By Jim Hinshaw
I just heard an excellent sermon on story telling and how stories can help sell our cause, products, or even point of view. It dealt with passages in the Bible about Nehemiah and how he sold the King on letting him go help rebuild the wall around Jerusalem, which had been destroyed by battles. He not only got the King to let him go for several weeks, he asked for and received letters to get him through hostile territory safely, and a letter requesting lumber for the rebuild. So how does this apply today and our industry?
Telling a story is the best way to present your case or influence your customers to consider key variables in making a good sound decision about their circumstance. But not every story is effective and beneficial to the listener. Consider the movies and the innumerous books available that people read. They all tell a story and the audience anticipates every movie frame and every page of the book. But not all movies are good and all books do not become the number one best seller. Some movies and books simply do a better job of telling the story than others. They are more convincing, compelling, and capture the audience’s attention. Therefore, it takes thought, practice, and several key elements to consider. Being unskilled in this, it’s not recommended to simply wing a story, but detail it out to master the art of telling impactful stories based on various customer circumstances.
Consider the effectiveness when you’re with a customer discussing an issue they are having with their water heater. Or perhaps their hydronics system or some other product used in a hi-rise building. With experience, most of you have had other customers with similar issues and circumstances in the past. You can help lead that customer along to an effective decision they can have confidence in based on a compelling story you can tell them about a similar circumstance and the outcome of that circumstance, whether good or bad. You can boldly lead them to conclusions about a particular product and service based on the effectiveness and truthfulness of that story. But it’s only effective if told correctly and with relevance to their situation.
Therefore, consider these important concepts.
Have a goal: What are your audience’s needs, wants, and what do you wish to accomplish with your story? What concept do you want to highlight or share?
Grab their attention: Every successful story has a “wow” moment, where the audience is in your shoes. They not only understand what you are sharing but they have experienced a similar circumstance in many cases.
Prove your point: Show the end result of what happened to you or a previous customer. Allow them to easily conclude what was learned and how it applies to them and their circumstance. It’s simply not enough to have a great story that does not apply to your customer, it must be transferrable to them so they see themselves in that same situation.
Engage: You can engage your audience and customers in many ways. Using humor, sadness, children, animals, money, and things we have all gone through can be beneficial at times. The effectiveness in human emotion is a very powerful tool when used with honest intent to help another such as your customer.
Empower: Show how the concept you are sharing can help your customer in making a decision on a particular product or service. Many decisions by customers may be made by the immediate financial cost without considering the long-term consequences of their decision. In some case, the long-term result could cost them much more financially. Telling a story can help them come to a proper conclusion and decision they can be satisfied with and thank you for. In addition, this usually results in more business and revenue.
I’ll give you an example of how this works in my life? First, I understand that my goal is to help improve sales and profits for my customers. Many of you may recall a story I’ve told about my dogs Pixie and Popcorn. Pixie was our beloved Staffordshire Terrier who was part of our lives for 14 years. We had a friend who is a vet come to visit us. As she was petting Pixie, she suddenly stopped and said “uh oh!” Nobody ever wants to hear “uh oh” from a dentist, doctor, or a vet as it means things may cause you some pain and money. I asked her why she said “uh oh.” She said, “I feel a tumor.” And I replied, “Maybe it’s not a tumor, but maybe a strained muscle.” She quickly responded, “I am a vet, it is a tumor.” My wife asked, “What do we do next?” “Bring her down for a full workup” , said the vet. I had no idea what a full workup is, but it only took a couple of days to find out. It meant an MRI, blood work, x-rays, and all sorts of things that cost a lot of money.
It turns out she was full of cancer. I said, “We’ll just have to put her down.” My wife May said, “The vet said she could give her some pain meds and the dog may get another year.” So we started giving her pain shots as directed. It began with one every two weeks, then one per week, then two a week. In December, Pixie could not even get up and down the stairs. We knew what was happening and knew the outcome that was about to come upon Pixie and us. So the vet was kind and made a house call. It was as good as something like that can be. She came, we said goodbye to Pixie, and she went to sleep. May and I sat on the sofa bawling our eyes out, saying “Never again, never again”. However, within only 45 days we thought, Noah (our Doberman) needs a new play partner. So we went to a Lab breeder and immediately brought home a beautiful yellow lab.
We took her to the same vet to get her shots, a health check up, and all the things you do with a new dog to keep them healthy and become part of the family.
So here is my point to this story: Did you realize that we took the new puppy to the same person who we paid a lot of money trying to keep our old dog Pixie alive? We paid her to put our old dog down to sleep and were now paying for the new dog. Why? Because she is a trusted advisor regarding everything related to our dogs. We listen and do what she says even when it costs us money, even if she gives us bad news.
You, as a contractor, plumber, or sales rep, need to become the trusted advisor for all of your customers when it comes to anything related to plumbing. By using truthful, powerful, and effective stories, you can become an advisor your customers can trust in and have confidence in to help them make sound and confident decisions regarding their plumbing needs. Some stories your customers want to hear, and others, they need to hear.
Enough for this issue, I have to go take my dogs for a walk!
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