EPISODE 342: Building a Cache of 60-Second Sales Stories That Will Set You Apart with Author Sam Horn

Thanks to Cox Business for sponsoring today’s episode. Learn more about sales career opportunities at Cox here.

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[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a replay of the Women in Sales Webinar sponsored by the Institute for Excellence in Sales on March 16, 2021. It featured author and speaker coach Sam Horn.]

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SAM’S TIP FOR EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “I cannot tell you how many people tell me, “I don’t have any stories.” We ALL have stories. Stories are simply the intriguing things that happen to us or around us. If something gets your eyebrows up, “I never thought of it that way”, “That really moved me”, “That’s a fresh approach”, write it down and then turn it into your little three-act play and distill it into 60 seconds and figure out how to use it in your sales process. The next time someone asks you to explain why you’re worth hiring, why this is worth buying or saying yes to you, don’t explain, give a real-life example, a 60-second story. That’s when we connect and that’s the purpose of all communication.”

Fred Diamond: If you’re listening to today’s podcast, there’s a chance you might be looking for ways to take your sales career to the next level and Cox Business is a way to do that. They’re a leading provider of technology solutions and they’re looking for great salespeople, particularly those who listen to the Sales Game Changers podcast or are going to take some time in the middle of the day to figure out some ways to take their sales career to the next level. They’re looking for some people to help grow their local sales business, they’ve got great benefits, competitive compensation, of course commission, healthcare, pet insurance – I don’t know how many companies offer pet insurance – and of course, they offer discounts on travel and more. Once again, they’re on a quest to find some savvy people with savvy sales skills who will keep Cox’s customers happy. If you’re that person, you can go to the show notes and you’ll find a link to click to, or you could always go to sales jobs at cox.com.

Gina Stracuzzi: Thank you, Fred, that’s very excited about Cox. I’m sure they’re hiring women in sales too, so make sure if you’re thinking about it that you go to the website that Fred mentioned. I would like to welcome my guest, Sam Horn. Sam is the Founder and CEO of the Intrigue Agency and I love your training, the Tongue Fu training, I love that idea. Sam has trained all over the world and trained at some of the biggest companies in the world so we are beyond thrilled to have her and I’m super excited to get started. Welcome, Sam.

Sam Horn: Thanks so much, Gina. I like to follow the advice of Richard Branson, he said that time is the new money and I think time is the new trust. If you trust that this is a good use of your time and mine and money, we’re not going to waste time on abstract theories, we’re going to jump right into some real-life ideas that you can put into use immediately. How about a two-minute preview of what we’re going to do? A backstory of how I came up with these 60-second stories and then we’ll jump into the how-to.

Many of you know that I helped start and run the Maui Writers Conference which what Cannes is to the film industry, we were to the publishing industry. We did something that was unprecedented at the time, we gave people an opportunity to pitch directly to the top decision-makers in screenwriting, in Hollywood and in New York. You could pitch your screenplay to Ron Howard, you could pitch your novel to the head of Doubleday, St. Martin’s Press, Random House. What we did not understand was that no one knew how to sell, they would have these 10-minute pitch meetings and people would come out afterward with tears in their eyes because they saw their project went down the drain.

I talked to Bob Loomis who was Senior VP of Random House, I said, “Bob, what’s happening?” He said, “Sam, we’ve seen thousands of proposals, we make up our mind in 60 seconds whether or not it’s commercially viable.” That next day I watched people pitch, I watched people try and sell their project and I could predict who was getting a deal without hearing a word being said. Guess how? By the decision maker’s eyebrows.

If we try and sell something, if we pitch something, if we propose something, all we have to do to test whether or not we’re getting through is to watch the decision eyebrows because if they’re knit and furrowed right now, crunch up your eyebrows, do you feel confused? Confused people don’t say yes. If the eyebrows are unmoved, it means they’re unmoved – or they’ve had Botox – and that means that we’re not going to get a yes because it means we did not make an impression.

