How to Sell Anything to Anyone by Telling Great Stories

How to Sell Anything to Anyone by Telling Great Stories

How to Sell Anything to Anyone by Telling Great Stories

access_time Aug/10/2017

Whatever line of business you’re in, almost everyone nowadays is in the business of selling. Whether you’re trying to get customers to buy your product, pitch your company to investors, motivate your employees or get your teenager to do the dishes, your success will be dictated by your ability to influence, persuade and “close the sale”. 

And storytelling is arguably the most powerful tool in your selling toolbox. 

The best lesson I ever learned about the power of sales stories was during a vacation to Iceland last year. I was at the airport gift shop looking to pick up some last-minute souvenirs for friends. I was thinking of getting a couple of fridge magnets that would cost no more than 5 euros apiece. The store had a huge selection of those, ranging from Icelandic landmarks to elf figurines. They were all very pretty and I had a hard time deciding which ones to get.

Related: Classic Tales to Mirror When Telling Your Brand Story

Then I noticed one magnet that looked cheaply made. It was a square piece of wood with a little magnet glued to the back. On the front there was a symbol painted in red, which looked like an eight-pointed star drawn by a toddler. 

“What is this?” I asked the store clerk, a 20-something blonde.

“Ah, this is a magic symbol for the Icelandic fishermen!” she said. 

She went on to tell me that when Iceland was first occupied by the Vikings, most people’s livelihoods depended on fishing. It was a dangerous occupation given the harsh climate. The Vikings worshiped the Norse gods, and this was the magic symbol the fishermen wore or carved on their boats to appease the gods and bring good fortune and protection to their fishing trips.

“How much is it?” I asked

“10 euros.”

I bought five of them. 

Related: Tell Your Startup's Story and Captivate Your Audience. Here's How.

If you think about it, what happened in that transaction was quite magical. Before the clerk told me the story about Vikings and gods, the magnet wasn’t worth a dime to me. After she told me the story, which blended elements of history, religion and exotic adventure, the little piece of wood suddenly had so much meaning that I had to get it -- gladly paying a premium price that doubled my budget.

Now when I gifted that magnet to friends, I’d tell them that story as well, so that they’d know I wasn’t gifting them a cheap piece of wood, but an embodiment of Icelandic magic and blessing. 

And that is the power of a well-told story. It gives meaning to a product that is otherwise impersonal. It differentiates your product offering from your competitors’ and makes it more memorable. It builds relationships and inspires your audience/customers/stakeholders to make decisions beyond pure logical calculation.

But, when should you tell stories in the selling process and how should you tell them? Let's start with how not to start a story.

1. Don't apologize or ask permission for telling a story.

Many people don’t know how to start telling a story, especially at work. They begin by saying things like “I’m sorry, but can I tell you a story about this?” or “I promise it will be really quick,” as though they were apologizing for doing something wrong. When you start a story that way, the message you’re communicating is “this story is not important.” Then why should your audience listen to you? If you don’t think your story is that important, don’t tell it. If you think it’s worth your audience’s time, don’t apologize. 

Related: The Secret of Storytelling

2. Don't use the 's' word.

The “s” word in this case is the word “story.” Don’t mention that word, unless your audience is a bunch of 5-years-olds. Many people in a work environment have a negative reaction to the word “story,” associating it with being unprofessional or inefficient. Don’t bias your audience by saying things like “Let me start today’s presentation with a story." 

3. Don't give away the ending

A main reason why stories make people pay attention to you is the suspense factor -- we all want to know what happened next. Don’t sabotage yourself by prematurely telling your audience how the story turned out. For example, in the middle of your story don’t say things like “Eventually what happened is [insert the ending], but at that time I didn’t know better.” You just ruined your story!

Related: Your Business Can Be Boring but Your Marketing Can't

This is the most effective way to start your story.

Storytelling coach Paul Smith explains that you should always start your story with a great hook. A hook in this case is a single sentence or phrase that demonstrates to your audience why they should listen to your story. For example, instead of saying, “Let’s get today’s meeting started. And I’ll begin by telling you a story,” try something like, “Let’s get today’s meeting started. Something happened last week that completely changed my thinking on how to run this department. I thought I’d tell you about that.” The former way is awkward and likely met with resistance from your audience. The latter way is an excellent hook that gets your listeners’ attention immediately. 

