ATD Blog

The Art of Sales Training: Storytelling

Friday, May 22, 2015

The thought of training salespeople can send shivers through the strongest of warriors. Why does sales training have such a bad rep? Contrary to popular opinion, it’s not the salesperson’s fault—it’s ours. As trainers, we need to understand our audience and enable accordingly. And salespeople are generally relationship people and storytellers.

When we bust out a slide deck to engage an audience of gregarious salespeople, it’s a recipe for a lullaby. Instead, we need to make certain those extroverted brains absorb vital information. When I think to some of the best learning experiences or presentations I’ve seen, there is one thing in common: the presenter told an amazing story. 

Here is how to construct your training in the same way. 

Center Your Story on the Hero 

Every great story has a hero who we want to see live “happily ever after.” If you are a sales person, your hero is your buyer. If you are training salespeople, your hero is sales. When you keep the story centered on the hero, everything falls into place—from the language you use, to the main objective of the story. It is about THEM, not about what we want them to accomplish in the training. 


Have an End Goal: The “Happily Ever After” 

The hero has to achieve something by the end of the learning experience in order to live “happily ever after.” This is your end goal (your objective). When I develop a sales training package, I start with the end goal in mind. Then, I work backward from the goal to flesh out the beginning and middle of the story. 

Stories Have a Beginning, a Middle, and an End 


Think about any awesome movie you’ve watched, like one of my personal favorites, Star Wars (Episode 4). There is a clear Beginning (you meet Luke and learn about the Force), a Middle (he goes on a journey to becoming a Jedi and a bunch of crazy, dangerous stuff ensues), and an End (he becomes a powerful Jedi and saves the Universe from the evil Empire). There is no reason why your training can’t follow the same flow for your sales heroes! 

Stories Have Conflict and Transformation 

Any training involves an element of change. Indeed, you want the people in the room to undergo a change in order to be better than they are now. But change is hard! Instead of shying away from that fact, embrace it in your training session and develop materials that will allow each participant to actively undergo that transformation through practice, role playing, and activities. 

The best thing about adopting a storytelling approach to sales training is how it makes the sales reps feel. Hopefully, by the end of the learning experience, they have a sense of empowerment—like they overcame great obstacles to accomplish an awesome goal. I encourage anyone in a sales enablement role to give it a try…just don’t let those salespeople know your storytelling secret! 

About the Author

Melissa Madian is vice president of sales enablement for Vision Critical. Her expertise is in applying the principles of modern marketing to the development of the skills, knowledge, behaviors, and processes of sales teams so they excel while growing personally and professionally. In September of 2013, Melissa was featured as the ATD Sales Enabler of the Month.  

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