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

10 Laws of Trust: Build the Bonds That Make A Business Great

Building the Bonds that Make a Business Great

Trust is vitally important to creating sustainable results.

If you’re a leader, you know how important it is to create and maintain a culture of trust. But knowing it and doing it are different. How do leaders at all levels of an organization make this a reality?

 

“Trust is the operating system for a life well-lived.” –Joel Peterson

 

JetBlue Chairman Joel Peterson’s career has provided him a window into the importance of trust. In addition to his role at JetBlue, Joel is a consulting professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and chairman of an investment firm. His new book,The 10 Laws of Trust: Building the Bonds that Make a Business Great, is an exceptionally great read.

I recently had the opportunity to talk with Joel about all things “trust.”

 

“To be trusted is a greater compliment than to be loved.” –George MacDonald

 

Increase Your Trust

What’s the Joel Peterson definition of trust?

Empowering and turning over control to another person. It takes the same leap of faith as when we trust a pilot to fly a plane or a surgeon to operate on us. We give trust in increments, measure results, assess risks and grant more trust until we find we’ve extended our reach, expanded our horizons and found greater joy in our interactions with others.

 

“Accountability is the requisite companion to empowerment.” –Joel Peterson

 

You’ve seen the inside of many organizations and leadership teams from your vantage point as Chairman, as professor, as an investor, as a CFO, etc. When you first walk into an organization, what signs do you see that would lead you to say, “This is an organization with a high degree of trust?”

Surprisingly, high trust organizations are ones with conflict – with respectful disagreements that are ventilated, addressed and put to bed so they don’t fester underground. The best ideas win, not the most powerful or senior people. And they’re typically places where there’s humor, self-deprecation, stories, traditions and people who genuinely like each other.

 

“A man who trusts nobody is apt to be a man nobody trusts.” –Harold Macmillan

 

Cultivate a Culture of Trust

What’s a leader’s role in cultivating a culture of trust? How have you seen this go wrong?

The leader’s role is vital. An EVP at Cisco once told me that she found she couldn’t be happier than her unhappiest child. In like manner, an organization’s boundary of trust is set by its leader. It’ll never expand beyond the leader’s trustworthiness. If he or she has a big “say-do gap,” the contagion will spread. If leaders compartmentalize their lives and file violations of trust under the “private label,” they’ll be mistrusted. People are smart. They’ll figure it out, and it’s not long before their wariness infects everyone and everything. As fear takes over, people become less likely to innovate, to take risks, to trust. This can either explode in trust-destroying outcomes such as the recent VW scandal or end up in bureaucratic inaction, caution and failure to perform such as at the Veterans’ Administration.

 

“In difficult times, trust is a leader’s most potent currency.” –Joel Peterson

 

How is respect linked to trust? How do you show respect?      

Respect is the medium of exchange between parties that are building trust. A failure to show respect is a trust show-stopper – even if you’re not the person who is being treated disrespectfully. This extends from teammates to suppliers to lenders to shareholders to customer. Nothing shows greater respect for another than listening to them. It’s at the heart of customer service and team-building. I think of it as listening without agenda, listening to understand, not to respond, to agree or disagree, not until there’s a break so I can respond.

 

“In a trust-driven culture, respect is prized at every level.” –Joel Peterson

The Power of Admitting A Mistake

This is a guest post by friend and mentor Bruce Rhoades, who retired after having run several companies. He often helps me with strategy. I am delighted that he is a regular contributor.

The Power of Admitting A Mistake

Confucius said, “If you make a mistake and do not correct it, this is called a mistake.” Yet, many times when a mistake is made, people try to pretend that it did not happen. They attempt to justify the wrong position or try to cover it up, which leads to additional mistakes. This situation reminds me of another quote — “When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.”

 

“If you make a mistake and do not correct it, this is called a mistake.” -Confucius

 

Quite often, more damage is done to credibility, relationships, trust and integrity by the actions taken after the original mistake. This is true in personal relationships and especially true when a leader makes a mistake. How many times have we seen high-profile people get prosecuted, not for the original crime, but for the attempt to cover it up by lying?

Of course there is another choice when a mistake is made—admit it, learn from it, correct it and apologize to those that were adversely affected. There is power in properly admitting a mistake.

