Facts Tell, Stories Sell

I remember my first selling position at a pharmaceutical company in 1973. They were data crazy! We spent two weeks at their corporate offices learning every detail of the products. By the end of the two weeks I was having nightmares about ways to treat vaginal infections and obesity. So, what do you think they wanted us to do when we got in front of a doctor? Yep, give data and more data and more data. Pile it on baby! Facts about the product were what they wanted the physicians to believe so they would write prescriptions for their products. On the surface of it I guess it made sense. If someone heard the word Vanobid enough times they would think of it when prescribing. No wonder I got fired after 18 months!

No one ever taught me that stories “sell” until I got into a higher stakes sales position and later a sales management position. A person (prospect) making a seven-figure income does not want to listen to a yokel talk about the dimensions of a product or how it’s made. Okay, sure they want to know that stuff but they want that information romanced. Like this maybe. Years ago I was talking with a surgeon and he said, “I gotta tell ya, your product is no different from the other guy’s product.” (Wrong scalpel breath!) I responded with, “If I had a buck for every time I heard that I’d be driving your car. I know why you said that. It looks the same, feels the same, and probably smells the same. We found out something really interesting though when a couple of our engineer nerds starting testing the material for strength. Imagine two guys sitting at the bench munching on some awful looking health food trying to pull the material apart using every tool available. Can you picture that? Well, the material resisted every attempt to rip it apart. That started the marketing nerds thinking about how that characteristic could help you during surgery…..”

That sale closed! The surgeon was intrigued by the story. He also loved the reference to “nerds” because he was one going through med school, a fact that he had previously mentioned to me. What if I had responded with, “well doctor, our product really is different and here’s why….” Guess what? Every other nimrod trying to sell similar products is saying the same thing! That approach does not get the job done-consistently. The facts approach does not create spark. It leaves people yawning and looking at their watch, wondering when the march of factoids will be over.

I gave a talk not long ago to a group of people struggling with alcoholism, a disease I am very familiar with. I did not go down the factoid highway although Lord knows there are enough of those to wile away the hours. I told several stories of other ex-sots including my own, a tale which is particularly unhinged. Am I the second coming of Dr. Bob? Not remotely close. But the people in the room were nodding because the stories were similar to theirs plus they could identify with them. They were not alone. If some other guy could beat alcohol they could too.

Become story tellers! Communication is more interesting and people remember stories.


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