Another example of a hook: Remember that at the beginning of my Icelandic fridge magnet story I told you the best lesson I ever learned about the power of sales stories was when I went on vacation to Iceland? Yeah, that’s a hook. Did I get your attention? See!

Knowing when and how to tell stories is a powerful skill that will immediately boost your effectiveness in selling anything. 

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Handy is like the Uber of house cleaners. You sign up, and it’ll send someone to clean your home. My wife and I used the service a few years ago when we had a baby and no longer had time to clean our apartment ourselves. We were pretty happy with the result. A different cleaner would show up every time, and some were better than others, but they all basically got the job done. And then one day, a cleaner came, did a great job, and, before she left, she handed us her business card and said that if we hired her directly rather than through Handy, she’d give us a better price.

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That’s a good business strategy for her, right? After all, when she’s booked through Handy, the company takes a cut of her fee. If she books directly with us, she doesn’t lose that cut and can give us a part of it and still make more money. It’s less expensive for us, and more money for her. And frankly, because we liked her work, we’d like to build a relationship directly with her. In this equation, neither side was incentivized to keep doing business with Handy. We canceled our membership with the company, and have been using this same cleaning woman for years.

Almost every company calling itself the Uber of something will face this problem. These companies are connectors -- they create a large pool of people who are offering the same service, then attract customers looking for that service, and just put them together. But how do you stay relevant once the connection is made? How do you be the kind of company people keep wanting to use?

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Jaron Gilinsky figured it out. He’s the Jaron founder and CEO of Storyhunter, a platform that connects media companies and giant brands to freelance video producers and journalists in 180 countries. How’d he do it? That’s what this episode of Problem Solvers about.

To subscribe on iTunes, click here. Or, click play to listen below.

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Just a few years ago, it was virtually unheard of for an ecommerce site to use anything but Magento for their shopping platform needs. Certainly a platform like Shopify wouldn’t have been in the running for what most considered a “top-tier ecommerce platform.” Slowly but surely, though, these sentiments have begun to change and, in ever increasing numbers, marketers and business owners have begun to look to Shopify instead of Magento. Amazingly, in June of 2016, Shopify overtook Magento in terms of Google trends.

In fact, we here at Group 8A had one of our biggest months ever using Shopify and have been exceedingly satisfied with our choice of platform. Although, the decision did not come easy and we had to look at many different factors to determine which platform would best suit our needs.

Here are a few of the features we took into consideration when making our decision between Shopify and Magento.

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Ease of SEO

It might seem counterintuitive when there are so many other aspects to take into consideration, but for a business like ours that exists in an increasingly competitive marketplace, SEO is key (read: king). Furthermore, more than 35 percent of consumers begin their purchase through Google, so it’s no wonder why great SEO integration can make or break a business.

To be fair, both platforms easily allow the imbedding of page URLS, meta-descriptions, page titles, independent links, etc., which will allow your business to tailor your text to help boost the presence of a page or a site and with it your search engine rankings. But only Shopify has Traffic Control, a handy app that allows you to manage redirects so you don’t lose traffic or SEO rankings after migration. An app like this is absolutely imperative if you’re considering changing platforms.

Of course, Magento being open source, the SEO option could be unlimited if you have the technical know-how. If not, you might end up shelling out lots of money finding somebody who does.

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Pricing

Pricing should have probably been our first consideration (and for the folks with the money, it probably was) and both Shopify and Magento have their pros and cons.

Magento Community Edition is 100 percent free. Of course, if you want to upgrade to Enterprise Edition, you’ll have to request a quote from the company, which can be a hassle and potentially very expensive (in the $18,000 range).

Shopify has a few different pricing options for businesses.

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Likewise, the price of hosting your site is included in your Shopify subscription. If you’re using Magento, you’ll have to sign up with a third party hosting platform, which could cost anywhere from a few bucks to several hundred dollars a month.

