A great salesman is a great story-teller. Throughout the ages, stories have remained the primary way of capturing people’s attention and firing their imagination; and in today’s over-hyped consumer society, stories cut through the noise to powerfully influence your customer’s decisions.

One of the truest statements about human behaviour is: Logic makes people think; emotion makes them act.

Most salesmen have no trouble with the first part — making their customer think with an impressive list of features and benefits.

They are often frustrated, however, because while the customer acknowledges the value of all the enticements, he is still not buying.

When pressed, some customers will even say: “It just doesn’t feel right.” This is because one part of the brain — the neocortex, which processes information — is very satisfied; but there is one major part which is unconvinced — the limbic brain, which deals in images and emotions.

This is the part of the brain that is engaged when we listen to a story. Most importantly, it is the limbic brain that is responsible for all decision-making. Stories help your customer “feel right” about his buying decision.

There are four basic stories every salesman needs:

The purpose story

The most powerful way you can influence the limbic brain is to move beyond the what and the how of what you do to the why.  As Simon Sinek, author of Start With Why, says: “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”

So, if you are a financial planner, you might tell the story about why you moved into this profession — why helping people plan for a secure future is important to you.

 The USP story

Every company needs to work relentlessly to articulate its Unique Selling Proposition (USP). And, of course, this needs constant updating, because in today’s fast-moving world, what was unique yesterday is commonplace today.

The next step is to identify stories that help customers to understand this. Is your USP connected to your size (large or boutique), your speciality, your accessibility, or some other factor? What can you do better than any of your competitors — and what story best epitomises this?

The values story

Good salesmen are constantly trying to sell the “value package”. Unless customers are sold on the full value of the offering, they will fall into the trap of the lowest commodity supplier. They find out the value of back-up, customer service and reliability only when it’s too late.

Often, it is awkward to work into the conversation how you value your professional reputation or how your company lives its values of fairness and excellence. And, sometimes, if you do say it, the customer may think: “They all say that.”

When you tell a story that demonstrates these values, it shows by your actions what you (and the company) stand for.

The objection story

To many salesmen, this is where it gets difficult. The willing customer suddenly becomes resistant — just when you’re about to ask for the sale.

First, don’t be put off. Remember he still wants to buy — or he wouldn’t waste his time speaking to you. He may need reassurance on that side of his personality that is more cautious.

There may be other reasons he feels he needs to justify and the objections are really just the questions he expects to be asked later.

In responding to an objection you are trying to — in the nicest possible way — tell the customer he is wrong. And we all know how dangerous that is.

This is where stories are particularly effective, because stories are one of the few places where we are happy to be wrong. We love the story with an unexpected ending. We laugh at the joke with the twist in the punchline. And we can use stories as a non-threatening way to change a customer’s perspective or his beliefs about an issue.

Most customer objections are predictable, so the well-prepared salesman will be able to have an appropriate story for each one.

Professor Robert Cialdini in his book Influence: The Psychology Of Persuasion nominates one of the main elements of influence as social proof. This means people will be influenced to change their behaviour if they see others like them do the same.

So, if you have a story about someone your customer sees as similar to him, it will have the greatest impact.

Article by Kevin Ryan, managing director of Training Edge Australia and an international speaker, workshop leader and author with Training Edge International. He is a business communication expert specialising in employee and client engagement, humour intelligence and more. For more information, e-mail kevin.ryan@trainingedgeasia.com or visit www.trainingedgeasia.com