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Understanding Business Storytelling

Stories create a communication bridge to connect the left and right sides of the brain, by touching the rational elements of our customers (and team members), as well as their emotional aims and objectives. Storytelling in the corporate environment is generally used in marketing and product development. This technique can also be used in other areas to improve results. One of the best places to use storytelling is sales management. One of most powerful ways to engage a sales team and the customers is to use storytelling. Although it’s a natural competence for many salespeople, not all sales managers are able to tell effective stories to their sales team or customers. 

Stories are useful conduits for reinforcing your business priorities and values, because they will help sales representatives better understand what corporate values mean in terms of behavior. For example, it is one thing to say that an organization values integrity. But it’s another thing altogether to tell a story of how integrity saved $1 billion during a situation with a sales customer. 

Like any good story, we’ll start at the beginning. To make it simple, here’s my definition of strategic storytelling for sales management: Storytelling is the art of telling a story that will engage listeners by providing a link between facts and emotions. The storyline must make sense during the beginning, middle, and end, with actions made by a memorable character. That character must achieve a goal through a sequence of events that engage listeners and create emotional experiences for them, so that they can experience the story again and again to feel the same emotions as the first time the story was told. 

It is easy and natural. If you are wondering, “What is in it for me?” try to remember three real situations you have faced in your day-to-day sales management that fit this definition. As sales managers, we should be able to tell and remember many stories that express our routine and our challenges.

By telling stories, we can explain to the sales professionals who report to us how to approach a customer, how to apply the sales methodology learned in the corporate university, and how to be successful in this beautiful science of selling. 

Storytelling is something well recognized by professionals from a variety of disciplines, such as historians, literary critics, filmmakers, cognitive psychologists, lawyers, neurologists, physicians, economists, and, yes, professional storytellers. As F. Scott Fitzgerald said: “Draw your chair up to edge of the precipice, and I’ll tell you a story.” 


Sales management using strategic storytelling 

As a sales manager, how and where do you start looking for stories? To make it simple and applicable, the majority of our stories regarding the sales processes will come from events or relationships. Examining the events we attend during our sales routines, we can recognize many small stories that relate how we can act, react, and interact with our team and customers. 

Relationships are also a good source for stories. The tense we use is an important element in crafting a story. For example, some events from past experiences, when properly understood and told, will lead you to future events. One of the most important reasons for crafting a good story from a past experience is to make conclusions to improve the impact of the events you will be organizing in the future. In some stories, relationships and their outcomes can be the main purpose of what is being told, while in other stories, the relationships will be a peripheral element to the story. 

Learning from scientists, we know that our intuition is very important for creating, telling, and understanding stories. Once we can understand the main elements of a narrative, intuitively we make connections with our day-to-day imagining the scenes, emotions, and characters.


Note: This article is excerpted from The Art of Modern Sales Management by Renie McClay.

© 2015 ASTD, Alexandria, VA. All rights reserved.

About the Author
President of MOT, a consulting company based in Miami, Lisbon (Portugal) and São Paulo,(Brazil). Chairman of the ASTD Advisory Board in 2010 (ICE Chicago). Technical Director for ABTD (the Brazilian T&D Association). Author of 10 business books. Co-author of ASTD Sales Management Handbook and ASTD Management Handbook. International business consultant experience in implementing blended learning programs and human resources projects, in more than 120 companies, and in 25 countries.
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