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One of the biggest myths about successful selling is that you should entertain prospects with your “story” – those fascinating anecdotes about your life experiences that were so relevant to your success.
That is wrong. Stories can be powerful – as the following example illustrates – but not yours.
Recently, I was watching one of my favorite Australian programs on streaming video. There was a touching moment where one of the main characters was thought to have died in a fire, but somehow survived and was reunited with his fiancée. As I watched the two of them embrace, I felt a tear run down my cheek.
What was going on here? It was a fictional story in an unfamiliar location. How did it manage to evoke this reaction from me?
The power of stories
There’s no shortage of advice encouraging you to tell your story to prospects and clients.
This justification is typical: Your own unique stories make you different than any one else. This difference is essential for you to share with others for them to know who you are, what you do and why you do it.
Often, advocates for telling stories rely on neuroscience for justification. They note that “our brains love good storytelling” and that doing so releases oxytocin in the brains of those listening. Oxytocin “…is produced when we’re trusted or shown a kindness, and it motivates cooperation with others.”
Who wouldn’t want to generate those feelings in a prospect or client?
Even American Express has hopped on the “tell your story” bandwagon. It believes customers “love to hear a good story” and that “telling stories is one of the most important tools for marketing a company’s product.”
There’s also ample guidance for those who want to refine their storytelling skill. This article claims “no one can resist a good story” and sets forth “five secrets to help you tell effective sales stories.”
What’s the myth?
Here’s what all the advocates for telling your story don’t appreciate.
Yes, there’s a role for telling your story, but it’s a very limited one.
You can, of course, tell a brief, powerful story about yourself on your website.
But you should only tell your story in person when the prospect shows an interest in knowing more about you. This is a rare occurrence.
Because telling your story means you are speaking and your prospect is listening. You have no idea whether your story is of any interest.
Instead of telling your story, focus on eliciting your client’s story. The research is very clear that talking about yourself is as pleasurable as “having sex or eating delicious food.”
Researchers at Harvard found talking about yourself “increased activity in the neuro-region associated with reward.”
Encourage your prospects to tell their story and ask them sensitive, thoughtful follow-up questions.
When you’re telling your story, your prospects aren’t telling theirs. That’s a problem.
Don’t expect reciprocity
My advisor clients are often frustrated by the lack of reciprocity. This reaction is typical: “I followed your advice and asked a ton of questions about them. They talked about themselves for almost all our time together. They never asked a single question about me.”
My response is always the same: “I like your chances of converting those prospects into clients.”
Of course, if your prospect asks about you, tell your story, but do it briefly. Then segue back to asking your prospect more questions.
You’ll never get this feedback: “I wish you spent more time telling me your story.”
Dan Solin is a New York Times best-selling author of the Smartest series of books. His latest book is The Smartest Sales Book You'll Ever Read. His sales coaching practice includes helping advisors convert prospects into clients and generating leads through videos and other elements of marketing. Dan is not affiliated with any advisory firm.
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