Inspired Value Storytelling – The Four Key Elements of a Great Business Story

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How can you make your next prospect presentation more effective? You may want to channel your inner Walt Disney or Steven Spielberg and take a cue from these and other great storytellers.

As these visionaries have learned, a great story has the power to captivate an audience, evoke emotions, and inspire action. 

Why is storytelling so powerful?  When hearing a great story, the listener experiences a few key neuro-responses with the release of key hormones and activation of certain brain regions and patterns, including:

  1. Dopamine and Cortisol – a release of the “feel good” and “attention” hormones, driving attention, engagement and memory
  2. Default mode network  activation – a portion of the brain active when remembering, thinking about the future, and mind wandering and used for generating a shared understanding and collaborative sense making
  3. Oxytocin – a release of the “love” hormone, generating warm, fuzzy feelings , lowering stress and anxiety and generating pro-social behaviors, including empathy, bonding and trust.

Most of all, storytelling generates neurocoupling between the storyteller and the listener. When the brain sees or hears a story, its neurons fire in the same patterns as the speaker’s brain, as “Mirror neurons” create coherence between a speaker’s brain and the brains of his/her audience members.  With storytelling, you can actually synchronize speaker and listener, almost a form of mind control!

When it comes to storytelling for marketing and sales, you can imagine the power of transcending from a typical boring presentation and pitch, to a more effective storytelling approach. You can imaging invoking the power of Disney and Spielberg, generating powerful neuro-responses and aligning your prospect’s mind to yours with neuro-coupling.

In order to achieve these benefits, implementing inspired value storytelling, there are four key elements that can help make your next presentation more stimulating, memorable and effective: a hero, a villain, a shape, and a purpose.

  1. Hero: Every good story needs a hero, the person to root for, and in a business context, the hero should not be you and your solutions coming to the rescue, but should be all about your customer. The story should be about your prospect’s problems and daily strife, their journey to overcome these challenges and how they can achieve a happily ever after. Your solution is a valuable tool to help them overcome the challenges and solve their problems, but your customer needs to be the central character and the hero.
  2. Villain: Every hero needs a villain, someone or something that stands in their way and creates conflict. In a sales and marketing story, the villain could be a key marketplace or macro-economic challenge, a competitor, a technological shortfall, disruption or challenge, or even a difficult client. By identifying the villain in your story, you can create tension and highlight the value of your solution in helping the hero vanquish the villain.
  3. Shape: A good story has a clear structure or shape that takes the audience on a journey. Every good story has a beginning, middle, and end that gets the audience engaged right away, builds tension and anticipation, and has a happily ever after for our hero. The Storytellers Arc (also known as Freytag’s Triangle, defines a simple linear shape for some of the best stories ever, and one we recommend highly for business storytelling.
  4. Purpose: Finally, a good business story should have a clear purpose, an overarching message that transcends the characters and solutions. Think about a classic good versus evil story for example. The purpose should be beyond just a happily ever after for the hero and the immediate characters, and be more about a higher-order mission and purpose. Understand the greater Why for your solution and your organization (think Simon Sinek)  and make sure this Why comes through loud and clear and is reinforced throughout your story.

Let’s take a hypothetical example of a business that sells customer relationship management (CRM) software to small / mid-market customers. Here’s how the four key elements of a good business story could be applied:

  1. Hero: The hero of the story could be a small business owner who is struggling to keep track of customer interactions and losing sales as a result.
  2. Villain: The villain in our CRM example can be the current system, spreadsheets, the business owner is using, which are outdated and inefficient.
  3. Shape: The story for our small business owner hero could start with a day-in -the-life: how prospect and customer interactions, updates and sales are being logged into the spreadsheet and how the owner struggles to keep customers prioritized and selling motions managed and moving forward. Manual processes take hours, precious time is wasted, customer experience suffers and sales are lost with the status-quo manual process and tools.  Next, the story pivots to show a glimmer of hope for the small business owner, painting a vision for a future where customer data is better captured, organized, up-to-date, actionable and intelligent, guiding priorities, actions and success. Your CRM software is introduced at this later point in the story as a tool the business owner uses to achieve this vision, helping save time and drive additional sales. Testimonials from your satisfied customers prove the outcome results, and show clearly the happily-ever-after that the small business owner can achieve.
  4. Purpose: The purpose is your Why, articulating how the small business owner hero, by leveraging your CRM software can transform a struggling business into a successful one, helping to improve the lives of the owner, their sales team and employees, their customers, and helping them to achieve their own mission and Why.

The Shape of Your Value Story

The shape of the story is a vital portion of a good story. One story shape, Freytag’s triangle, also known as the Storyteller’s Arc, is a popular framework used in literature, screenwriting, and other forms of storytelling. It was first introduced by Gustav Freytag, a German novelist and playwright, in his 1863 book “Technique of the Drama.”

The basic idea behind Freytag’s triangle is that a story should have a beginning, middle, and end, and that there should be a clear progression from one stage to the next. The structure is often depicted as a diagram that looks like a triangle, with five key points:

  1. Exposition: This is the beginning of the story, where the audience is introduced to the hero, the villain, and a reveal of the conflict afflicting our hero.
  2. Rising Action: This is the section of the story where the conflict escalates. Tension and suspense builds as the hero because of the villain, faces ever increasing and costly obstacles and challenges.
  3. Climax: This is the peak of the story, where the tension reaches its highest point, but at the same time, the hero is shown a glimpse that things could be better
  4. Falling Action: This is the section of the story where the tension starts to decrease, and loose ends are tied up as the story moves towards resolution, with the hero overcoming the villain and resolving each problem.
  5. Resolution: This is the end of the story, where the hero defeats the villain, achieves their goal and lives happily ever after.

The value of using Freytag’s triangle in storytelling for sales and marketing is that it provides a clear and effective way to structure a story. By following this framework, storytellers can create a narrative that engages their audience, builds tension and suspense, and ultimately leads to a satisfying conclusion.

In the context of business and selling, this structure can be particularly useful for creating persuasive narratives that convince customers to take action. By using Freytag’s triangle, marketers and salespeople can craft a story that grabs the customer’s attention, presents a problem that the customer has to address as a priority, and then offers a solution and happily-ever-after that the customer can buy into.

To make the Storyteller’s Arc more relevant for business storytelling, we derived a more directed and memorable framework, leveraging the acronym PIVOT and these successive steps:

  1. Pain – What are the overall market trends and conditions, competition, status quo shortfalls, disruptions, client issues or other “Villains” that are causing personal, organizational and especially business challenges for our hero (your prospect).
  2. Impact – How the challenges are manifesting for the prospect, and the direct and indirect costs to the customer in NOT addressing these challenges and remaining with the status quo
  3. Vision – Painting a glimpse of a better tomorrow, the opportunity for improvement 
  4. Outcomes – Your specific solution recommendations and how this delivers on the vision and the projected savings, business benefits and outcomes anticipated.
  5. Trust – Case studies providing evidence that these benefits are achievable and how our hero can achieve a similar happily-ever-after.

The Bottom-Line

By leveraging the four key storytelling elements (Hero, Villain, Shape and Purpose) and following the PIVOT framework, you can transcend your sales and marketing from a traditional sales pitch about your company and solutions, to a much more effective engagement focused on the prospect, their problems and value outcomes. 

A  good story can make all the difference between a stalled or lost deal and a win. Assuring you leverage the four key elements of Inspired Value Storytelling means you can better engage the prospect, inspire change, and ultimately accelerate your prospect from sticking with status-quo to getting to “Yes”.

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