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The Sales Story Must Pass The So What? Test

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by Mike on September 5, 2012

The “sales story” is our most important sales weapon.

By “story,” I mean the collection of talking points we use to communicate when selling. Most executives and most salespeople I meet don’t have a consistent, compelling, succinct, differentiating, customer-focused sales story. That’s mind boggling to me, because pieces of “the story” are incorporated into every other sales weapon – email, the phone call, voicemail messages, the initial face-to-face sales call, presentations, follow-up materials, and proposals.

The most deadly and most prevalent sin when it comes to the sales story? Self-focus. Every day I hear salespeople and professional services executives blabber on about their offerings — their oh-so-wonderful company and its products, services, and solutions. “Blah, blah, blah. We do this, that and other thing…blah, blah, blah, blah, blah…”

Harsh truth: No one cares how smart you are or how great you think your company is. I came up with that line back in the year 2000 after the most painful, embarrassing and formative experience in my sales career. It’s too long a story to share here, but it’s the foundation of Chapter 13 in New Sales. Simplified. and why I am so passionate today about about both the sales story and the structure and content of presentations. One reviewer of my book wrote that Chapter 13 was worth the price of the book alone, so I encourage you to check it out.

Recently, I have been encouraging salespeople and executives to listen carefully when their colleagues are speaking to a prospective customer, and then ask a very simple question: So what?  You know why we should ask that after saying or writing something to a prospect? Because that’s exactly what the prospect is thinking and asking: So what? Why does this matter to me?

A few months ago I was coaching an inside sales team with a large staff of reps making outbound calls. I couldn’t believe how many of the reps described their company as a “supplier” early on during a first call to a prospective customer. “This is Sally with XYZ Widget, we are a supplier of….”  Wow. Not very strong, is it? What is the natural reaction of the buyer upon hearing “we’re a supplier.” Right. Their first thought, whether verbalized or not, is that they already have a supplier. When we start our pitch by talking about what we do, the prospect is likely thinking “we’ve got that covered.” We already have a supplier. We already have a banking relationship. We already have someone cleaning our data center. We already have __________ [plug in what your company does in the blank].

Being more passionate or yelling louder doesn’t fix your self-focused story. Neither your confidence nor your enthusiasm is the issue. It’s what you’re saying that’s the problem. So how can you sharpen your sales story to pass the “So what?” test?

Stop talking about what you do, and start talking about what you do for customers!

Want a compelling story that piques the interest of prospective customers? Start out by sharing the issues you address for clients. Talk about the problems you solve, the pains you remove, the results you help customers achieve. When we talk about the issues that  are likely on prospect’s minds an amazing thing happens. They listen. Not only that, they may even lower their anti-salesperson auto-reflex defense shield.

Try the “So what?” test. Observe other salespeople. Read your own company’s marketing material and website. Scan a few proposals. Look through a few emails you’ve sent to prospects. Replay the voicemail messages you’re leaving. And every time, imagine you are the prospective customer asking “so what?” You might be pained realizing how much of what we write and say is focused on us, not on the customer. No wonder they don’t respond, call back, invite us in, or say “yes.”

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Mark Kosoglow September 13, 2012 at 9:01 am

Mike,

Great article. My company’s mission is to teach kids how to plan (we sell student agendas to schools across the country). I have been trying to get my sales team to always include their personal story about when they started planning, why planning is important to them, and how it changed their life. I know my story and have shared it a thousand times.

Why are sales people so resistant to story telling? I’d much rather tell a story than go through a list of sales points. Why is it so hard to get people to do this?

Reply

Mike September 13, 2012 at 10:23 am

Hi Mark,
Nice to “meet” you. Thanks for the comment and question. I can’t give a good answer as to why salespeople rather talk sales points than share a story. I think it has to do with you were raised and then mentored early in your career. My mentors were masters at framing the “sales story” around customer issues, so I picked that up and made the most of it.

Keep selling and keep preaching it!
Mike

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