Are Sales Reps Losing the Art of Storytelling?

I feel like so many sales reps are failing to learn how to present to a prospect.

I’ve sat on demos as both a Manager and as a prospect. If there’s one thing I’ve seen that surprises me to no end it’s that so many reps have little ability to tell an interesting, informative, and compelling story while presenting their product.

Honestly, many of these presentations have barely gone beyond something I could have gotten from a pre-recorded demo, and I have to commit twice as much time to have that conversation.

The future of sales will be reps doing the things computers can’t, and the number one things computers can’t do is weave an interesting story as you steadily understand a prospect better while walking through what your company does and how that can solve important problems.

Early in my sales career I never had the pleasure of selling truly amazing products. Long before I had my first tech sales role I had the opportunity to sell some of the least sexy products imaginable.

My first real sales role was one I took while in college. You may have heard of people selling this, you may have done it yourself. I worked for Vector Marketing selling Cutco knives.

Talk about a brutal game.

Here I was, calling on the middle class families I knew in my small town, setting up demos to present a set of knives that cost ten times what most people would spend on something to simply chop up vegetable and prepare a chicken. When we all submitted our initial prospecting lists, mine had less than half the names my peers’ had written down. You couldn’t script a better way to fail as a sales rep.

A couple weeks later I was one of the top reps on the team.

Selling knives was more art than science. Sure, we had a presentation that everyone learned. Anyone could deliver the presentation. Anyone. The top performers were precisely that: performers.

Too many reps take the amazing and turn it into merely “better than the status quo.”

I had the opposite challenge. I had knives that cut better and were more durable, but for ten times the money. They were merely better than the status quo. My job wasn’t to sell you on the fact that they were better knives, because that was obvious.

My job was to turn the person using the knives into the star of their own kitchen.

What does the star of the kitchen use? That’s right, knives meant for a chef, not a mere mortal.

Any time you simply run through the demo of your product you are missing a golden opportunity to help your prospect see how their world could be different. How they could make an even bigger impact.

Products should never be the star of the show, they should focus on how the product makes the prospect the star of the show.

After graduating from college I sold something even sexier than high-end knives: industrial cleaning chemicals. For many businesses I was selling a product they literally did not want to have to think about, ever.

Knowing this, it actually made it easier for me to sell what we did instead of our products.

One of our biggest pitches was the fact that we did everything for you up until the point you went to use the product. We supplied you with the containers, equipment, setup, and maintenance so you didn’t have to think about it. All you did was use it when you needed to.

The catch? Well, I had to make cleaning chemicals interesting enough to get the prospect to consider changing vendors!

My boss was a master of this. His presentations were a mixture of information, competitive advantages, and humor, all held together by a compelling narrative.

I’ve seen too many demos where the rep seems to think the product will do the talking. If that’s all you can do, how long will it take your company to find software that can do the same?

Great reps tie their key points together with an interesting and informative a story, while the rest will lose their jobs to AI and webinars.

My customers were the ones who realized that our story – a business where you don’t have to think about the cleaning chemicals you buy, one with a simpler, safer, well maintained, and better managed system in place – fit their vision of the best version of their business.

I wasn’t in the business of selling cleaning chemicals. I was in the business of telling a story and finding prospects who believed that yes, they could make their business better by changing vendors for a product everyone took for granted yet was absolutely essential to getting the job done.

To understand what story you should be telling, ask yourself….

How do my prospects view their world, and how is that different from the way my customers view their world because of our products?

Here’s the key. Your story isn’t your story. It’s the story about how your prospects change.

The whole point of tying your presentation to the story instead of your product is because people resonate with stories. We learn from stories. And along the way we laugh, cry, things go bad, things get better, and we hopefully wind up in a better place.

Your demos should be more like a rollercoaster ride. Take your prospects for a ride. Hey, some might not like it, sure. I guarantee you more people will remember it, talk about it, buy from you, and refer other prospects to you if you spend your time with them helping them to see the way things could be instead of walking them through your product.

Dust off the costumes. Act like you’re a floor scrubber. Crack a well-timed joke. Put on a show.

Whatever you do, please don’t walk your prospects through a simple product demo. That’s what the robots are going to be for.


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