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Shopify has a good many more varieties of themes overall, which are easy to adapt without any knowledge of code or coding. A casual glance over the look of the builds show an abundance of themes that are sleek, powerful and, most importantly, mobile friendly.

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Support

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Group 8A isn’t the only business to have success with the Shopify platform. Others too have seen massive increases in site conversions after migrating to Shopify. Overall, yes, both platforms boast some great features and, in the end, it’s going to come down to which is more ideal for your specific business and will best serve your strengths. 

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Nap-Happy Spain Finally Gets Its First Nap Cafe

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Increasingly, however, this tradition has been harder to keep for workers in urban centers whose employers don't pull down the shades during siesta.

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Cue Maria Estrella Jorro de Inza, a Spanish entrepreneur who took a trip to Japan and was inspired to transplant the idea of a nap cafe to her native homeland, surprisingly for the first time in the nap-happy country.

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"It's funny that we're known for the siesta, but we haven't been professional about it," De Inza told Bloomberg. "We get a lot of men in suits who just want to relax and women wanting to take their heels off. Lunch break is the busiest time."

The aptly named Siesta and Go opened in Madrid in May and features 19 beds and a coffee area. Staff provide about 30 customers daily with fresh sheets, earplugs and slippers.

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There's actually a serious debate going on in Spain right now about the future of the siesta. In 2016, the country's prime minister proposed a law to end the workday at 6 p.m., which would effectively kill the afternoon nap. The shorter workday would allow working Spaniards more time to take care of their families in the evening. However, many are attached to the siesta as part of the Spanish way of life.

On a related controversial note, some argue the country has been in the wrong timezone since 1942, when Spain's former dictator, Francisco Franco, pushed the clocks forward in a gesture of allegiance to Adolf Hitler.

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3 Tips for Raising Your Kids to Be Empathetic Entrepreneurs

The recent upheaval at Uber offers a cautionary tale about what happens when founders don't prioritize empathy. The $69 billion company has clearly had success in its market, but its hesitation to address harassment accusations and reports of driver disputes suggested a lack of empathy toward its employees.

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Employees, shareholders, customers -- everyone depends on them. And because empathy is a muscle one strengthens only over time, parents who want to raise entrepreneurial kids should begin developing that attribute now.

Fortunately, empathy is not a trait some are born with, and some not; everyone can practice -- and become good at -- understanding other people. Stepping into others' shoes begins with simple awareness, and parents are in the perfect position to model that for their kids. 

During these summer months, when your kids are around more than usual, you'll get plenty of opportunities to model good behavior. So, keep in mind: The way you interact with the world shapes your children's habits; if you're attentive to other people, they will be, too.

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Here's how to develop empathy among the future entrepreneurs in your family:

1. Make empathy a family habit.

You are your kids’ first teacher: Be mindful of the lessons you impart. When they fight with their siblings or friends, teach them to look at the argument from the other person's perspective. What might their brothers or sisters be feeling when they call them names or won’t share?

Do the same when you have conflicts with your spouse or relatives. If there’s a rift within the extended family, explain it to the kids while acknowledging the other side’s perspective.

In the business world, Costco modeled corporate empathy in an extraordinary way, following the 2008 economic collapse. Most companies were frantically searching for ways to cut costs, but Costco gave its employees a raise.

Rather than add to its workers' economic woes, it looked at the situation from where its employees stood and buoyed them during a difficult time. Today, Costco sees less than 10 percent turnover among its hourly team members.

2. Encourage emotional sharing.

Invite your kids to share not only what they’re feeling, but also why. Doing so builds emotional literacy and enables your children to communicate more effectively. Ever since our kids were young, my wife and I have made it a point to discuss our feelings openly and examine how we plan to act on those emotions.

We saw our children carry that practice into their own lives outside our home. When our son was 12, he stood up for a classmate who was being bullied, asking the young offender why he felt that he needed to act that way. Our son was not an especially outspoken type, but he told me he intervened because he didn't understand and couldn't accept why someone would treat a peer that way.

