As a seller—especially if you’re a smaller business pursuing larger buying organizations—you’re constantly trying to get prospects to understand what your company does, pay attention to you, and do business with you. To differentiate your company and avoid getting stuck in the box of the price/commodity equation, you need ways to highlight what makes you unique so you can compete beyond price. Here’s one strategy that works: Leverage the power of storytelling to connect with customers.
In a session at Ariba LIVE, Michael Margolis, CEO of Get Storied, an advisory and training company devoted to transformational storytelling, discussed how his clients have applied storytelling strategies to their company profiles, RFP responses, websites, and more to succeed in a business environment of disruptive change—and how you can do the same.
The increasing importance of story
In the networked economy, a growing number of buyers are recognizing that collaborating with sellers drives better results than a strict focus on price, and more are seeking to build partnerships that humanize business commerce. “Learning to do business in a new way will happen faster for smaller, more nimble companies than at the enterprise level. But the enterprises are going through a seismic shift as well,” Margolis says. “What we’ve seen is that storytelling specifically has jumped to the top of the agenda for many Fortune 500 CMOs.” This opens new doors for you as a seller.
“The opportunity for you right now,” Margolis says, “is to understand these storytelling principles so that people perceive what you have to offer is greater—so they’re not just judging you on the old commodified terms and treating you like everybody else. You have to find some way to elevate yourself.” How? The following guidelines can help.
Strategies for storytelling success
- Build trust with an accessible approach.
- Ditch the pitch. “We’ve been all taught like, ‘Okay, you’ve got 30 seconds, you’d better wow them with XYZ and talk about your value proposition,’” Margolis says. Yet being on the receiving end of a sales pitch actually makes people put their guard up, because they feel like they’re being attacked. And the endless demands on attention from today’s technological interconnectedness and social media saturation raise those defenses even more. “Our natural mode right now is to have really high filters and try to say ‘no’ as much as possible,” Margolis observes. “In that environment, you can’t force intimacy.” Instead, look for common ground by learning what customers care about and sharing what matters to you. This creates a sense of safety and comfort that improves conversion rates far more than any elevator speech.
- Monitor your motivation. “What’s going to make you stand out is that character; it’s the personality, the point of view,” Margolis says. But there’s a fine line between being appropriately personal and grabbing center stage, so remember what matters to the customer. “At the end of the day, you have to have relevance. When sharing your story, are you doing it for your own ego validation? Ask yourself: ‘Am I saying this just to prove myself or congratulate myself, or because this information is actually of benefit and value to my audience?’”
- Pay special attention to your “About” page.If you look at Google Analytics, you’ll probably find that’s among the top five most-visited pages on your website,” Margolis says. “We’ve done some research on this—people spend 30% more time on your About page than any other page.” Why? Because most people are inclined to search beyond facts for context, motivations, interests, and resonance. They want to know:
- Who are you?
- How can you help me?
- How did you get here?
- Can I trust you?
- Why should I choose you?
- Align with the times. “When the world around you changes, you have to change your story to reflect that change,” Margolis says. For example, KPMG research has shown that in recent years, Fortune 500 companies started to make more money from their services than their products. “This is where the economy is going,” Margolis notes. And as commerce continues to evolve from a commodity-focused approach to one centered on services and experiences, story becomes an increasingly essential element in differentiating your business. “People aren’t just buying your product or your service; they’re buying the story attached to it,” Margolis says. “Not only the story that you’re telling, but even more so, the story they’re telling themselves, or what that means to them.”
- Build your backstory to legitimize yourself. “We care about where things come from,” Margolis points out. “Once upon a time, Google was two college kids in a dorm room with a crazy algorithm; once upon a time, Nike was a college athletic coach and a waffle iron.” You want to establish interest and curiosity, so consider what’s different about what you offer—for example, did you enter your industry because you thought something was missing from the conversation? When you think of your business overall or one of your leading products and services, where is their untapped narrative? “This is how, as an emerging and growing company, you go from being a commodity to increasing perceived value,” Margolis says. “It’s all about building the backstory.” Use the following five sources as your framework:
- Origins: What’s the history, how did you start? Were there dramatic struggles along the way? Every good story needs creative tension—but no one wants a victim tale.
- Ingredients: What went into it? Perhaps you use special sources that others don’t, something exclusive. What sets you apart?
- Formulation: Whether it’s a product or a service, how do you process and package what you sell? Sometimes that’s where the magic is.
- Experience: What value does it bring to your customer’s life? Tap into emotional content; the traditional features-and-benefits approach has become stale.
- Aspirational: What does your target audience really desire? Consider lifestyle, identity, and values.
- Remember: Connection is the key. Storytelling is not about performance, but meaningful engagement. “If you can establish connection with people, everything else follows from there,” Margolis says. “Think about social media and technology, this world of interconnectedness—there are great opportunities, great potential, especially if you’re an entrepreneurial business.” When customers can see themselves in your story, the shift from interest to involvement begins. “What happens then is your story becomes my story, and we realize that we belong in this; we have something to do together.” The result is collaboration, trust, and a high-value relationship.
For more insights on using story to better differentiate your business, listen to the full session on the Ariba Slideshare site, or visit getstoried.com for tips on revamping your bio and social profile.