I was meeting with the Vice President of Sales and Training Director of a major automobile fleet leasing company discussing plans for an upcoming sales training initiative. Their company had a great value proposition for the management of large leased vehicle fleets (1000+ vehicles) but they were having trouble effectively communicating it to their prospects with consistency and in a way that could clearly create a difference. Their market was extremely competitive and an inability to differentiate and add value was driving margins into the toilet!
My contacts made the comment "we just need to get in and tell our story because we know once they hear it they'll understand our difference, can you help us with that?" They were confident of their value, had a great program, were passionate about what they could provide and should be winning more opportunities. How could I suggest to them "tactfully" that telling their story might not be the best way to "translate" their value, providing them with the ability to differentiate and sell for more?
I suggested that the story they wanted to "tell" may not be exactly what the prospect wanted to "hear". Rather, why not let the prospect tell their story and see if you can add a happy ending that you'll both enjoy! Instead of you telling your story ask questions to get the prospect to tell theirs which will help you identify what parts of your "story" would be relevant and valuable to your prospect.
I went on to suggest that often the way sales people tell their story may not be completely relevant to the prospect and worse, may be told in a way that is not clearly understandable. They often include details with little or no interest and frequently include features and benefits presented in a way that is just not compelling or understandable. Worse yet, they end up sounding vaguely familiar to what the prospect currently has leading them to the conclusion that there is really no difference. Sadly, the differentiator now becomes "price".
Looking a little frustrated they responded "what would you suggest?". Let's start with questions about their current situation (story) and find out if there is something about the situation (story) they would like to change. If we can find something they want to improve on or are having problems with we might be able to complete the story in a way that is beneficial to both of us. The other problem with telling your story is you provide to much information that would enable your prospective buyer to go out into the market place, share the information with other competitors who then end up "cloning" your offer. Ouch!!
Similarly, when "telling your story" you make it clear to your prospect (unintentionally) that the only story worth discussing is yours. You end up sounding like the bore at the cocktail party that can't stop talking about him/her self, not typically someone people want to be around or ask back for another meeting.
I know that what compels people to want to "tell their story" is the firm belief in the value of their offer. However, next time you feel compelled to "tell your story" asking some questions first about what story to tell may actually work better.
Action Step: Take what ever you want to tell people and turn your story into a series of questions (Our "Value Translation Strategy" workshop will help define this strategy for your company) .