Right now, lift your eyebrows. Do you feel intrigued, curious like you want to know more? That means we just got what we cared about in people’s mental door. That’s why I became convinced that the clock starts ticking the second we start talking. We’ve got 60 seconds to get what we care about in people’s mental door and that’s what we’re going to talk about today. In fact, we’re going to rock and roll.

I hope you have paper and pen, because in 17 years of Maui Writers Conference, our authors didn’t really agree on much. “You have to write first thing in the morning.” “I don’t get going until the afternoon.” “You have to work with an outline.” “I never use an outline.” They did agree on this, ink it, you think it. I’ve got five minutes for four ideas, that’s 20 minutes for me. Then we’re going to have two pop seats. Two of our people get to share a priority that they would like to pop, that they would like to stand out, that they would like to get a yes, that they would like to sign a deal, close a deal. Then we turn it back over to Gina and we wrap it up.

Idea #1 on your notes is turn infobesity into intrigue with a dog-on-a-tanker story. I bet you’re thinking, “What the heck is a dog-on-a-tanker story?” I like to practice what I teach so here’s a two-minute story to do justice to this, and then we’ll show you how to do it.

I was reading the Washington Post years ago and here’s an article by Shankar Vedantam. Shankar Vedantam does a podcast called Hidden Brain on NPR.

Gina Stracuzzi: Oh, I love that.

Sam Horn: Isn’t it a wonderful podcast, Gina?

Gina Stracuzzi: It is, so interesting.

Sam Horn: Shankar is writing about an oil tanker that caught fire 800 miles off the coast of Hawaii. A cruise ship happened to be going by and they were able to save 11 people on board and when they got the crew back to Hawaii, the captain did a press conference and he talked about how grateful he and his crew were to be rescued. All he can think about is his dog, Hokget, that got left behind abandoned on the tanker. That press conference went viral and donations started pouring in from around the world, $5, $500, $5,000. The US Navy changed the exercise area of the Pacific fleet to search 50,000 square miles of open ocean. They found the tanker, they sent a C130 to fly low to see if there’s any signs of life. Here’s a brown and white blur racing up the tanker. They mount a quarter of a million-dollar rescue mission to get this dog and they’re able to successfully bring him back to Hawaii.

Here’s the point. Why did people from around the world mobilize to save one dog when there are thousands of people in their own cities, states and countries going without food, water and shelter? It’s because of something called the empathy telescope. The empathy telescope says we can put ourselves in the shoes of one person, we cannot put ourselves in the shoes of an idea. We can put ourselves in the shoes of an individual, we cannot put ourselves in the shoes of an organization, so here’s my question to you. What’s your dog-on-a-tanker story? In fact, what are your invenstory of dog-on-a-tanker stories? Because if you want to connect with people, explanations fall flat, stories come alive.

We’re going to start collecting true stories of individuals who have benefited from our products and services because if we want people to relate to something, they cannot relate to millions of people. In fact, they get overwhelmed when we talk about thousands of people that we’ve helped, about all the different organizations that have hired us. In a way, people can’t identify with that. What they identify with is an individual who had a problem, who hired us or who used our products and now they’re better off. They can identify with one person, not with many. They can identify with a true story of an individual who is better off because of working with you, hiring you, using what it is that you offer. They cannot relate to or identify with an explanation.

Step #1 is to turn infobesity – by the way, what’s infobesity? “Blah, blah, blah…” Nancy F. Koehn out of Harvard found how long our attention span is, she found goldfish have longer attention spans than we do. If we start trying to explain why this is worth buying, explain why we’re worth hiring, those explanations are infobesity, they go in one ear and out the other. If we say, “Here’s an example of why I’m worth hiring”, “Here’s an example of how one of our clients is better off”, if we go right into an empathy telescope example, a dog-on-a-tanker story that is true, that is when their eyebrows go up. That is when they see what we’re saying, that is when they picture our point, that’s when they identify with the problem this person had and how now they’re better off and that’s when they say, “I want what they’re having. That’s the first step.