As kids grow into adults, they likely won't be sharing their deep feelings at work (founder or otherwise), but they will be sharing their ideas. Workers who feel comfortable offering input and pitching ideas to their managers are 54 percent more engaged than those who feel that they can’t approach their bosses, according to a Gallup study. Empathy is crucial for developing a healthy work environment, so the sooner future leaders learn to exercise it, the better.

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3. Teach your kids to read others’ body language.

In a 20-year study from Duke and Penn State universities, researchers followed children from kindergarten through age 25 to observe how their interpersonal skills correlated with long-term success.

They concluded that those with strong social habits, such as empathy and conflict resolution, were more likely to finish college and land full-time jobs than their less socially adept peers.

Understanding body language is a core component of healthy interpersonal development, so look for opportunities to explain body cues to your kids. Use TV shows, movies and play-date interactions as teachable moments in this area.

Having company over is also a great time to practice paying attention to what people say through both their words and body language. When we had guests visit our home, my wife and I taught our kids to shake their hands and look them in the eye.

Our kids also paid attention to what a guest might need -- a glass of water or directions to the coat room -- rather than to scurry shyly away. As they grew older, that attentiveness helped them sense when someone’s feelings were going unspoken and to anticipate how to improve the situation.

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Organizational change expert Manfred Kets de Vries wrote, “Empathy enhances our ability to receive and process information and to find solutions.” Nothing could be more important to future entrepreneurs, and parents have the power to instill this skill at a young age.

Teaching children empathy now lays the foundation for a successful, enriching and emotionally rewarding future. The best part? All kids can learn it -- they just need someone to teach them.

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3 Types of Effective Digital Ads You Haven't Yet Tried

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1. Reddit ads

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The site has forums for people who love everything from sports to pets and even adult products. Users share stories, swap tips and link to news. Currently, Reddit contains over 50,000 different communities, meaning that most brands can find their own target audience on the site.

Reddit ads, moreover, are inexpensive. You can start a campaign for just $5 per day and cancel at any time.

Setting up a Reddit ad can be done in minutes and is nearly foolproof. You simply select the interests that you believe your target audience is likely to be interested in, or select specific sub-Reddit forums to place your ads on.

You then set your budget, add your copy and images and start the campaign!

If you decide after a day or two that the ads aren’t generating the results you'd hoped for, you can always stop the campaign and try one of the other options mentioned in this post.

2. Stack Adapt

Have you ever found yourself reading an article on a popular website like CNN, then being presented with recommended articles at the end of the post? Those recommended posts take you to a third-party site where you can read another post related to the headline you clicked on.

These articles get placed through a native advertising exchange like Outbrain or Taboola. A native advertising exchange is a platform that places sponsored content on popular websites. It’s different from a regular ad network because you’re placing blog posts and articles inside of banner or text-only ads.

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In this category, Taboola's pricing starts at $10 per day, while Outbrain lets you set your own budget.

When using one of these tools, you’ll gain trust and credibility by associating your brand with sites like CNN, Reuters, USA Today, Popular Science and the many other reputable sites the networks can place your sponsored content on.

Additionally you'll reach people in your target audience, offering friendly, helpful content rather than a cold sales pitch. Many people don’t like feeling targeted by ads, but most people do like helpful content.

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In addition to creating content that can be shared on ad exchanges, you might also create posts that you pitch to an influential blog or business magazines. For example, the supplement and exercise equipment company Vanna Belt frequently buys sponsored placements on health and fitness blogs.

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The fee for a sponsored post of this type is usually a flat rate paid to the blogger based on how many visits the site gets per month. Expect to pay between $50 and $5,000 per sponsored post.

If you don’t want to write and pitch content to popular blogs, you could pay them to write about you. In this case you’ll likely pay a higher flat rate fee to the blogger since he or she will have to write, edit and shoot photos for the post.

The primary benefit of this type of sponsored post, despite its higher cost, is that the post comes off as a recommendation from the blogger. Since bloggers are influential with their audiences, this may help you increase the ROI from your sponsorship, since readers will be more likely to trust that your product is good, thanks to the review and recommendation.

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Getting started

All of the non-traditional ad types listed here can be launched relatively quickly. The only thing holding you back is yourself. So, head on over to Reddit or Outbrain today and get started setting up your first campaign. 

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