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EDITOR’S NOTE: We conducted this interview in February 2020 before the pandemic. Since the show was released during the pandemic, it’s so valid as we need to draft interesting stories to help our customers recover from the resultant economic challenges.
EPISODE 241: Introvert Edge Author Matthew Pollard Details How Crisp Storytelling Can Lead to Sales Recovery as Re-Opening Accelerates
MATT’S FINAL TIP TO EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “People remember 22 times more information when it’s embedded into a story which makes it so much easier to sell. Block out time to write a story, perfect it, learn it and then actually put the skill into action and you’ll see a transformation in your sales results.”
Matthew Pollard is the author of The Introvert’s Edge which has been recognized by Hubspot, Sales Hacker and BookAuthority as one of the top sales books of all time.
He’s also a global expert on storytelling for sales.
Find Matthew on LinkedIn here.
Fred Diamond: Matthew, it’s great to have you on the Sales Game Changers podcast today. I want to talk about storytelling, a lot of the people who listen to the show want to know how they can tell better stories in their sales process.
Matthew Pollard: Firstly, it’s an absolute honor to be on. I’ve heard your show before and you have some amazing guests so it’s great to be on this side of the equation. When people look at storytelling in their businesses or their careers, the biggest issue that I find that they have is that they think they tell great stories. Generally I find pretty soon that they either don’t tell stories at all, they just think that a story comes up when they submit a document that has a case study on it or if they do tell a story, it tends to be more, “A customer wanted this so we gave it to them.”
That’s about it, I tend to find that they lack depth and to me, stories should be more like the conversation about how you met your wife or how you met your husband, over time they get better and better so it’s always the same stories that you should be telling. I remember the first time I told the story of how I met my wife and originally when I first told the story I started to notice people were bored with certain elements so I stopped telling those parts. Then there were certain elements that people really enjoyed so I started to embellish on those parts. I think everybody does that, eventually it becomes a bit of a theatrical masterpiece, I say this, my wife says that, we say this together, then we look at each other, we hold hands and we say, “So that’s how we met.” We’ve rehearsed it almost a thousand times, every time we tell somebody we’re rehearsing it. I think what the biggest hurdle I see in the business format is in our personal lives we tell such emotionally rich stories, yet in our business careers there’s generally no emotion because we’re talking to a specific person.
Fred Diamond: Let me ask you a couple quick questions about storytelling. We have a lot of young people who listen to the Sales Game Changers podcast that might be in the first, maybe in the second stage of their career, first or second job, if you will. They don’t think they have any stories, is that true? How do you deal with that?
Matthew Pollard: It’s interesting, I think that I’ve seen organizations especially in the technology space at the moment, they’re hiring hundreds if not thousands of new people and they just can’t resource that unless they’re looking at the universities and hiring people with just no experience. You’re not just dealing with people that don’t have stories for the organization that they work for, they don’t have any stories period because this is their first job so they’re dealing with impostor syndrome because they’re talking to a customer and they can think in their head, their head’s almost screaming, “This person that I’m talking to is probably thinking, ‘How long have you had this job?'”
Secondly, they have just learned all the technology so their head is full of jargon that they feel like they have to educate the customer on. The truth is that you don’t need the stories to be yours, the organizations that you’re working for have so many rich stories to tell. Now, I wouldn’t suggest that you go and find a hundred stories and please, for the people that are listening, a rich story is not a case study. A case study is full of metrics and it’s more like an eye witness account, it’s the detail you would give if you were testifying at court. A well-prepared story is full of emotion, it reads more like watching your favorite character on TV or you’re reading about somebody in your favorite novel. It’s scented on a person that’s making a decision that has stress and later is less stressed and they’re happier because of it, and by the way the organization makes a lot more money. What I would suggest to those people that are just going out and selling for their first organization is go find somebody that’s selling your product, the same product that you’re selling or the same service that you’re selling and find somebody that’s the leader in their field and say, “What are your best success stories?” Ask them questions because you can use that story, you just change the word, “I worked with a customer” to, “We worked with a customer.” That’s all there is to it.