Alright, next step, #2. I mentioned, create an invenstory of true success stories. Invenstory is a word that I’ve created because what I’m going to suggest as a salesperson is that you start keeping your antenna up for real-life examples of your customers, of your clients, of your decision-makers. On your notes, please draw three columns. In the first column put “person”, in the second column put “problem” and in the third column put “proactive solution” because what we’re going to do is we’re going to keep our antenna up for a real-live client, a person who had a problem.

If it’s in sales, maybe they’re not getting sales because they’re not initiating, they’re waiting for the sales to come to them. Maybe they’re not getting sales because when they get a no, they give up. Maybe they’re not getting sales because they’re intimidated and when they get pushback, they don’t know how to come up strongly with conviction for what it is that they’re saying, selling or proposing. The person is 20 seconds, the problem is 20 seconds and the proactive is 20 seconds because now we have a three-act play, now we have a beginning, middle and end.

Now we’re going to describe the person so we can see the person, not just that this is Bob Smith, I don’t know if Bob Smith is 40, I don’t know if he’s 60, I don’t know if he’s a new hire, I don’t know if he’s a CEO. We’re going to describe this person in 20 seconds, and in 20 seconds we’re going to try to describe this person so we know what kind of mood they’re in. Are they frustrated? Have they tried everything and nothing worked? Are they about to give up? Did they come in our office and plop down and look exhausted? We’ve got 20 seconds to picture a person and the mood they’re in so now I am seeing your lead character. That’s when we begin to care, is when we have characters that we can see.

The problem we’re going to distill into 20 seconds. What’s wrong? What’s not happening for them? What is frustrating them? What is compromising the success of their organization? Maybe it’s that women aren’t speaking up in meetings because they feel they’re getting trampled on. Maybe the problem is that this is a new product that is more expensive than the competition and people are saying, “Why should I pay more?” Maybe the problem is that people have tried it and had a bad experience and anytime we bring it up, they think, “That didn’t work out too well” or, “That backfired” or, “I went to your website and I saw these bad Yelp reviews.” What’s the problem in 20 seconds?

Now in 20 seconds, what’s the proactive solution? How did we turn that around? How did we come up with something that they weren’t aware of? How did we come up with a new advance that actually makes that old problem eliminated? We’re going to start keeping an invenstory of these kinds of true success stories. I’m just going to give you some examples because we categorize these by topics.

In sales, rejection is probably one of the topics. You would have the 60-second stories of how a person was dealing with rejection, this was their problem and here was the turnaround, the shift or the solution. Maybe it’s that they’re not initiating so you would have stories about how they weren’t initiating because they didn’t have the confidence or the courage or the skills and how they were able to turn it around. We just start actually keeping a notebook of these kinds of true success stories of clients.

I know you’re in all kinds of sales, some of you work with the government, some of you work with corporations, some of you work with associations, some of you work B2C or B2B. You start thinking, “What am I selling? What am I asking people to buy? What kinds of deals am I getting? What questions come up?” People want to know about this, people want to know about that. When they say, “Why should I hire this? This is more expensive” how can we come up with, “Well, here’s an example”? I’m going to give you an example.

I was speaking for ASAE, for American Society of Association Execs and I had just told the dog-on-a-tanker story and a woman said, “Sam, I’m in the trucking industry, we don’t have many dogs in the trucking industry.” I said, “Okay, what is an obstacle you face right now in your trucking association?” and she said, “We’re losing a lot of members because they don’t think that our dues are worth it.” I said, “Come up with a real-life success story of someone who paid your dues and they’re glad they did because they made back what they’d paid in the due as many times.” Her eyes lit up because she said, “One of the things you get with our association is you get a deep discount on tires. There are 18 tires on an 18-wheeler and many of our contractors have dozens or hundreds of trucks. I have a true success story of a member who was going to drop out of the association, when we talked about the discount on tires, they did the math, they saved more money in the first two months of our organization on tires that made back their money and they were already into savings.” True stories work.

