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How to Use Storyselling to Boost Sales

This guest post is by Johnny B. Truant, of JohnnyBTruant.com.

When I was in high school, I witnessed the most impressive sales job I have ever seen.

One afternoon, the entire student body was called to the auditorium for an assembly. Nobody knew what the assembly was about. We were just told to attend.

The presenters were two guys, dressed casually. As they began, instead of telling us why they were there, they started telling us jokes. They told us a few stories, too—funny stories involving their own families (who were as clueless as our own, since we were teenagers and knew everything), and stories that empathized with us about how ridiculous school was and made gentle fun of our principal and teachers. We liked these guys. They thought like we did. Their stories were interesting and fun. We settled in and relaxed.

We stopped caring why we’d been called to the assembly. Someone had made a mistake and had booked pure entertainment, but we weren’t about to complain.

Halfway through the presentation, the mood of the two guys up front changed. It was like a sneak attack: it was on us before we knew it was coming. Suddenly, the presenters were talking about AIDS. And abstinence. And how it was bad to drink a lot and do drugs. It was all the stuff that adults usually try to talk to teenagers about—the stuff teenagers usually roll their eyes at.

But we weren’t rolling our eyes. We were listening. We’d been transfixed.

Instead of saying AIDS was bad, they’d tell us about the girl who we’d met in one of those funny stories toward the beginning of the presentation, and how she got sick after contracting HIV and died.

Instead of telling us not to drink and drive, they told us about the kid we’d heard about earlier, but now the tale turned to him being in a wheelchair for the rest of his life after being hit by a drunk driver.

When 1200 high school kids filed out of that auditorium at the end of the assembly, nobody was jaded, skeptical, or mocking the message we’d been told. Most of the kids who streamed past me were silent or crying.

Those presenters came to our school to sell us on the idea of being careful, and making smart choices, and staying safe—all ideas that teenagers usually aren’t even a little bit interested in buying from well-meaning adults and parents.

But because they did their selling through stories, we’d bought it all.

Persuasion starts with a story

When you blog, you’re often trying to convince people to do something. You want them to start reading the post. You want them to read until the end of the post. You may want them to buy a product or a service, or sign up for a newsletter or RSS feed. You might want them to leave a comment, take a survey, or be convinced of your point of view.

To convince readers do anything at all, you have to sell them. And one of the most powerful ways to sell is through a story—I call it “storyselling.”

Stories are disarming. Stories interest people on an entertainment level first, which causes them to lower the guard they usually have in place to keep people from pushing things onto them.

Back in high school, at that assembly, we didn’t want to be told anything contrary to what we already believed to be true. We were having fun, and nobody knew better than us what we should be doing. Teenagers are the hardest people to convince of anything—the hardest sale any presenter will ever try to make.

But these guys succeeded because they entertained us first. They got us to drop our guards. They got us to like them, and relate to them. And after they’d done that, when it came time for them to “sell,” we were defenseless. We never had a chance.

Four ways to sell your ideas (and products) with stories

Want to give storyselling a try? Here are some things to keep in mind as you do so.

1. Tell a story that demonstrates a need for what you’re selling or advocating.

The goal of storyselling is to cause the reader to recognize a need for a certain course of action (or a certain product or service) through allegory. Rather than explaining rainforest destruction, tell the story of your trip to stripped plots of land. Instead of outlining features and benefits of your new workout plan, tell the story of how you used to be overweight and how you developed the workout that got you thin.

2. Show, don’t tell.

Always try to lead your reader to conclusions by demonstration rather than by beating them with brute force persuasion. You know who was great at this? The ghosts in Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. They didn’t tell Scrooge about how his life would stink if he kept doing what he was doing. Instead, they took him there and let him see it for himself.

3. Keep it relevant.

A common mistake with this approach is to string out a long tale that may be a great story, but which never gets around to selling the product or idea at hand, or loses the audience before it does so. You always have to keep your main “selling point” in mind, and keep bringing the story back to it. It isn’t just a story—it’s a story that shows the reader why they should do X or buy Y.

4. Be honest.

Everyone has a real, true story, and every product or movement has a reason for existing. Somehow, you became convinced to get involved, so it’s your job to pull that desire and motivation out, and to use your own story to convince others. There’s no need to make anything up—the truth always sells better.

Give storyselling a shot the next time you’re looking to persuade. No matter what you’re selling, you may just find that telling a tale will get you past the skepticism of many more readers than a bulleted list of benefits will.

Johnny B. Truant is the creator of Storyselling 101. (He also builds websites.)

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Comments

  1. Jana Rade says:

    Oh, glad I’m on the right track :-) My blog started as Jasmine’s story and as the content expands I love including a real life story with as many posts as possible.

    I always felt that people make connection to a real life story and the point gets across better.