Fred Diamond: You’re the expert on storytelling in sales – again, we’re talking to Matthew Pollard today – what are three or four bases of stories that people would want to think about as they begin to grow as a storyteller?
Matthew Pollard: It’s interesting, I think when people look at stories and I talk about salespeople saying, “Customer wanted this so we gave it to them”, if they embellish a little bit more on the story, the embellishing is really done on the story of the implementation so it’s all the tech jargon that overwhelms the customer. For those people that are new or 30 years’ worth of experience, the customer doesn’t want to hear that. Sure, you may think that it makes you come across as the expert and therefore allows them to say, “I’ll work with that person”, that’s actually not what’s happening. Inside their head they’re overwhelmed and you’re trying to download 30 years or experience of 5 days’ worth of training into a 20 minute meeting.
At the end, the customer is going to look at the proposals – none of which they understand – and pick the one that may be the cheapest price or the one that they may have struck up a slightly better conversation with if all the prices are around the same. Stories, the way they should be designed should focus maybe 20% of the time on the implementation, if that. Most people if they’re telling stories, it’s probably going to be 80% right now.
What I suggest is they spend about 40% of their time really focusing on the customer’s state before the implementation. I always say there’s three elements to that which is the real cost, what is the problem currently costing or not having the implementation currently costing them? Second is the opportunity cost, what are they missing out on because they haven’t done that or because they have that problem? Then third which is actually the reason why people buy sooner, for item A and item B they will make the decision to go with you likely if your story covers that, the sale cycle is just going to be really long. But if you cover the emotional element of maybe as a result of this problem, the CEO or the Vice President’s waking up at night going, ‘Oh, gosh’ and worried about their office, maybe they’re getting stuck in the office because of this situation, maybe they missed a kid’s dance recital or they’re just not sleeping well at night because they’re anxious about a specific situation.
That’s the part that’s going to say, “Forget the proposal process, let’s just do this today because I need the problem solved.” The beginning state in three categories: real cost, opportunity cost and emotional cost. Then you move to implementation which again is a shorter pace, then you spend another large chunk of the time talking about the after state, i.e. was the money saved? Was the opportunity cost realized? And does the CEO sleep better at night, does he worry less, did he make his kid’s dance recital, did he get promoted? Maybe he was worried about losing his job in the start and now he actually didn’t lose his job, he’s now in a place where his organization is recognizing his department for amazing performance that before it just wouldn’t have been seen as possible. How does he feel about that or how does she feel about that? Then the moral of the story which is the fourth element. Now, most people think the moral of the story should be obvious and therefore you don’t have to tell them.
The problem is that people, when they hear a story, evaluate a story based on a couple of factors. Their past experiences, their beliefs, their values and potentially what they had for breakfast this morning and the conversations that they had this morning, the framing that they currently have. If you want them to walk out with the exact moral that you want them to take away, you need to explicitly say that so the moral is also a really important element that you’ve got to get across. The focal point for me is that when I say, “It’s got to cover these elements” people say, “That takes a long time” and, “How am I going to express all this? I’m used to a customer spending 8 seconds on the phone with me.” There’s some great science behind stories. When you tell a story, it short-circuits the logical part of the brain so when you’re a cold caller it’s terrific, the logical part of the brain is the part of the brain that’s sitting there going, “That might work for me, that won’t, I don’t have time for this, hang up” and C level executives, you get so little time because they’re very logical brained.
When you tell a story, it literally short-circuits the logical brain and you’re speaking directly to the emotional brain. The emotional brain just goes, “Story time!” and it listens. It assumes all the detail in the story is factual and then interprets the moral, and if the moral is, “We worked with someone just like you who had your objection and they’re so happy they worked with us because we saved them from a really big mistake” or, “They wanted what you wanted and got such an amazing result” you’re going to go from one of the people in the [Inaudible 09:35] to the only choice that they’re going to be happy to make.
