How to Tell a Great Sales Story
Stories work. Because we are human beings and not business case machines. But many startups fail to tell a compelling story, but provide more of a feature catalog of their capabilities. They spend most of their “real-estate” like website space, conversation bits and line of arguments about the solution, some on the solved problem and some on the target buyer.
For me, the telling of a great story in B2B sales should always contain these 7 building blocks: Problem (Why), Solution (What), Buyer (Who), Objection Handling (Why still yes), Testimonials (Why to trust), Risk Reversal (Why now) and Differentiator (Why you). Now, let us dig deeper on this by adding 1–3 key questions for each of these components. Let’s start with the most important thing, the problem.
The Problem: What problem do you solve for the company? What happens, if the customer does not solve the problem within 3 months? Why has your target customer not yet solved that?
If you do not solve a problem as a company, you lack the reason to exist. Your job is to solve a problem that is relevant, urgent and not yet solved for people. And companies are basically an assembly of people between. Now on each of these parts:
– Relevance: Ideally you tackle either a -10 problem (you prevent your customer from going out of business or dying) or a +10 problem (your customer triples market share, gets promoted or married thanks to you). Any problem between -7 and +7 is hard to build a sustainable business on because people are change resistant and the urge to act is not big enough.
– Urgency: There is a difference between important (+10/-10 problem) and urgent (Now, Next, Later). Your customer might find Cyber-security, a new website or a great culture important, but it is also fine for him to only act on it in 12 months’ time. Therefore B2B sales cycles often take 6–18 months, so you need to find that trigger to act earlier.
– Unsolved: There are many issues we initially struggle to understand why nobody fixed them in 2019. But it is important to understand why this is the case for that individual customer since he might have tried (many) times before and be reluctant to try again out of fear of failure.
The Solution: What exactly can you do for the company? How do you fit into the customer’s setup?
Once you identified a relevant, urgent and unsolved problem, your customer will ask you what you are doing about it. This is NOT your moment for “feature-fucking” such as “We built an AI-powered Big Data SaaS solution that can do 47 things and they are all awesome”. Be specific what you can do for that specific customer and how you fit into the customer’s setup and specifically who benefits from working with you.
The Buyer: Who at the customer needs you for which reasons? “What’s in for me” for the company’s CEO, CFO, Head of R&D, Head of IT, etc.?
I find it helpful to think in these 3 clusters to define how to work with them.
– Decision Maker: Signs your offer, typically a “CxO”, or “VP”. “Follow the money” and Top-Down usually works, but do not omit the others.
– Problem Owner: Needs your solution operationally, typically a “Head of”, “Manager” and
– Influencer: Can kill the deal if they want, typically staff functions such as procurement, finance or IT
Similar roles often have similar job descriptions. A CEO’s job for example is to increase revenue, decrease costs and reduce risks. And it might concern her your company does not tie into their top 3 strategic priorities, not provide business value or it is too risky to bring you onboard with the ongoing projects. That being said, know that you are selling to people with individual motivations, values and concerns (see below). Not companies and not roles. You need to understand the specific personalities you are selling to instead of thinking “you are a CFO and that makes you tick — like all CFOs.” Everybody has different objections.
The Objection Handling: What are concerns your contact might have on you? How can you resolve these proactively?
“Why shall I raise concerns that might kill the deal, and that even proactively?”, you might now ask. Because your customer will raise them. It is just up to you if you are part of the and ideally even can exert a certain control in that conversation. If you do not do this, your customer will “find” his/her own answers and blow of the deal for reasons you will never understand. And no, “I do not have time / I do not have the budget for it” are rarely the real reasons a customer does not buy from you. Because everybody has the same 24 hours a day, and it is not even the person’s own money she is spending. That means your counterpart does not want to hurt your feelings by telling you that you did not provide enough value and they lack the trust you will resolve their objections.
The Testimonials: How can you leverage social proof and testimonials to build trust with your target customer?
We are gregarious animals. That implies that social proof and testimonials from people we trust are often worth more than the greatest business case, technology and surely PPT deck. Anytime another person then somebody from your startup positively talks about you is of great value. This works even better if that person has a stellar reputation in the market, your customer can well relate to that person as he is e.g. working in the same industry or has a personal relationship with that person.
Testimonials work best if they are authentic. It is therefore OK if a testimonial even contains minor negative experiences or at least initial concerns other people can identify with. If you ask customers for a testimonial, they will often ask you to write it for them to review and sign-off to help you, but also to save effort. This can work but ideally, you get the chance to create with them a video, interview or another interactive format rather than a shiny flyer. Remember, stories work and we are all people that want to learn from other people how we can reduce our risk to do stupid things.
The Risk Reversal: How can you reduce risk for your customer to shorten your sales cycle and increase conversion?
Customers will often ask you for a free trial, a Proof of Concept or similar options to find out more if working with you will cause the benefits you offer them. This is not only because of corporate financial and operational concerns. This is because they might worst case lose their job if they bring in a partner who does not live up to the set expectations.
The problem with the options above is that it does not force your counterpart to reveal his true intentions. She might want to genuinely work with you, but also just be a bored middle manager striving to experiment with innovative solutions like yours. This is where a risk reversal option such as a money-back guarantee can help you close more deals faster. You might now have similar concerns than with bringing up objections proactively. “But what if I worked a lot for a customer, she then claims her money back and I have 0 revenue? That only happens if you did not deliver the value you promised because an opting out by claiming paid money back is psychologically harder for people than an opting in such as moving from a Proof of Concept to a subscription.
Now, if you are unsure that you truly create value for the money you charge, fix it, now. And if you need to Proof of Concepts, I suggest calling them pilot projects at least. Because “Proof” and “Concept” are not words associated with “Trust” and “Bottom-line impact”. Also, your customer might not have truly understood why you will succeed where others failed.
The Differentiator: What is your biggest selling point? What is the one for this deal relevant thing you do better than anybody else?
Up to now, you did not even mention competition or why you as a company are awesome, but about what you can achieve for the customer. And that is the way it should be. However, there might be a competitor telling a similar story. If you want to win the deal, you need to understand and claim the 1–2 key selling points that only you can provide to your customer that nobody else can. Uniqueness is hard, but crucial to get right. Just like sales.
If you have questions or feedback on the above, please reach out to me anytime on LinkedIn or via firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for reading!