Storytelling is the new buzzword in business. Young entrepreneurs swear by the power of stories to gain the attention of millennials, ironically a generation of consumers characterized by incredibly short attention spans. Modern management gurus suggest that the contemporary corporate organization can benefit a great deal from applying the storytelling method of communication in every facet of their work, from human resources to operations.
Stories create "sticky" memories by attaching emotions to facts.
While the immense possibilities that storytelling holds for corporate professionals makes it a hot topic in management seminars today, global business leaders, great entrepreneurs and successful sales people have always used stories to influence customers, inspire teams and win over investors. During the course of writing my book, The Indian Millionaire Next Door, I found that salespersons in financial services employed some wonderful storytelling techniques to prospect for new customers, build rapport, handle objections and close the sale. Many of the top financial advisors I interviewed and profiled in my book used stories to tell their customers who they are, what they do, why they do it and what they have accomplished -- all aspects of communication that the new technologically savvy entrepreneur sometimes finds challenging. Here are some examples of remarkable storytelling culled from my book which could be applied by professionals in varied businesses:
1. Who you are
Business storytelling seminars and articles tell us that stories create "sticky" memories by attaching emotions to facts. This exercise begins with the way you introduce yourself. Experts say that your introduction should illustrate something interesting about you: your life, your work or your background. Here, the business card serves as a useful aid.
Preeti Kucheria, one of the "millionaires" in my book, has the title Financial Gardner on hers. Sales people are often called hunters or farmers depending on their ability to scout for new customers or their knack for generating business through referrals and upselling. Priti's card not only is a conversation starter, it also gives a clear indication of her focus on nurturing relationships with her customers.
2. What you do
The essence of storytelling is the ability to clearly spell out a benefit statement: how speaking to you will benefit the listener. Nowhere is the concept of benefit statements applied as rigorously as in the world of insurance selling. Insurance advisors regularly use examples and metaphors to illustrate what they do.
Ritu Nanda, arguably India's best known insurance advisor, says that stories create an image in the clients' mind that helps them grasp the concept and understand the product better. "I ask the clients to imagine that the life insurance plan is a pipe with no leakages. There is a tap at the end and it opens only when you retire or in case something unfortunate happens." Good storytelling helps simplify details and gets the message across without any confusing jargon.
3. Why you do it
Much before leadership consultant and author Simon Sinek eloquently articulated the business value of finding the purpose of your business in his famous Ted Talk "Start With Why", financial sales people have been reflecting on why they became insurance or mutual funds agents and scripting it into their sales talk. As Sinek puts it, people aren't only buying what you do -- they're buying why you do it. The "why" in your story is one of the biggest differentiators for your business.
Rajesh Satoskar, a top LIC agent from Mumbai, does not discuss return on investment or tax savings... His presentation to the client focuses on their dreams for their loved ones.
Yogesh Lahoti, an investment advisor from Pune, says that in his first meeting with a client he always mentions that he loves his work. Having experienced poverty as he was growing up, he explains to them, makes him understand how the lack of financial planning can impact a family adversely. "My background has made me passionate about helping people achieve their financial goals, he tells his clients emphatically.
4. How you do it
Apart from understanding what you do and why you do it, your customers and associates also want to know how you do it. Here you need to powerfully articulate exactly how your business will solve the client's problem or fulfil their need.
Rajesh Satoskar, a top LIC agent from Mumbai, does not discuss return on investment, tax savings and other mathematical equations in his sales meetings with clients. His presentation to the client focuses on their dreams for their loved ones. He narrates a story in which his client and their family are the key characters. He says, "Suppose I meet a client who has a three-year-old daughter. Let us call her Simran. Simran is playing around the living room when I visit. I take out a paper and write Simran's name on it and say, 'This is for Simran.' The parents immediately sit up in their chairs. I do not talk about appreciation of money, I do not mention yields or any other technical stuff, I only talk about their daughter. Using the sheet of paper I illustrate an ambitious plan to fulfil the ﬁnancial requirements that will arise as Simran grows older." Satoskar like many astute entrepreneurs knows that the buying process hinges as much on emotional reasons as it does on rational ones.
5. Proof you're good at it
Sometimes customers are not satisfied with explanations of how you can help them; they also want to know how someone in a similar situation benefited from your proposal or services. When telling such a story, entrepreneurs could start by sharing the problem someone was facing and how your solutions helped them toward their goals. This method allows the listener to relate to your story, and will give them the confidence necessary to go to buy your idea or service. Employees too, often want proof to be convinced of your decision or direction. Girish Patel, another "millionaire" in my book, leads a large team of independent financial advisors. He is often required to motivate team members who have experienced early failure and inspire them to keep working towards their long-term goals. "You have to use stories of people who have overcome greater odds to keep them from giving up," says Girish Patel. "People sometimes get frustrated and impatient and my job is to give them hope for the next day with these examples."
Outlining what you do, why you do it, how you do it, and when you've successfully done it -- in a unique and engaging way -- is a time-tested way to connect with customers and associates. For today's marketer trying to reach out to the hyper-stimulated consumer constantly bombarded with marketing messages, it becomes imperative that the concept of storytelling is used to lift up the communication and focus on meaningful messages that make an emotional connection with people.