Storytelling, for Sales Success


The well-told tale gets a response – maybe a gasp, maybe a laugh. It’s a campfire staple. And among those who know its power, storytelling also lives in the sales interaction. It’s a great sales tool and works with any product. 


You may not realize it, but you are a storyteller. You can write your own tale of sales success. In this post, we’ll help you draw out and polish your storytelling ability.


You may not realize it, but you are a storyteller.

Look how it works in this example:


David is a rep for Cutler’s, a building supplies company. He sells lumber, wallboard, hardware – pretty much everything that goes into a house. One of his regulars, Raymond, is a builder who also repairs and remodels homes. Dave always gets it right. Still, this time, Ray asks twice: Will it be there when I need it?


Dave, talking later to another contractor, tells the tale. . . . 


Ray’s company, Built to Last (Hero), is working on a big neighborhood renewal project. The work will be going on around people’s daily lives. No wonder he’s nervous about his materials getting there on time. He has to keep things moving, minimize disruption. The wood was delivered to the job site a few days before the start date. Everything was great. Everybody was happy. At first, anyway. . . . 


Here’s another resource to help you sharpen your storytelling talents. Get our Guide to Better Storytelling for tips on selling with stories. 


How does telling stories fit into the sales process? Can this really help you make your number? Stories make people think and feel. They bring the teller and the listener together and establish a connection. Throughout history, storytellers have amused, instructed, and persuaded. Scheherazade preserved her own life with the tales of 1,001 Nights.


6 Reasons Why Exceptional Storytelling Works


  • You snag your customer’s undivided attention
  • You move people to action
  • You create a rapport and build trust with your audience
  • You make dry data interesting and relevant
  • You infuse information with “stickiness” – memorability
  • You alter beliefs and change minds


Imagine your effectiveness with these 6 benefits – in story form – built into your pitch. 


Ray’s job is a row of run-down houses facing the river. They’re well built, but they’re old, and a lot of the wood needs replacing. He’s a stickler for the best materials. That’s why he relies on us. Along with the service. That would become important. . . .


Story Science: Stimulating the Emotional Side of the Brain

Ever feel yourself nodding off during a boring presentation? The presenter has reached the Broca’s area of the brain. That’s where we handle language and logic.


But a storyteller who incorporates meaning and imagery turns on the drama. Now both sides of the brain are active. The story taps into emotion, and that is gripping.


Business StorytellingA variety of story types serves sales well, each suited for making particular points. Match story type to situation to prompt a customer action or provoke a feeling. Here are four favorites:


  • Vision Stories – Let your vision inspire others. Your story might be about a product or service that saved a company. Or maybe it’s a cautionary tale about a company’s failure when its leaders waffled.
  • Who Am I Stories – Step into the spotlight. Toot your horn. Let people know you go the extra mile. That connects with customers.
  • Why Am I Here – Be honest about your intentions. It’s consultative and creates trust. Tell them what you’re selling and customers may become more receptive to you.
  • Company Stories – Give people a “wow” moment – something they haven’t thought about before. Did the company invent something remarkable? Or contribute to some landmark event? Put it in story form and they’ll remember forever.


Work started on a Monday morning. That afternoon, the weather (Stimulus) arrived. Big storms fired up. It rained hard all night and the next day. The river rose, streams overflowed, muddy water crept up the front yards. Ray found his neatly stacked lumber submerged. The next morning, it was gone, washed away (Conflict). The flood stopped at the homes’ porch steps. So no new house damage, but the project’s in limbo. . . .


Storytelling: Know Your Cue

The best stories get the best response when you have the best timing. If you try to wedge your story into the wrong moment, it feels forced. Here are some excellent storytelling opportunities:


  • Presentations – You have a captive audience – make it worth everyone’s while. Grab their attention. Give them sticky information. Make facts clear and meaningful.
  • Selling a product or service – Make your product the star of its own story. That puts it in context and drives your sales points home. Case studies work especially well.
  • Introducing yourself/company to a new client – Break the ice. The “Who Am I” and “Company” story types are effective in this situation.
  • Getting a team to focus and buy into a goal – Bring them aboard. This is a “people-moving” moment ripe for your “Vision” story.

Ray was pretty rattled. He didn’t see how he was going to get the job done. But we assured him we would duplicate his order and get it there. Everything was fine. Well, almost everything. . . .


Build a Great Story A winning sales call includes specific elements. So does a winning story. Build yours knowledgeably and carefully. Here’s what you need to succeed:


  • The Hero – a sympathetic main character. A listener should easily imagine stepping into the hero’s role and the situation.
  • The Stimulus – something that propels the hero toward problem resolution or situation transformation.
  • Tension or Conflict – challenges, problems, looming dangers for the hero to navigate.
  • A Crossroad – where your hero solves the problem. In a case study, this is where the customer makes the purchase.
  • The Moral of the Story – Where the hero has resolved the problem.


We run our own trucks. Ray likes his good lumber, we like reliable delivery. The shipment got within half a mile of its destination. The road was closed – covered with flood debris. Ed shut down the company for a day. He sent our three stockroom guys and me to meet the truck. Ray spotted us carrying boards to the job site (Crossroad). He couldn’t believe it. Today, there’s a group photo of our sweaty, successful group on Ray’s office wall. The same picture is on Ed’s wall.


Moral of the story: Customers can be confident. Dave’s story illustrates ability to fill the need – twice – and deliver – literally – on promises. On the strength of this story, he makes other sales.


Download the Guide to Better Storytelling to help improve your storytelling efforts. The Guide also serves as a central storehouse for your best stories. As you improve your storytelling it becomes an asset to reuse down the road.




Kevin Avery

Challenges clients to design and implement innovative practices.
Learn more about Kevin Avery >

Prior to SBI, Kevin held leadership positions in sales, marketing, business and channel development in the high tech industry, concentrating in the Contact Center and Collaboration software.


Kevin was an A-Player salesperson who transitioned successfully into leadership. At Cisco Systems, his Enterprise Area sales team drove double-digit growth, with annual bookings exceeding $120MM. As Strategy leader for Cisco’s Contact Center and Collaboration specialist sales groups, he devised, designed and coached a competitive displacement sales program that netted over $125MM bookings with a 90% win rate and zero no-decisions. Kevin’s experience prior to Cisco at Spanlink – a packaged and custom software company and reseller-integrator – began at near-startup stage. Leading the sales team out of the company’s IPO, he grew revenues by 50%, then closed an OEM agreement with a $70M+ lifetime value. When the 2001 tech bubble burst, resulting in dissolving a $130M acquisition, he was instrumental in refitting and relaunching the company.


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