Fred Diamond: I’m going to ask you a question. A lot of people listening on the Sales Game Changers podcast today are in inside sales or they’re in the early part of their career so they’re doing BDR type work or SDR type work. They’re thrilled to death to get someone on the phone, let alone to have the opportunity to tell them a story. Again, we have a lot of people here who are making 50-60 phone calls a day, they’re in tech, they’re in hospitality, wherever they might be, media, financial services. How can you get the opportunity when it’s your first time talking to someone to tell them a story?
Matthew Pollard: The important thing to first understand is that you’re going to get objections and you have to learn how to handle that. The thing that I always suggest is have a very short but concise introductory script that you’ve prepared, that you say the same thing every time. It’s a lot more helpful if your organization will allow you to focus on one sales play or speak to one specific niche because then you can prepare just one story. When you have a story, I don’t mean read it off a piece of paper so you sound robotic, we’ve all heard telemarketers at 8:00 o’clock at night, we hear that and we’re like, “That’s terrible.” However, think about the last movie you just watched. I just finished watching Gangs of New York and Leonardo DiCaprio is amazing in that movie, he just embodies the character, he’s reading from a script and it’s not even him. For me, you’ve got to have that script where you’ve learned it, you’ve read it, you can tell that story in your sleep but how do you get from script where you get an objection to somebody letting you tell them a story?
The answer is you need to have what’s called an objection handling cushion. I create it to be just long enough for the extroverts that are probably the ones that are listening today and this morning they got hyped up on coffee and now they’re probably standing up fist on the table yelling at the phone, and it gives them time to emotionally regulate so that they calm down and realize that all they’ve got to do is tell a story. For the introverts that are going through that brain spasm that comes with, “I’ve got to think of something on the fly”, it gives them time to think. It’s a lot easier to think again if you only have one story because it’s pretty obvious what you’re going to talk about, but as you succeed and get better in the sales process the same story is not going to be relevant so it’s great to learn this skill straight away. The objection handling cushion that I love to use is, “I perfectly understand, the last thing I want to do is waste any of your time. However…” Words are critical. I perfectly understand, I actually listened to what you said. The last thing I want to do is waste any of your time, I get that your busy. However – salespeople love to use the word ‘but’. It’s funny, I hear the word ‘but’ and I hear like it’s a petulant child, “But, but, but…”
The word is actually more critical than that, the word but means everything I said beforehand I didn’t mean, now I’m going to tell you what I really think. It’s called a subtraction term. For those that don’t believe me that are married, the husband’s out and they’re even more so. Go home and tell your wife, “Dear, you look beautiful in that dress but…” and see what happens, it’s not going to be a great situation. The word ‘however’ is an additional term, it means everything I said beforehand I mean, however, have you considered this additional thought? It’s like the word ‘and’ in a different way, if you’d like. What I would suggest is you have an introductory script that you practice, “I perfectly understand, the last thing I want to do is waste any of your time, however…” It’s like a knee flex reaction while you think of your story and emotionally stabilize so you can tell it in a great way. Then you say, “However, you actually remind me of a client of mine, Fred, who had this situation or the similar objection to you…” And then you go through the story of how lucky he was that he actually took the time to listen. That means the moral is that. We’ve tried this for industries like commercial real estate where the C level executives are hanging up the phone in 8 seconds.
When you do it this way, we’ve been able to keep people on the phone for 2, 2.5 minutes on average before they logically switch back on and go, “Why am I listening to this?” and that’s for two reasons. One is that obviously it short-circuits the logical brain but the second thing which is super powerful especially for those introverts out there is that studies at Princeton highlight that it actually activates the reticular activating system of our brain and the teller of the story and the listener of the story, actually their brains synchronize. It’s why when I get up and do all the sales kick offs that I do, the first thing when I walk on stage is I say, “What an honor it is to be here.” This part’s scripted because I’m an introvert myself and I’m scared of getting on stage. However, I’ve got myself to the point now where Top Sales World Magazine just listed me as one of the top 50 speakers in the world. If I can’t get from that uncomfortability into my comfortability, I’m going to have a lot of trouble getting there and succeeding. I say, “What an honor it is to be here. How will I live up to such a wonderful welcome? I know, let me tell you about Alex” or, “Let me tell you about Wendy” and I go straight into a story and straight away I can see everybody becomes at ease, I feel at ease. I do the same thing whenever I talk to someone in a sale or pick up the phone to do a cold call. As soon as you get to a story the brains synchronize and comfortability sets in and the sale just becomes easier.
