It’s quite embarrassing really.
Hard to swallow. Difficult to admit….

All of business, every number, calculation, innovation, take-over, merger, dividend, price, hedge, expansion, contraction….everything commerce related, comes down to one thing: storytelling.

Fluffy, soppy, and as old as time, storytelling is the centre of the business universe around which every Dollar, Rand and Penny revolve.

If you’ve got a good story, you sell.
If you’ve got a bad story, you don’t sell.

Good stories move the share price up. Bad stories move it down.

But what if you don’t have a story?

This is the problem I see with many young businesses such as startups and SMMEs. They haven’t got a brand story – yet. They focus all their efforts on the product or service they sell, but don’t know how to talk about it in a compelling way.

Now let’s be clear: you get true stories, and you get false stories. The type your business should tell, is the true type. But even true stories can be boring or sound just like someone else’s.

We’ve got a great product that no one wants to buy

I often hear business owners say to me “…we’ve got a great product but the customer refuses to listen to us…”. When this happens, go look at the story you tell. That is where the problem lies.

So what are the building blocks of a good story?

Start by answering these three questions:

  1. Who are we talking to?
  2. What is the problem / challenge / frustration they experience?
  3. How can we help them solve that problem?

In my work with companies I find the biggest issue is with point 2 – defining the customer’s problem. They tend to know who they are talking too (point 1), and how their product performs (point 3), but they don’t actually understand the customer’s real problem. The result is that they just can’t make the sale.

Trying to sell a solution to a customer without knowing their true problem

The way to get around this is to stop selling and start talking to your prospective customer. Get a real sense of what it is they need before you craft your sales pitch. In fact, craft your sales pitch inside the four walls of your customer’s office, not the ivory tower of your boardroom, factory or warehouse.

Once you have a story, the next challenge is to tell it in a consistent way.

Every parent knows that it is one thing reading to your kids from a great book, but a whole different thing being a good story teller. A good story is told consistently, every night. If you put on a deep, groaning voice for the main character on the first night, you need to do it every night, until the book is finished.

Businesses struggle with this because it means getting everybody, from the secretary to the sales rep to the delivery guy to sing from the same hymn sheet.

The challenge is to get everybody to sing from the same hymn sheet

If your story is about speed; you offer the fastest delivery, quickest response time or most up to date information, then everyone should talk speed. The receptionist should answer the phone quickly. The sales rep must generate quotes quickly. Your dispatch team should deliver quickly. Everyone needs to tell a speed story.

It just takes one person to be out of sync, and your story falls flat.

Amazing, isn’t it? That same thing you enjoyed so much as a kid, listening to a good story, is what drives all adult, mature, intelligent business transactions.

Next time you sit in-front of a customer, tell them one helluva good story. You’ll see the numbers go up.

Image source: Flickr