Data is necessary for legitimizing a solution, but a story is necessary for promoting it.
In business, reliable data is needed to make sound decisions, but data can be overwhelming and sometimes cause inertia that slows or stops the buying process. To bridge the gap between the need for data and the need for clarity, sales professionals can include data as part of a larger narrative by leveraging a storytelling approach in sales.
Combining storytelling and data sharing in sales is a three-part process. To successfully execute the sales conversation, the sales professional must:
- Source the right data.
- Organize and “right-size” the data for their audience.
- Insert the data into a compelling narrative.
Here, we look at these three steps in more detail.
Source the Right Data
Once the sales professional has asked the right questions, they can focus on assembling the right data. They should carefully select the information that matters to the customer and demonstrates the gains offered by their solution.
The information should be concise, research-backed evidence to support the value of the solution.
Strong statistical evidence shapes opinions. However, remember that statistics can backfire. Even if the customer agrees with your position, they may recoil if supportive information comes from an unaccredited source.
Organize and “Right-Size” the Data
When organizing data, sales professionals must remember to right-size the information. Too much data creates a burdensome cognitive load.
Sales professionals can maintain clarity by assessing data through the lens of their buyers’ processing power. Understanding how much information an individual buyer can process might seem daunting, but this task is made easier by developing an understanding of cognitive load theory.
Cognitive load theory is an area of research that explores how well humans absorb and retain information.
The core components of cognitive load theory (intrinsic load, extraneous load, and germane load) provide three guidelines for organizing and “right-sizing” information. These guidelines are:
- Present material that accounts for the customer’s existing knowledge base
- Avoid nonessential information that complicates the solution
- Segment information to make absorption easier
Insert Data into a Narrative
Good storytelling follows a logical progression. While narratives differ across various genres, each adheres to the same core structure. What’s important is that each stage of the story leads to the next.
This flow is important because the sales professional needs the data and the solution to fit seamlessly into the story.
Sales professionals can look to the conventional story structure to tie their data together into a continuous presentation. Story structure keeps listeners engaged because it moves. Therefore, sales professionals should not labour over one part. Rather, they should make their point, then move to the next piece. As Pulitzer Prize-winning author David Mamet explains, the basic format of a story is:
- Once upon a time … (The business entered a new market.)
- And then one day … (They started to grow and take market share.)
- And just when it was going so well … (Unforeseen technical challenges upended customer implementations.)
- When just at the last minute … (They partnered with a provider to rapidly fix the issues and scale.)
- And they all lived happily ever after … (They reached ROI performance goals and improved customer satisfaction.)
The simplicity of this five-part format is its greatest feature. Why? Because business challenges—and the solutions—are increasingly complex. Therefore, a simplified story structure helps keep the discussion focused.
Success in selling belongs to the sales professional who can balance the role of analyst with storyteller. Doing so requires the ability to source, organize, and communicate data in a way that connects the solution to the challenge. Like the progression of a good story, these three pieces fit together in a logical succession. Click here to learn more about why, when it comes to selling, data is the fuel, and the story is the engine.