Let’s move onto the next 5 minutes. You’re thinking, “All right, Sam. How can I make it come alive? Some people say I’m not very good at telling stories” and I say, “Good, we’re not going to tell a story. We’re going to reenact a story with what I call the wave template.” On your notes right now put W-W-W-A-V-E. In 60 seconds, this is how we can tell a story so it comes alive. I’ve got to practice what I preach so let’s see if I can do this in 60 seconds.

A few years ago, I’d become a desk potato, I was working on a manuscript, I was sitting at my desk all day every day. It’s August, I hadn’t even gone swimming once the entire summer. I lived in Reston at the time, I went out pool shopping, there’s a pool I hadn’t been in before. I went in, I realized I’d found the family pool. Kids are playing Marco-polo, it did my heart good to know kids still play Marco-polo and I found the only lounge available next to a woman who’s watching her three kids in the pool. A man walks in in a business suit, he comes over, he gives the woman a peck on the cheek and the three kids jump out of the pool, “Daddy!” and give him a wet hug. He goes and changes and 30 seconds later he’s in the pool with his kids and they’re showing him their swim strokes and they’re playing Marco-polo together, it was like a Norman Rockwell painting, it did my heart good.

All of a sudden, he stops and he looks up at his wife and he says, “Hon, why don’t we change our default? Why don’t we meet at the pool every night after work?” and I have to admit, I looked at her and I held my breath and I’m thinking, “Please say yes!” She thought about it for a moment and she said, “Why don’t we?” Maybe I’m being a pollyanna, however, they changed a default in five seconds. Instead of get up, go to work, go home, now it’s get up, go to work, go to the pool, come home. Maybe that is a summer they all remember as a summer that everything was right with their world.

If you’re thinking, “Sam, how would I make that relevant to sales?” The key in that is to change our default in five seconds. If you want people to change a default in five seconds, here’s how you use the wave format. W is where and when, this was a summer and I’m in Reston, Virginia and this happens in a pool I hadn’t been in before. Next, W is who. I talk about the man who walks in a business suit, I talk about the woman on the lounge, I talk about the kids in the pool who are playing Marco-polo. I’m only 20 seconds into this story but you’re already in the scene with me, I am reenacting it so it comes alive as if it feels it’s happening right now and you’re there with me.

So, where and when did this happen? Who is the person? Now, the next W, what was said? It’s not a story if it doesn’t have dialogue. He stopped, he looked at her – I’m reenacting it – and he said, “Hon, why don’t we change our default?” I’m holding my breath, she says, “Why don’t we?” If a story doesn’t have dialogue, it’s a listicle, “Then this happened, then this happened, then this happened…” It’s not alive.

A is for adversity. You know this, every story needs a problem, needs something wrong so what can’t people figure out? What is undermining their effectiveness? What is causing them frustration? V is for the little victory and it doesn’t have to be a happy conclusion with the Ewoks dancing at the end of Star Wars, it could just be a resolve to change a default, to do things differently, to try something new. E is for emotional context, this is where we step out of the story and we hook and hinge it back to our decision-makers, our clients, our readers, our listeners so we make our story their story. #4 is how to do that E and give emotional context, hook and hinge your story so it becomes their story. Here’s a 60-second story to show what I mean.

At the Maui Writers Conference we had an Olympic athlete and he talked about training for the games and choking and he didn’t even make it out of his heat, he didn’t even make it into the finals and get on TV, he was so disgusted, he quit the sport. Two years later he thought, “I can’t end my career like this” so he went back into training, ended up in the games, got a medal. End of story.

I look around and our audience is giving him polite applause, but I could tell what they were thinking, “Well, good for you. What’s that got to do with me?” Because it was like Bette Midler, “Enough about me, what do you think about me?” It was just his story, he just told what happened to him and a story is not complete until we hook and hinge it back to our audience with three ‘you’ questions. He never said, “Have you ever had a goal that didn’t work out the way you wanted? Did you throw in the towel? Did you decide that you needed to give it one more try? How did that work out for you?

