Featured in Memento Mori November, 2021
Think about some of the greatest lessons you’ve learned. There’s likely a story behind each one of them. Recall the best marketing you’ve seen; it likely told a story. Think about the family you served that made an impact on you; you haven’t forgotten their story. Storytelling is as old as time. It’s how we learn, communicate, and grow sales. Learning how to engage the families you serve through stories, not numbers and product details, will leave a lasting impression. When sales professionals learn how to sell through storytelling, they can stop focusing on closing sales. Instead, families start closing the sale themselves.
Examples of storytelling are all around us. Author Neil Gaiman explains the power of stories with a tale on the
Books Bird website:
My cousin, Helen, who is in her 90s now, was in the Warsaw ghetto during World War II. She and a bunch of girls in the ghetto had to do sewing each day. And if you were found with a book, it was an automatic death penalty. She had gotten hold of a copy of Gone with the Wind, and she would take three or four hours out of her sleeping time each night to read. And then, during the hour or so when they were sewing the next day, she would tell them all the story. These girls were risking certain death for a story. And when she told me the story herself, it actually made what I do feel more important. Because giving people stories is not a luxury. It’s actually one of the things you live and die for.
Stories can build trust, confidence, urgency, and importance. They can create connections and share intentions. Stories can make families want to return the favor and share their story with the sales representative, allowing walls to go down and information to flow. Stories can position the sales representative as an educator and guide, not as a salesperson. When done right, stories have a special magic of healing those who hear them.
While good stories can do many things, there are some things they can’t do. Stories can’t replace asking questions or listening. They can’t take the place of genuine empathy and concern. Stories can’t make a bad salesperson good, but they can make a good salesperson amazing.
As the art of storytelling is examined, it’s helpful to consider three types of stories told during the sales process:
• The Stories You Tell
• The Stories Your Families Tell
• The Most Challenging Story
The Stories You Tell
As you begin a new relationship with a customer and create connections through stories, begin by opening up and telling your own experiences. Share your personal “why” through a story—the reason you do the work you do. When you share your why, you win people over and create a connection.
As an example of a personal “why,” consider Amy’s story. Amy is a cemetery sales representative. When her father passed away— even though it was expected—it was devastating. When Amy’s family made his arrangements, a cemetery counselor helped her and her family with the arrangements and memorial. Amy walked away with such appreciation for what the counselor did for her family that she decided to leave her job and begin a new career.
She wanted to help others, just like the counselor helped her.
Amy’s “why” story is relevant to what she does. It has an event, a solution, and a defining moment. Amy became the hero of her “why” story and, ultimately, the hero for the families she serves. To help identify the stories that help you connect with customers, here are some questions to consider.
Incorporate into your next sales presentation the ones that resonate with you the most:
• When did you first make a sale that you knew had helped a family?
• When did a family not purchase from you, and then wish they had?
• What is your proudest moment in serving a family?
• When did you realize what you do is important?
• When did you feel like you had served a family exceptionally well?
• When did a customer make you cry?
• When did a family come back and regret not doing more for their loved one?
• Who started your company, and what drew them to memorialization?
• Do you have an interesting history serving your community?
• How do you invest back into your community?
• What do you want your customer’s experience to look like?
When crafting your narrative, consider the elements of a good story:
• A story should be authentic.
• Don’t shy away from emotion and pay attention to the details.
• Ensure it fits the situation and makes a point or has a moral.
• Take the listener on a journey with you.
In addition to “why” stories, sales representatives can tell other types of stories to connect with customers.
Brand and value stories are special types of stories that help differentiate your company.
The Brand Story
Nike’s “Just Do It” and Coca-Cola’s “I’d like to Teach the World to Sing” are examples of brand storytelling. In reality, brand storytelling has little to do with the actual product. It’s all about the customer. Nike wants people to accomplish their goals, and by the way, here are the shoes. Coca-Cola wants you to change the world with a song and a smile—with a Coke in hand. Brand stories focus on the customer, the experience, and a positive connection created through emotion. Many companies confuse a brand story with a history story. In reality, a brand story is a story of what the customer’s experience will be. •
The Value Story
It’s important to understand your company’s value story because, all too often, businesses become overly concerned with pricing. If you have a good value story and you communicate that value story effectively through your marketing and interactions, your pricing becomes less relevant.
An easy formula coined by entrepreneur Steve Blank is “We help (X) do (Y) by doing (Z).” When you tell your company’s value story, families will connect with you and understand how working with you is unlike working with anyone else.
The Stories Your Families Tell
As you build connections with families by telling your “why,” brand and value stories, you build trust and enable families to share their own stories of their loved ones. Some questions you can ask your families to help them reveal their stories include:
• Tell me about your loved one.
• What was important to them?
• What were they proud of?
• Tell me about their younger years.
• What did they have to overcome to build the life they wanted?
• What will you remember or miss about them?
These important scenarios are the most important stories told during the sales process. Families share what made their loved ones special and how they will always be remembered. When you hear those stories, you’ll be able to create a memorial that truly honors a life well-lived. Remember, you can always turn these questions around for individuals or families looking at pre-need. By asking them these questions, you’ll help them tell their own story and discover the legacy they want to leave.
The Most Challenging Story
This is where it gets personal. The most challenging story you tell is the story you tell yourself. This is the story you tell inside your mind on a full-time basis. You are an audience of one. Self-talk can make or break you, your future, and your success. It can be the hardest story to master.
Is your internal voice honest, positive, and full of grace? You need your internal story to be encouraging— and so do the others in your lives. You need to be your biggest fan, your best constructive critic, and a world-class motivational coach. Then you can take that story into the world. The world needs more of you—and your stories.
Honnalora Hubbard currently serves as a Regional Sales Manager for Coldspring. She has a family background in funeral services and six years of deathcare industry-related experience. Her dedication to the need for permanent memorialization is based on her belief that every person dies twice – once when they pass away, and the second being the last time someone whispers their name.