It is your responsibility to create value for your contacts and stakeholders in the sales conversation. Almost everything you have been taught and trained to do works against this critical outcome. Talking up your company to gain credibility, to talking about your solution as the best in class, to telling stories about your clients fail to create value for your contacts, unless you believe they want you to remind them of what they already read on your website.
There is every reason to tell stories, which are easy to understand and remember. Stories have handles, you can hand them off to other people. For our purposes here, we are interested in stories that create value for your clients in the sales conversation. Much of what passes as a story in sales concerns a client with a problem that the salesperson resolved using their solution.
Let’s establish a rule about this type of this success story: The earlier you introduce this story, the more it feels like a pitch. The later you introduce this story, the less it feels like a pitch. Many sales leaders train their teams in how to tell a story, but none recognize the stories the client needs in the early conversations.
Begin with the Certainty Sequence
To make sales stories easy to understand and use effectively, we need to use the certainty sequence, which ensures you share the right stories at the right time. The certainty sequence starts with communicating the certainty of negative outcomes, explaining why the client has the problem they have and what implications it has on their results. Only after you have provided the negative outcomes can you turn to the positive outcomes should the client change.
When you tell the story about your client suffering from poor results and how your solution released them from their pain, you may as well be starting with “and they lived happily ever after.” You will have also gotten the certainty sequence backward. Instead of helping your client recognize the need to change, you tell them they can have the better results by buying your solution.
The Right Story for the Certainty Sequence
A client who has agreed to a first meeting has a problem, otherwise they wouldn’t invite a salesperson to meet with them. The story this prospective client needs will provide them with an understanding of the headwinds, trends, and forces that cause them to experience negative outcomes.
Your story has no mention of your clients and their success, nor does it mention your company and how you have helped a lot of big companies improve their results. Instead, your story starts with an explanation of why the client is not producing the results they need. Perhaps you might benefit from an example of how this could apply to sales:
- The average win rates in enterprise sales is 17 percent, the lowest number most of us have ever seen.
- The average quota attainment is pegged at 27 percent.
- Gartner’s research shows an increase of buyers suggesting they prefer to buy without the help of a salesperson.
- Gartner’s survey also found that 68 percent of these same buyers have bought without the help of a salesperson.
- We have had five companies report they can get a first meeting without securing a second meeting.
- We have also seen companies increase the coverage in their pipeline in an attempt to hit their sales goals, only to fail. Some part of that 17 percent win rate is because many of what they believe are opportunities are nothing of the sort.
This is a story that provides the context in which the client will need to decide about how to move forward towards the better outcomes they need. Without this context, buyers may not understand why their results are suboptimal.
You and I believe we are responsible for creating value for our contacts and their stakeholders. To do that, we must help them understand their environment and the certainty of negative outcomes should they avoid the context and continue, going back to what they were doing before the conversation.
This approach has only failed me twice, both stories are found in Elite Sales Strategies: A Guide to Being One-Up, Creating Value, and Becoming Truly Consultative. You’ll also find a lot of content about this approach.
The Second Half of the Certainty Sequence
Later in the sales conversation, after you have collaborated with your contact and their stakeholders and while you are building consensus, the stories about your successes are helpful, as you are now focused on the certainty of positive outcomes, should the client change. This is especially helpful when a stakeholder asks you a question about how you might handle some scenario.
Here’s another example: One of our clients had used a legacy approach for almost three decades. Their win rates were low, and they were not generating the net new revenue they needed to hit their targets. After a transformation to a modern sales approach and training their sales managers to manage the behavioral changes, the company increased their revenue by 20 percent in the following year.
What you need to do here is to provide certainty of positive outcomes. In this environment, it is important to create both certainties in your sales conversation.
A Tale of Two Sales Stories
In a tale of two sales stories, it is important to use the right story at the right time. In early conversations, the most important stories address your client’s need to change, creating value by helping them with a greater understanding of the context surrounding their decision. Later in the conversation, you need to provide the certainty the buyer needs to have the confidence they will succeed. This is when the “why us” stories are necessary.
The right story at the right time can improve your ability to create value for your clients when and where they need it. Getting this sequence backwards is one reason buyers don’t want to meet with salespeople, fearing they will waste their time by trying to create the right story at the wrong time.