It is the emotional connection when we stop talking about what happened to us and we take the hook of what we’re saying, which is the key point of what we’re saying, we hinge it back to our audience with ‘you’ questions. “Have you ever been in that situation? Have you been dealing with the same thing? Have you ever had that happen to you? Would you like…?” Now we have a connection and context because we’re making our story their story.

We’re about to go into our popsies and here’s what we do with our popsies. Each person has 5 minutes, so please take maybe 2 minutes to give us something you’d like to brainstorm or strategize. “Here’s what I’m dealing with, here’s my goal, here’s an important event coming up and I’d like to sell it, I’d like more people involved or more people signing up for it or buying it.” Then that gives me about three minutes to strategize it.

Review before the popsies: Idea #1, turn infobesity into intrigue with dog-on-a-tanker stories. #2, create an invenstory of success stories, start keeping your antenna up for your clients and decision-makers, something goes wrong and by working with you or buying what it is you’re selling, they’re better off. #3, make those stories come alive with the wave template so that you’re reenacting them, you’re not really just telling them. Then #4, hook and hinge those stories so that your stories become your client’s stories.

[Sam interacted with a listener for 5 minutes.]

Sam Horn: As you can imagine, and by the way, this worked for podcasts, media interviews, job interviews, etc. is when someone asks a question, we don’t give an explanation. We say, “Here’s an example of how to do that.” “Here’s an example of how I’ve done that or my team’s done that” so I get to practice what I teach. here’s an example of what I think you can do to help this transition and convince people that you’re the right person for the job.

I had an opportunity to see Elon Musk speak at the National Press Club. My son, Tom, works in Mission Control at Johnson Space Center for NASA so I called Tom. I said, “Tom, if I have a chance to ask Elon Musk a question, what do you recommend?” He said, “Mom, my job is safe because I work with the ISS, International Space Station. Everyone with the shuttle has been laid off and they’re all applying to SpaceX. Ask Elon Musk how they can get an interview and how they can land a job.”

I did have the opportunity to ask Elon Musk that question, he gave the most brilliant one-sentence response I’ve ever heard. You ready? “Don’t tell me about the positions you’ve held, tell me about the problems you’ve solved.” So, when you are talking with prospective clients, we are not going to give a listicle of positions held, “Then I worked here, then I did this…” That actually is infobesity because it’s an explanation. You would first go on your website and you would do your homework you would find out what’s new in their world. Are they expanding? Have they introduced a new product? Are they increasing diversity and inclusion? What are their priorities?

Here you say, “I had an opportunity to be on your website last night and I noticed that you are initiating a lot of diversity and inclusion programs. Here’s an example of how with my team at my previous job we also initiated diversity and inclusion programs.” And then you give your 60-second success story. Then they may say, “We have a lot of seasoned people on our team and you’re new to this and it looks like you don’t have a lot of direct experience in this new field. How would you handle that? You would say, “I am so glad you brought that up, because I noticed that you are expanding internationally. Here’s an example of how I also have worked with global clients or international clients and how that might help in your expansion.”

You’re going to have an invenstory of stories that show proof of concept. This isn’t a claim, this isn’t a sweeping generalization or a listicle, these are true, put-them-in-the-scene, 60-second examples that show them what it is they care about, their priorities, you have been there, done that. A 60-second success story and then I’ll be quiet in case you have one last question in our five minutes.

A gentleman named Casey Velazquez was our next door neighbor and he said to me, “I’m applying for Peace Corps, they are flooded with applications at this point. I don’t even think I’m going to get a job, it’s just what I want to do, I’m going to try.” I said, “Great, Casey, bring your laptop over.” He came over, I said, “Okay, now let’s go to their website.” He said, “Why would I do that?” I said, “Because they’re giving you the answers to the test right there in the job description. It says we’re looking for someone who’s a self-starter. You are going to come up with 60-second success stories of where you’ve been a self-starter, of where you’ve been both a team member and a team leader.”

