Storytelling and sales success – it worked for Scheherazade

According to legend, a young queen named Scheherazade told stories to Sultan Schahriah to save her life. Each night she related tales stopping at the most exciting part so that he would have to wait until the next night to learn what happened. After 1,001 nights, the sultan granted Scheherazade her life. Her compelling stories included: Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, Sinbad the Sailor, and Aladdin and the Magic Lamp.

If a young queen could sell the Sultan on saving her life through the telling of stories, couldn’t we use some of the same narrative magic to close that sale we been working on for a “1001 days?”  

Fast forward to the present – According to Gary Vaynerchuck, author of The Thank You Economy– “Storytelling is by far the most underrated skill in business.”  Abz Sharma and David Grant echoed this message in a recent article – The Stagecraft of Steve Jobs.  In his carefully stage-managed appearance Jobs uses visual narratives and storytelling to sell the world on the latest Apple magic.

In major accounts, sales success always comes down to keeping your eye on the customer. Translating that principle into action can be achieved by subscribing to this simple idea:  ask, listen, and then talkUnfortunately, in too many customer interactions, people: talk too soon and too much – listen too little – and don’t ask enough questions. 

If you explore just the “talking part,” it is hard to imagine “saving your life” or making that big sale by doing a feature pitch.  When it comes presenting a compelling narrative about your solution, a well crafted story of a case example told in a manner the customer can relate to is one of the most powerful techniques for bring to life the value of your solution.  So what are some tips for crafting that story?

  • It’s all about the customer.  Know the customer well enough so you can populate the story with people and situations with which the customer can identify.
  • Plan the story.  Never tell an unplanned story.  Effective stories have a beginning (introduction to the situation and characters), a middle (clear statement of the problem), and an end (results of the solution to the problem).
  • Timing matters.  You never want the customer to be thinking –“why is she telling me this story.” Tell the story when the point being made is important.
  • Connect the dots.   Make sure the customer knows the relationship between the story and the rest of your narrative.
  • Keep it short and use humor.  No explanation needed.    

Whether a story from the Arabian Nights, one of Aesop’s fables, a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, or a compelling presentation by Steve Jobs, great stories have endured the test of times as a powerful communication device.

So make a difference, tell a story – it might not save your life, but it could save the sale.

Check out other posts on sales effectiveness at the Sales Training Connection. 

©2011 Sales Horizons™, LLC

About Richard Ruff

For more than 30 years Dr. Richard Ruff and Dr. Janet Spirer - the founders of Sales Horizons - have worked with the Fortune 1000 - such as UPS, Canon USA, Smith & Nephew, Boston Scientific, Owens & Minor, Textron - to design and develop sales training programs. During his career Dick has authored numerous articles related to sales effectiveness and co-authored "Managing Major Sales", a book about sales management, "Parlez-Vous Business" which helps sales people integrate the language of business into the sales process, and "Getting Partnering Right" – a research based work on the best practices for forming strategic selling alliances. Dr. Ruff received his Ph.D. in Organizational Psychology from the University of Tennessee and a B.S. from Rennsselaer Polytechnic Institute.
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3 Responses to Storytelling and sales success – it worked for Scheherazade

  1. Richard, I thought Scheherazade was a marvelous vehicle to make your point about story telling being vital to sales success. In particular, I agree about your point regarding listening. I just posted an article on Associated Content by Yahoo on that issue, “Success in Selling Comes from Listening, not Telling.” I also value your tips for crafting a good story.

    • admin says:


      Thanks for tuning into the Sales Training Connection and thanks for the comment.

      Yes about listening and when it comes to selling it seems important not only to listen but to let the other person know you have listened. You wonder how many times after the sales person leaves the buyers say something like – “You know I liked that guy but I’m not really sure he understands what our problems are? I suspect too often.


  2. Pingback: Storytelling and sales success – it worked for Scheherazade ... | Sales Courses in Adelaide

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