Last week was a busy one. I was in Buenos Aires for Entrepreneurship Week, invited to speak at four very different venues in a five-day period. Each the places I gave talks was a first-time visit for me: two dynamic high-tech firms, one incubator for start-ups, and the local chapter of EO (Entrepreneur’s Organization—a global network of successful entrepreneurs). Two members of the fledgling EO group had been at my talk at the worldwide EO University in Geneva at the beginning of September, and it was fun to come see them at their local chapter.
One of the companies that invited me to give a short talk was Globant, a worldwide software firm with strong financial results and an impressive client list. They are a true Argentine success story, having done a recent IPO on the New York Stock Exchange, a rare event for a young Latin American firm. I am not sure exactly what they do for their customers from a technical perspective, but I was impressed with the quality of employees and the depth of thought in the questions they asked.
For me, it was an privilege to be asked by Globant to be the outside speaker at their monthly leadership meeting for top executives and sales personnel. My thirty minute speech, about how we can all use storytelling to have greater influence in our worlds, seemed to galvanize their interest. My sense is that this was an “outside the box” topic for them, particularly because most of the attendees were highly technical people. Like many techies throughout the world, they tend to be people who convince others with logic and rational argumentation. They would rarely think of using any form of narrative in presentations or sales pitches.
So, it was no surprise when the CEO asked me to give some quick tips for the sales teams, mostly made up of engineers, on integrating personal storytelling into their approaches to selling. Unfortunately, good explanations about how one learns to use narrative in a business context require more time than I have in such Q&A sessions. In addition, using storytelling effectively takes practice, so while I believe that anyone can learn this skill, I do not like to give the impression that there are “quick fixes”.
At the same time, though, I welcome these queries, since it is it relatively easy for me to get people thinking by demonstrating that using some personal storytelling in a technical discussion or sales pitch can prove highly beneficial. As such, I talk quickly about one or two of the generic forms of personal stories of identity that can be hugely helpful whenever one individual seeks to convince another. For example, one type of identity narrative that virtually anyone can use is the “what I like about what I do” or “what I like about my company” story.
Imagine you are selling customized software solutions, as Globant does, and you would like to express to your clients that you will pay close attention to their concerns. One approach is to go in and say directly “we listen to our clients”. Another method might be be to be to talk of your company’s values, for example that staying close to client needs is a concept that is part of your mission.
The problem with these assertions is that they are the kind of thing many people say, and it is difficult for listeners to know if they are true or merely part of a rehearsed pitch. More effective in my view is to say similar things, but indirectly, using a personal story.
For instance, you could tell a story about your organization that demonstrates listening in action: “One thing that I really like about my work environment is that the culture encourages us to develop relationships, with each other and with our clients. We are constantly working in teams, sharing our tales of successes and failures, and taking the time to understand each others’ best ideas and practices. With our clients, it is the same. Of course, upper managers want us to sell, but they don’t put pressure on us to close the deal quickly. They give us time to listen to customers and to develop close working relationships, to adapt our proposals, to make sure we get the agreements in place that will lead to a long term relationship.”
Of course, as the selling process evolves, you will probably have opportunities to use your personal stories to show that listening is important to you individually as well. For instance, telling a story of someone from your past who taught you the to listen more deeply will lend increased credibility to your arguments. These are the types of personal tales that deepen relationships and create trust between individuals.
Image: Flickr-user Donna Cleveland