Guess who got the job? Guess who’s in Guatemala working with kids right now and they weren’t even hiring? Yet he showed them in an interview, problems he had solved, things he had actually done that were right in alignment for what they were looking for. They said, “Forget it that we’re not hiring, how could we not hire this person? He’s going to be a real asset to our team.”

Gina Stracuzzi: We’ve got another minute.

Sam Horn: Now we’re going to take it to the next level with two things. One of our goals in the interview is to introduce something that they don’t know and didn’t expect, the way to do that is to bring in a quote from Jeff Weiner who used to be CEO of LinkedIn. He said, “Do you know the #1 skills gap in every organization is social skills?”

People in the tech industry, they can hire all the tech people they want. What do they want? Someone with proven people skills, someone with the interpersonal skills that can teach all those techies how to get along with people [laughs]. I would quote Jeff Weiner and then I would talk about how I noticed in your website you were doing this, here are some ways that I can be an addition to your exceptionally talented tech team by bringing in the people skills, the social skills, the soft skills, the interpersonal skills that are going to help them get along with their colleagues and your customers. They may not have heard that before, it could be just the thing to give you the competitive edge. Best wishes to you.

[Sam interfaced with another listener at this time.]

Sam Horn: I’ll share a 60-second story, I used to be the girl who didn’t cry. When I was growing up, I almost took pride in the fact that if I was at a movie and everyone else was balling their eyes out, I could disassociate myself and I could look at that and be unemotional. Then I had kids and I realized that emotions and crying are just deep feelings and how fortunate I am to feel deeply and to never again apologize for it.

We talk about the empathy telescope. We want our customers and our decision-makers to feel emotion. As we all know, that’s when they say yes is when they feel deeply. Perhaps you can say, “Sometimes I get emotional when I tell this story.” Don, if the tears come, good for you for feeling deeply, it means you have not disassociated from how much you love and care for your parents. You are giving other people permission to feel deeply as well and I would even use these words, “That is why I’m a man on a mission. That is why when I sell long care health insurance or disability, I’m speaking from experience about what I wish I had known back then, what I know now and my mission in life is ton help other people hopefully prevent this kind of thing from happening. If it is happening, for them to have the confidence that they have done everything they could on behalf of their loved ones.” Go there, Don. In our dispassionate world, we need people who are more unapologetic about feeling deeply and why they’re doing this work that they know from experience matters and it’s why they’re doing it, to have the privilege and the opportunity of helping other people deal with this in a way where they too know that they’re doing and have done everything they could.

Sam Horn: Gina, back to you. I think that’s our time.

Gina Stracuzzi: It is. Everyone is just so thrilled with this. One person who is very involved with the IES said, “I have to jump off, but let her know I’m buying her book.” [Laughs] is there one piece of closing advice that you would like to give people, one thing they can start thinking about today to start putting some of these processes in place to think about their stories?

Sam Horn: You bet. By the way, I mentioned this in three of my books, Tongue Fu, Pop and Got Your Attention, is to ink it when we think it. I cannot tell you how many people tell me, “I don’t have any stories.” We all have stories, stories are simply the intriguing things that happen to us or around us. If something gets your eyebrows up, “I never thought of it that way”, “That really moved me”, “That’s a fresh approach”, write it down and then turn it into your little three-act play and distill it into 60 seconds. The next time someone asks you to explain why you’re worth hiring, why this is worth buying or saying yes to you, don’t explain, give a real-life example, a 60-second story. That’s when we connect and that’s the purpose of all communication, to connect.

Gina Stracuzzi: Sam, this was amazing and so powerful. I’m sure you’ve helped a lot of people. Thank you so very much for giving us your time, you are awesome, fun and you make this accessible. Everybody, go out there and find your dog-on-a-tanker story, you can find Sam on LinkedIn and I hope you reach out to her, bring her into your company, I’m sure she would do great training and you could all start rocking your sales. Thank you very much, everyone, we’ll see you next Tuesday. Bye, Sam.

Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

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