Fred Diamond: Matthew, before we take a short break and listen to one of our sponsors, can anybody become a good storyteller? Is it the kind of thing where you need to spend two years like learning how to play the guitar or is it something that you could train anybody to do if they’re comfortable speaking?
Matthew Pollard: It’s really interesting, I think storytelling has become overcomplicated especially if you run a corporate organization and you’re trying to operationalize this across thousands of sales leaders. The story narratives, people just go, “Ugh, it’s too hard” and while the trainers think it’s a great idea, when you actually try to implement it, it just becomes too tough. I think that’s because yes, you can tell amazing stories, you can make a story like a Disney movie, the problem is that in reality when you try and operationalize that the salesperson says, “This is a huge story, it’s uncomfortable, there are too many elements, it’s overwhelming.”
To me, learning the elements of the story and then implementing it, you can do that same day. Today I spoke on your big stage and we got a whole bunch of people in a six minute exercise to tell their stories and then I invited someone up on stage, one person shared their story and it was a great story. However, I marked it against a few criteria and everyone’s like, “Yeah, it was a great story, it was concise.” Did they talk about the emotions of the customer? And everyone was like, “Yes, he did” and I was like, “Really? Because I didn’t even hear the customer’s name, we talked about a company.” It’s really hard to fill the emotions of a corporate organization, what about the one person that was in charge of the decision? We found out all these things about the fact that they were under-performing, he felt uncomfortable talking to the CEO, all these elements came out and then we found out that he later ended up in this situation where he went from – that’s why I was talking about this example – he went from worried about talking to the CEO to the CEO using him as an example for all the other departments. All of a sudden I just asked all of these questions and then I re-articulated the story back to him in I think maybe 45 seconds and I did it instantaneously.
He told me the story, I asked a few questions and then I retold the story and I think that’s powerful because everybody saw how quickly that happened. It’s fine for me to do that, I’m the story master so what we then did is we then said, “Okay, let’s do the exercise again but this time, four minutes for the story and then your partner gets to critique you for two minutes and then we’ll swap over.” The amount of difference just hearing what the criteria of the story was, seeing the template for the first time and then delivering the story, the transformation of the story, many people came up to me afterwards and said it was a transformative event. It wasn’t the fact that I’m an extra special speaker, it’s that simplifying the story process so you can look at a card and go, “These are the four elements” and then having somebody coach you on the things that you perhaps missed – by the way, teaching is the best form of learning so they were learning at the same time and then they swapped over – the stories were so much better.
When I learned to sell I was an introvert, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, I fell into commission only sales. There was no way I should have been a salesperson but I spent six weeks spending eight hours in the field, eight hours at home practicing sixteen hours on the weekend, it was a terrible six weeks but I taught myself how to sell watching YouTube videos and believing sales was a system. By doing that I got better and better and people are like, “Yes but you must have been amazing just to focus on system and practice”, it’s harder. When we do this exercise it’s 12 minutes and their story is transformed so they got the benefit of it the same day. Tomorrow the trick is making sure their leadership know that they have to use that story with the customer, that’s the behavioral shift. All it takes, really is perfecting one story you can do in one day, use it tomorrow and then by the end of the week you’ll feel you’re a story master for that one story. However, the time it takes to perfect the next story is by far less because you now understand what the quadrants are. By the time you get to your fourth or fifth story or in my case your thousandth story, you’re transforming it from stage.
Fred Diamond: What should sales professionals out there do to get on their journey to becoming a more effective storyteller?
