. If you’re met with resistance, what do you do?

First of all, resistance should never come as a surprise to anyone. All leaders, all organizational actors, will face resistance—it’s just a question of when and how much.

In our political and organizational systems, resistance is part and parcel of the checks and balances that improve what we’re trying to accomplish.

So for starters, don’t let resistance throw you for a loop. Don’t let it shock you. Don’t let it root you to the ground. Instead, you should expect it and have a plan to deal with it.

I argue in my book that there are only a handful of ways people can resist an idea. To the surprise of my students, this really isn’t a daunting challenge. There are a limited number of ways resistance can argue against any idea and leaders can easily defend against these arguments with a little preparation. Once you’re able to categorize the arguments of resistance, you will be able to apply your counter arguments of justification.

 

Leadership Tip: Know where you want to go and whose support you need to get there.

 

Know the 3 Types of Resistors

What’s the best way to deal with resistors?

The first thing you need to understand is what type of resistance you’re facing.

In my book I look at three main types of resistors in an organizational context: active resistors, passive resistors, and internal resistors.

While I always support leaders building a wide swath of support, they might have the hardest time convincing active resistors to join their coalition. At some point, an Agenda Mover should move on and not waste his or her time.

Good Agenda Movers focus on talking with passive resistors. They are those actors who aren’t actively undermining your efforts, but certainly are not helping them, either. Since they are on the fence, so to speak, a leader can be clever and find ways to incorporate them into his or her coalition by presenting potential benefits to them.

Lastly, there are internal resistors—those who sneak into a coalition in a Trojan Horse. Agenda Movers can prevent them from showing up by monitoring their coalition and making sure they don’t let team traction and momentum slip after an initial surge.

 

“Ultimately, a genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.” -Martin Luther King

 

How to Sustain Momentum

Once you get going, you need to sustain the momentum. How do you use small victories effectively? Why do some ideas die in this stage?

Some leaders are great at mobilizing political support for their agenda. They’re great at convincing people of the need for innovation and change. They’re great at getting others to join them. But they drop the ball once they mobilize support. It’s sort of like the politician who gets elected but doesn’t deliver.The Agenda Mover Book Jacket

These leaders stop doing their homework. They stop thinking about the team. They lose their focus and start looking toward the horizon for another big project or a big career move. As a result, they leave it to their coalition to work out the day-to-day details of implementing a new idea.

Agenda Movers can’t relax once they start building some traction. If anything, they need to work harder to drive momentum by not only celebrating small victories but also by providing the right resources and maintaining optimism. They have to supplement the prudent political competence they have used to gain support with a managerial capacity to make sure that things keep on moving. Like I said, it is one thing to gain support and it is another to deliver.

 

“People who produce good results feel good about themselves.” –Ken Blanchard

 

Is there one step in the agenda moving process where most leaders fail?