Pitching versus storytelling

The more one person talks in a sales conversation, the less the other person is likely to listen
David Fellman
November 14, 2018
By David Fellman
This is the third instalment in my series on The top 5 ways to talk yourself out of a sale. The topic for today is Pitching versus Storytelling. The official rules of baseball describe a pitch as a ball delivered to the batter by the pitcher. In North American slang though, we often refer to the words a salesperson uses to try to get someone to buy something as a sales pitch, and it is usually not considered a complimentary term.

Consultative style
Most salespeople employ a presentation style as opposed to a consultative style. What is the difference? In a presentation style, the seller tells the buyer all about the products, services or capabilities. In a consultative style, the seller asks the buyer about their wants and needs. In a presentation style, the seller is saying, “Here is what I think you need to know, now please make a decision.” In a consultative style, the seller is saying, “By asking the right questions and providing you with specific answers, I think I can help you make the best possible decision.” Which of these selling styles would you rather be on the buying side of?

There is more to this than just style. The more one person talks in any selling conversation, the less the other person is likely to listen. Think back on the last time your customer dominated any part of the conversation. Did you really listen to everything that was said, or were you thinking more about what you wanted to say?

The need for storytelling
I had a salesperson call me just this morning. The phone on my desk has a timer, and when it got to 60 seconds, I could remember thinking only eight words. Rather than listening, I was thinking, “Is this guy ever going to shut up?”

OK, I know I covered this issue in the first instalment, Too much talk, not enough listen, but it is important enough that I think it needs repeating.

Even in a consultative style, there comes a point where the seller must present a proposal. There is a difference though, between starting with a presentation and finishing with one.

In a consultative style, the tailored presentation comes after the needs analysis: “Based on what you’ve told me about your wants and needs, this is what I think you should do.”

Here is where the storytelling comes in. With all due respect to the Star Trek franchise, very few humans really want to go where no one has gone before. We do not want to take chances, we prefer the tried and true. I will grant you that many of us will take chances personally in search of recreation or entertainment, which can be anything from trying out a new restaurant to skydiving. I hope you will grant me, though, that buying printing has very little thrill potential attached to it. Print buyers want to make safe choices.

So how do you convince a buyer that you and your company are a safe choice? The salesperson who called me this morning told me his company has been in business for 35 years. He also told me they invest heavily in new manufacturing technology. He then hit several more bullet points before asking me if I would meet with him.

Let me suggest an alternate strategy: “Mr. Fellman, I have a story I would like to tell you. John Smith founded this company almost 35 years ago on a shoestring, like a lot of other small businesses. He was undercapitalized and underequipped and because of that, he had to do pretty much everything the hard way, but he always paid attention to what was going on in the industry. When he started getting a little bit ahead, he started investing in technology that would let him do things the right way, with greater efficiency, producing better quality. He also likes to say he made every possible mistake during those early years, but he thinks he learned how not to make them again. So, I guess I am asking you, do we sound like the kind of company you would like to work with? And if so, would you agree to meet with me?”

Yes, ultimately this is a sales pitch — a set of words used by a salesperson to get someone to buy something. So maybe the question is this, does the storytelling element make it a better pitch, one more likely to get the desired result? Obviously I think so, and I hope you will start thinking about incorporating storytelling into your own selling.  

Dave Fellman is the president of David Fellman & Associates, a graphic arts industry consulting firm based in Raleigh, N.C. He is a popular speaker who has delivered keynotes and seminars at industry events across the United States, Canada, England, Ireland and Australia. He is the author of “Sell More Printing” and “Listen To The Dinosaur.” Visit his website at www.davefellman.com.


This column was originally published in the November 2018 issue of PrintAction, now available online.

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