Matthew Pollard: I think the most important thing is to actually start the process. For me, I think these days we get caught up in targets and hitting the targets by this quarter, we get so busy in the doing we forget that if we take a step back, standing still for a day you can accelerate forward like crazy. The problem is unless our manager brings us to a sales kick off, we tend not to do that so here’s the suggestion that I would have. Go back and listen to the start of this episode where I explained what the four quadrants are, write them down and then tell a story out loud to a recording, then go over the template again and say, “Did I hit all of those elements?” The first thing you do is find out the answer is, “Absolutely not” so fill in those elements. If you don’t know the answers, go and ask questions to your customer.
If you’ve got it off a sales leader, ask if you can interview their customer or get them to ask the questions but fill in those gaps. Then – and I think this is key – block out time in your schedule to practice the story until you can say it with your eyes closed. Then set time aside and say, “Here are the customers where I think the story is going to be relevant” and judge yourself on just one criteria: did I tell the story or not and did I say it in its fullness? Because salespeople go, “I’m trying to be mindful of their time” so they truncate it with a customer. In truth, everything else you say is where the customer is like, “I’m busy, I’ve got stuff to do.” When you tell a story they just sit back and go, “Storytime!” and listen. You’ll see the effect that it has, once you see that then you’ll be willing to double down.
My suggestions to you are write your story down, judge it against the criteria, perfect it, practice it until you can do it with your eyes closed and then deliver it in a sale. Look, I can tell you, back in the days when I used to sell telecommunications I used to see people with ten brochures on their desk from other salespeople and I knew because of the science people remember 22 times more information when embedded into a story. They’d remember more of what I’d told them and because of the reticular activating system synchronizing our brain, even though I was an introvert and kind of awkward in the initial parts of the conversation, they actually felt like they’d have a deeper and stronger relationship with me. It was so much easier to sell so just change the behavior, block out time to write a story, perfect it, learn it and then use it, that’s the key one, actually put the skill into action and you’ll see a transformation in your sales results.
Fred Diamond: Before I ask you for your final thought to inspire our listeners today, you have a lot of things going on, again you’re a best-selling author here, The Introvert’s Edge, you’re speaking all over the world to large corporations and at conferences on storytelling and how to be more effective in the sales process. Why don’t you tell us, before you give us your final thought, what major initiative you’re working on today?
Matthew Pollard: At the moment I’m in the process of finishing my second book. My first book was really successful, I did 25 thousand copies in the first 12 months which was super exciting, it won all these awards so my next book is actually coming out in the first quarter of 2021. However, anyone that knows the publishing industry knows that when the book comes out next year it’s going to be finished this year so it’ll be due actually just in a few weeks. We’re putting together the finishing touches on The Introvert’s Edge to Networking which will be a lot of fun.
Fred Diamond: Matthew, I want to thank you again, you did a great job today at the Institute for Excellence in Sales. I read the book The Introvert’s Edge, it’s a great book, congratulations to you on your first book, on being so successful and being so impactful. We have Sales Game Changers listening around the globe, give us a final thought to inspire them today.
Matthew Pollard: I think for a lot of people listening that are introverts, the book is on introversion, they’re the ones that tend to accept sub-par performance and I think as introverts we believe that it’s okay to be the below average because we don’t have this gift of gab. Gift of gab is a fallacy, I think as extroverts they may struggle with listening, perhaps but they’ll go out and get coaching and training.
For introverts, I want you to know that not only can you sell, that you can actually be amazing at sales. You can even beat the extroverts hands-down but you need a system that allows you not to become more extroverted because you’ll feel inauthentic and it’s exhausting. What you need is a system that you can follow that allows you to channel your natural skills and abilities while getting people to the outcome which is that they work with you. Remember one thing, the definition of sales was derived from the Scandinavian term, “To serve.” In truth, sales is a service. If we are selling a product that benefits our clients or a service that benefits our clients and we walk out and they don’t buy from us, they’re more likely to buy from someone that offers them a less quality product, a product that may not deliver them the value or they buy no product at all which means nothing happens.
So, you are doing yourself and your customer a service by getting them past their own mental blocks and business blocks to making a decision, but you need a sales process to do that more effectively and for the extroverts without the roller coaster ride.