 

“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” -Albert Einstein

 

Why Admit a Mistake?

Rather than try to ignore or cover up a mistake, there can be many personal and organizational advantages to properly admitting a mistake.

 

“When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.”


Personal Advantages:

  • Averts the need to continue to defend a difficult or incorrect position.
  • Increases leadership credibility.
  • Avoids additional mistakes trying to cover up or “adjust” for the original mistake.
  • Reduces personal stress and tension.
  • Provides a “reset” from others in both personal and professional relationships.
  • If you take responsibility for a mistake on-behalf of others who participated, it builds loyalty.

 

“Admitting and correcting mistakes does not make you look weak; it actually makes you look stronger.” –Bruce Rhoades

 

Organizational Advantages:

  • Provides a learning situation for you and others.
  • Builds trust—others see that you are human, honest and truthful.
  • Allows quick correction, which saves time and resources.
  • Gives others a chance to express views and provide new information.
  • Shows others that they are valued and that their input counts, which builds collaboration.
  • Increases the organization’s ability to try new things then quickly stop those that do not work, which helps establish an innovative culture.
  • Sets the tone for risk-taking, open communication and makes you more approachable.
  • Provides concrete examples to reinforce critical aspects of culture: decisiveness, truthfulness, openness, integrity and quick correction.
  • Removes the “elephant-in-the-room” situation where everyone knows about the mistake, but no one talks about it.
  • Helps offset the bad feelings for those that may have wasted their time.
  • Decreases “pocket-vetoes” when others see the mistake, do not confront it, but simply do not implement.

 

“As a leader it is a mistake to think that you need to have all the right answers all the time.” – Bruce Rhoades

 

When Admitting Mistakes Does Not Have Power

How Leaders Break the Trust Barrier for High Performance

4 Elements to Creating A High Performance Team

 

Trust. Find any high performance team with sustained success and you’ll find it. It’s the glue of relationships. It’s the desire to serve the team over self.

As important as it is, you’ll receive little training on it in an MBA program. You may have experienced it, but it seems elusive. Few can describe it; fewer can teach it, and finding a leader who can create it multiple times seems like a dream.

Enter Colonel JV Venable. He’s a graduate of the USAF’s Fighter Weapons School. He commanded and led the USAF Thunderbirds and 1100 American airmen.

 

“Commitment is the demonstrated will to deliver for the people around you.” -JV Venable

 

Teaching trust is crucial. Think about the trust needed to fly within inches of another yet at over 500 miles per hour. You just can’t imagine doing it without the highest degree of trust. JV’s new book, Breaking the Trust Barrier: How Leaders Close the Gaps for High Performance, shares lessons from his experience as a Top Gun instructor with all of us. I recently asked him about creating this level of trust and how everyone can learn from his experience.

 

“Alone we can do so little. Together we can do so much.” -Helen Keller

 

Harness the Power of the Thunderbirds

What drove you to write this book?

Book CoverAs you might imagine, the insights and sensations that came with flying on the point of the Thunderbirds were pretty special. More often than not I got the feeling my jet was being furthered by the five jets on my wing.  I was convinced it was an emotional surge until I felt the shift on a particularly smooth day, half way through my first year on the team. In the middle of the demonstration, an unexpected but very real surge of energy hit my jet and it began to turn the entire formation — like a giant hand lifting up my left wing.  During the debrief it became obvious the surge came from the rate of closure and end-game proximity of my left wingman.  He was so close that he caused that wing to become more efficient and produce more lift than the one on the right.  That was the moment I realized it wasn’t just a feeling I was being carried by the team around me; the surge was real.  Just like stock car racers on the track at Daytona, we were drafting. The more I thought about it, the more I could see drafting’s effects everywhere, and the thought would change the way I looked at the world around me.

I wrote Breaking the Trust Barrier: How Leaders Close the Gaps for High Performance out of the passion borne from the physical and emotional surge that began that day on the Thunderbirds.  My goal is to share that passion with people just like you.  We need to spread the leadership bug, and this concept of drafting will make you a carrier.

 

“No team can excel over the long haul without trust.” -JV Venable

 

Leaders and the Drafting Phenomenon

How can understanding the phenomenon of drafting help a leader?

