Opinion

In B2B marketing, stories sell

In our latest Marketing Sells article, Richard Hadler outlines how both marketing and sales can use storytelling to move potential customers through the buyer's journey.

Great marketers create great stories. Great salespeople tell great stories.

To make this happen, both teams need to understand the power of storytelling and how it can lead to better revenues. And they need to agree on the *same story*.

In 2017 I attended a rinky‐dink content marketing event in the middle of Somerset. Most of the talks were drab and uninspiring; however, one of the sessions still sticks in my mind to this day. A nutty marketing professor in a half‐empty room spoke about his ideas on the six essential aspects of storytelling in B2B marketing. These were as follows:

  1. Immerse your audience in the story.
  2. Tell a personal story.
  3. Take them on a journey.
  4. Make your characters seem real
  5. Show. Don’t tell.
  6. End with a positive takeaway

It suddenly hit me that each of these guidelines for marketers has a mirror‐image rule for sales: points can also easily be adopted in the sales process.

Marketing guru Seth Godin wrote a whole book on storytelling in marketing, All Marketers Are Liars. (When it was reprinted he admitted that putting ‘liars’ in the title was a mistake; one of the themes of the book is that a good story is authentic.)

Over 220 pages he explains why our brains are hard‐wired to listen to stories. If brands find a distinctive (and true) story that connects with the customer worldview, the results can be transformative.

But one additional rule from Godin is that the story has to be consistent. And that’s where the messy realities of sales and marketing can mess things up. It doesn’t always happen. A company’s web site and their sales team may be telling very different stories. To the potential customer, either the marketing material or the salesperson is a liar. That doesn’t just mean a lost sale; it usually means a customer lost for life.

To get the story consistent, all the stuff I’ve talked about in previous blog posts has to happen. There has to be a mutual plan. There has to be a joint understanding of the nurture process. Incentives have to be aligned.

It’s not just about ‘interest piquing’ by marketing and ‘closing’ by sales; it’s about moving your potential customers through a consistent journey — also known as telling a consistent story. 

The point of maximum danger for a disconnect is at lead handover. If the story shifts here then customer trust goes up in smoke. By working on a clear and concise storytelling framework that all parties agree to, hopefully, it should be as natural as turning a page.

And stories don’t need to be long. The legend goes that writer Ernest Hemingway wrote a six‐word short story that could make people cry for a bet. The wager was ten dollars, which Hemingway won with the following: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

Six words.

If your company story is the size of all six Harry Potter books piled on top of each other, this is potentially another sign that sales and marketing don’t agree and you’re trying to tell two stories at once, a sales story and a marketing story. It’s time to get the teams on the same page.

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