How Storytelling Can Help You Sell

Over the course of an hour on Wednesday, Don Goldmannheld his audience spellbound, recounting tales about the mythical Trojan horse, a smooth talker who sold “premium” wine at $2 per bottle for Trader Joe’s, and the calling out of random numbers in a penitentiary that invoked raucous laughter among its prisoners.

The common thread of this wide-ranging narrative: the value of storytelling. Goldmannn, a vice president at Word & Brown University and president of the National Association of Health Underwriters (NAHU), was the closing keynote speaker at BenefitsPRO Broker Expo, held in Fort Lauderdale April 18-20.

A veteran raconteur himself, Goldmann used the occasion to convey the essential role that anecdotes and yarns—whether drawn from one’s own life experiences or borrowed from another’s—can play in a benefits broker’s practice.

Good storytelling serves several purposes, each of which is key to achieving success in sales:

(1) educating or informing;

(2) persuading; and

(3) motivating the listener.

Too often, Goldmann noted, brokers use data and cold logic to try to win over potential clients. But to earn a prospect’s trust, they first must “speak to the heart, not the head.” Hence the value of storytelling—using a tale, parable, anecdote or chronicle to convey the value of a product or service in an emotionally compelling way.

“Sales don’t start with a spreadsheet, PowerPoint or data dump,” said Goldmann. “Since the dawn of man, there was always a storyteller—often a keeper of oral history—whose role was to inform, persuade and motivate.

“Some pride themselves on being logical and creating sales systems based on logic,” he added. “But logic, data dumps, spreadsheets and PowerPoint decks can only support an emotionally-driven decision to buy. Data can help justify that decision, but it can’t speak to the heart.”

That lesson proved valuable early in Goldmann’s career when he met with a couple to pitch a life insurance product. All seemingly went well as Goldmann related facts and figures in support of the product, until they broke for coffee. The husband then told Goldmann privately that he would never buy a policy because he didn’t care about his wife or kids.

That disclosure cut short the engagement. Six months later, Goldmann met once more with the husband, this time relating in emotional and raw terms the financial distress that other surviving spouses and children suffered because the breadwinner didn’t buy life insurance. That clinched the sale.

Goldmann added that storytelling should not be used to create, uncover or instill in prospects desires they didn’t know they had. Rather, the aim should be to serve existing needs. Determine what customers want, then explore how financial solutions in one’s toolkit can help fulfill the clients’ goals and objectives.

“People don’t want to be sold,” said Goldmann. “They want you to tell them a story so that they want to buy.”

Goldmann compared the effect of a sales technique to an imaginary balloon inside prospects. When they feel they’re being sold a product they don’t want, the balloon inflates and becomes rigid, obstructing access to the heart. Only when the balloon is deflated—when one speaks to the heart—will they become receptive to the message.

For Goldmann, one measure of this openness is how prospects answers two questions he asks business owners: “Do you have group health insurance?” And “Do you think you’re getting value for your premium dollars?” When they answer “yes,” they often mean “go away,” and don’t want to discuss the subject further.

When he asks a third question, “How do you know you’re getting good value?” they often can’t say. That provides an entrée to Goldmann’s next move: offering to compare features and benefits of competitive products at the same price point as the existing policy, then letting the prospect decide if he or she is receiving adequate value.

When he does this sale pitch, the prospect’s balloon “deflates to empty,” said Goldmann, adding that the technique can be applied to the gamut of an individual’s insurance needs. And it’s at this point — when you have the listener’s ear—that you can apply the power of storytelling.

“Do you not have a story that you tell that will percolate up from the heart to the head?” Goldmann asked his audience. “Once prospects’ ears are opened, talk to them about what they want to help them hear about what they really need. It’s the storytelling that let’s us do that,” he added. “What’s your story?”

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