In racing, the concept of drafting is based on a leader cutting a path through the air for those behind him, and a trailer being close enough to the leader’s bumper to shift the drag from the leader’s bumper to his own.  That same concept was alive on the Thunderbirds in the air — and on the ground.

Every unit within our organization was minimally manned, and each relied on the others to help execute its role. Our amazing people were lined up, bumper to bumper, taking the weight, the drag off the individuals and elements in front of them, while they plowed the path for those in trail.

Once you realize the impact closure can have on your team, you’ll see drafting everywhere you look.  Cyclists in the Tour de France, the V formations of migrating geese, even ducklings on a pond will make you realize how your actions can cause gaps to close or expand, and accelerate or slow your organization down.  That dwell time will give you an understanding of the positive impact, or the repercussions of your actions, before you put them in play.

Drafting makes leadership something you can see.

 

“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” -Abraham Lincoln

2000 Pilots

Rewrite Code to Create Trust

9 Habits of Trustworthiness

This is a guest post by John Blakey. His new book, The Trusted Executive: Nine Leadership Habits That Inspire Results, Relationships, and Reputation, is a must read for leaders who want to inspire trust and achieve results.

 

9 Habits of Trustworthiness

As a coach, I am interested in helping leaders be more effective rather than more knowledgeable. Sometimes gaining new knowledge is part of the formula that gets us from A to B, but it is rarely the full answer. As Einstein quipped, ‘In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they are not’. Consider how many great books you have read and how many excellent training courses you have attended. How many of them entertained you rather than changed you? If we wish to go beyond corporate entertainment, then we have to commit to the hard yards of executive practice. However, even more than this, we have first to believe that it is possible to change at all.

Trusted Executive JacketAll the CEOs I interviewed for my book, The Trusted Executive: Nine Leadership Habits That Inspire Results, Relationships, and Reputation, were asked the question, ‘How do you build trustworthiness?’ One of them replied, ‘I am not sure this is the right question because I don’t think you can build trustworthiness in people. You either have it or you don’t, and so we test for it when we recruit people into the business.’ I am sure other executive leaders would have a similar perspective. Can you really build integrity into someone or is it a fixed trait of character that defies further development? This argument reminds me of Churchill’s famous words about optimism: ‘I suppose I am an optimist; there seems little point in being anything else’. So my glib answer to those who believe that trustworthiness is a fixed character trait would be to say, ‘I suppose I believe that anyone can grow and change in profound ways; as a leader there seems little point in believing anything else.’

 

“It is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy.” -Paul of Tarsus

 

Dr. Carole Dweck of Stanford University provides a more rigorous assessment of this question in her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Dr. Dweck has spent decades studying achievement and success in students. She has concluded that we have one of two mind-sets at any point in time: growth or fixed. Someone with a fixed mind-set believes that talents and traits are fixed and unchangeable. They believe that if someone is not good at something, there is no point in trying harder as their ability will not change. This mind-set gets in the way of learning, since challenges are seen as threatening. In contrast, people with a growth mind-set believe that abilities and talents are cultivated through effort. People with this attitude welcome a challenge and they create an inner resilience in the face of obstacles. Dr. Dweck concludes that, ‘the more we know that basic human abilities can be grown, the more it becomes a basic human right for all kids and all adults to live in environments that create that growth’.

Used by permission. Used by permission.

I assume a growth mind-set. This does not mean it is easy to build trustworthiness, in the same way that it is not easy to run a marathon, but it does mean it is possible. It also reveals that the key to success is not innate ability but superlative motivation. If you know someone who has given up smoking then you know that it is often hard to change a habit, but it is not impossible. New habits come from repetition and practice. And just as Covey had his seven habits of effectiveness, I will shamelessly follow his lead and propose the nine leadership habits that inspire results, relationships and reputation: three habits of ability, three habits of integrity and three habits of benevolence.

A habit is an accumulation of choices. If you want to change a habit, then you have to start making different choices. To change a habit is an act of pure will, which is why it relies upon superlative motivation.

 

“If you want to change a habit, then start making different choices.” -John Blakey

 

9 Leadership habits that inspire results, relationships and reputation