    Any of you have a dog health issues story to share btw?

  2. Olivia says:

    Thanks for the reminder. I’ve done this a couple of times with my articles with great success. I haven’t done it in a while, but now you’ve re-inspired me. (Is re-inspired a word?)

    Olivia

  3. Thanks for telling a good story – that demonstrated your point so well. I guess the challenge is finding a story to suit the point you want to make.

  4. mate hegedus says:

    yes, it is one of the best way to sell a product, especially with the youth market.

    GREAT post

  5. jason says:

    Just like in your story, the key to good sales and a good blog is intimate content. Without a reason for people to read your story, then they will not pay attention in the first place.

  6. You are using a story about storyselling to persuade me about storyselling. This is very clever. When I used to watch over my young nieces and nephews, I had to tell stories to encourage them to eat. It was an amazing tactic. Here you have a bunch of kids running around the house and refuse to eat anything. What do you do? I got them to settle down by promising them that I would tell them 1 story. If they would eat the foods, I would tell them another story. It worked out very well. It didn’t work well when they became teenagers but it did have a good run.

  7. Adesh says:

    Nice post. I firmly believe that up to a certain bit, storytelling is also a crucial part of your daily posts. I’ve seen it on many blogs including yours.

  8. Karen says:

    I’ve followed your storyselling idea a fair bit and I’m really liking the concept. I think it’s a really good way to sell without being slimy or salesy. If you’re telling an honest, genuine story and relating it back to what you’re selling, I think it’s great! I also like that you have given some parameters around the storytelling/selling!

  9. Thomas Mead says:

    You are the master. During this post you did exactly what you were talking about in the article – you sold us your story. I was more interested in reading this post than I have been for many others, because of how personal the story was, how honest you were.

    It was the perfect example, and I’m sold. *clicks blog link*

  10. stylo says:

    Totally agree with you. I’m also doing the same in my blog to gain the sales of some of my little product & Services. Like iphone jail breaking. Local gift cards etc.

    otherwise its very nice.

    Every time i do twist in work.

    This method is part of my twist. :P

  11. I am telling the stories, but I am not sure what I am selling :)

  12. TechChunks says:

    Story telling is a very powerful aspect of blogging. As bloggers, what do we do? We tell stories, don’t we? ;)

  13. Andy Merrett says:

    I definitely agree with this. The post that ranks consistently top or second on my Piano & Synth blog is about choosing a music keyboard for a child, and I shared my own story in the opening paragraphs.

    I can’t say that this is the sole reason it’s popular, because people find it via search engines as it ranks very well on certain keywords. However, it does also elicit a lot of comments (more than similarly popular posts purely in terms of visitors) which I think can be partly attributed.

    I expect to tell a similar story when I get to launching a related e-book.

  14. Barb Sawyers says:

    Great points. Let me add that most people, unless they are gifted story tellers, need to keep their stories short, focusing on the most relevant details. No one enjoys a story teller who goes on and on.

  15. @Stevefogg says:

    I agree that for many telling stories is a captivating and compelling way to amplify your message and increase sales. I love what John Lewis (dept store in England) did in their ad where they told a story rather than just sell benefits of John Lewis (here is a link to the video http://bit.ly/9rSqFS)

    Ironically, I also know for my blog that while I’m actually IN the storytelling ‘business’ my highest traffic days aren’t when I attempt to tell my posts in story form, but rather short sharp list with a clear problem and solution to help the reader solve the problem.

  16. Excellent ideas! I’ve recently embraced this idea to heart and have been teaching myself how to balance ‘the story’ to bring folks in, followed by the transition to ‘sell the solution’.

    It’s a lot of learning but definitely makes writing copy far more fun!

  17. Bar Advisor says:

    What a great post. Even starts off with a story to get me hooked and then read the rest. I’m convinced.

  18. Glenna says:

    Wonderful information! Storytelling that is short sweet and simple to the point is the best.

  19. vicky89 says:

    yeah you just said a story …

    and very innovative idea

  20. Angela says:

    amazing sharing with us, convey it via a story, good idea.

  21. David Hurley says:

    Hi Johnny,

    Wow, a great example of telling a story about the point of telling a story. Nice post!

    I recently made a nice bit of cash from a blog post in which I was telling the story of my summer holiday and how I spent some time hanging out with a friend who works as a freelance Japanese-English translator from his laptop and could therefore live wherever he likes (i.e. by the ocean, which is why I was hanging out with him!!)…

    I added a link to my sales page and it worked! I wasn’t expecting or even trying to get a sale, but the story worked its magic.

  22. Paul Hassing says:

    By jingo, Johnny; I try to limit my reading to get on with my work. But your beaut writing snares me every time. Thanks for yet another tour de grouse. Best regards, P. :)