Episode #298 – Paul Smith

Crafting Stories that Sell

Paul Smith


Paul Smith

Paul Smith is one of the world’s leading experts in business storytelling, one of Inc. Magazine’s Top 100 Leadership Speakers of 2018, and bestselling author of the books: Sell with a Story, and The 10 Stories Great Leaders Tell. 

Storytelling helps people make decisions. How? Cognitive science helps us understand that as humans, we don’t make decisions the way that we like to think we do. We aren’t always rational logical creatures who assess the data and come to the most logical conclusions. Most of the time, our subconscious emotional brain makes a decision. A few nanoseconds later, our logical brain justifies and rationalizes that decision. If you want to influence people’s decisions, you need to speak to both parts of the brain. Storytelling is a spectacular way to do this. Paul Smith shares the key ingredients necessary to craft stories that sell in this episode of Sales Reinvented.

Why is it important to share great stories with prospective clients? @LeadWithAStory shares why—and how—in this episode of @SalesReinvented! #SalesReinvented #Sales #StoryTelling #StoryBrand Click To Tweet


Outline of This Episode

  • [0:49] Why is storytelling an important skill to possess in sales?
  • [2:18] Is storytelling something that can be learned?
  • [3:27] The 3 key ingredients of great storytelling
  • [5:18] A great storyteller needs stories to tell
  • [6:40] Improve your storytelling abilities with these resources
  • [7:47] Top storytelling dos and don’ts
  • [10:16] A tale of swimming pigs

The 3 key ingredients of great storytelling

Most great storytellers—movie directors, screenwriters, novelists—will typically tell you that you need three key elements to build a great story:

  • A hero people care about
  • A villain they’re afraid of
  • An epic battle between the two

The hero people care about is a relatable main character that the buyer can relate to. Tell a story about another client who faced the same challenge they are. The villain is a relevant challenge that your audience is likely to run into themselves. The “epic battle” is a worthy lesson learned through struggle. If you translate those into a sales story it becomes a relatable character facing a relevant challenge who learns a worthy lesson. Simple, yet compelling.

A great storyteller needs stories to tell

It’s helpful for a salesperson to have an outgoing personality and the ability to talk to strangers. But most importantly, Paul emphasizes that you need stories to tell. Paul believes having stories to tell is more important than being a great storyteller. Why? Most salespeople aren’t professional performance artists, actors, public speakers, etc. No one expects you to be. But no one wants their time wasted with a boring or irrelevant story. So you must be intentional about cultivating stories. The story is more important than the delivery.

A great storyteller needs stories to tell. Learn why that’s more important than how you tell stories in this episode of @SalesReinvented with special guest @LeadWithAStory! #SalesReinvented #Sales #StoryTelling #RelationshipsClick To Tweet


Top storytelling dos and don’ts

Never apologize or ask permission to tell a sales story. If you’re in a sales meeting with a potential client, don’t say, “Sorry to interrupt—can I tell a quick story? I promise it’ll only take a minute!” That communicates that what you have to say isn’t important. If you don’t think it’s important, don’t tell it.

Secondly, don’t announce that you’re telling a story. Doing so is neither exciting nor captivating. It turns most people off. They’ll automatically think that it’ll be boring and irrelevant. If you tell a great story, they’ll be fascinated and learn from it.

Lastly, Paul recommends that you keep your stories to two minutes or less—they shouldn’t be long epics. Leadership stories can be 3–5 minutes long because they can command an audience. You don’t have that luxury in sales.

Need help with crafting compelling stories? Get Paul’s “25 Stories Salespeople Need” in the resources below.

A tale of swimming pigs

Paul was at an art fair in Cincinnati with his wife, who was looking for some art to hang in their kids’ bathroom. They walked up to a booth selling mesmerizing underwater photography. One of the photos struck Paul—it was a photo of a pig swimming in the ocean. So he asked the photographer about it. That’s when the magic started.

He said, “That picture was taken off the coast of an island in the Bahamas called “Big Major Cay.” A local entrepreneur decided to raise a pig farm on an uninhabited island. But there was no vegetation growing on the beach other than cacti. The pigs had nothing to eat. So a local restaurant owner on a neighboring island boated his kitchen refuse and dumped it just offshore.

While pigs don’t normally swim, slowly but surely they all learned to swim so they could get to the good. Three generations later, all of the pigs on the island can swim. When the photographer got to the island to photograph the pigs, he didn’t even have to get out of the boat. The pigs swam to him immediately. Paul paid cash for the photo immediately—he HAD to have it.

Two minutes earlier, that was just a stupid photo. After hearing the photographer’s story, he had to have it. The story is what made the art interesting. And that’s why it’s hanging in Paul’s bathroom.

What do swimming pigs have to do with sales? @LeadWithAStory shares a hilarious yet impactful story in this episode of @SalesReinvented! #SalesReinvented #Sales #StoryTelling #StoryBrand #Relationships #RapportClick To Tweet


Resources & People Mentioned

Connect with Paul Smith

Connect With Paul Watts


Audio Production and Show notes by

Are there any books on or including Storytelling that you recommend? Sell with a Story

In the field of Business Story Telling – Who do you most admire and why? David Armstrong, author of Management by Storying Around. He wrote the first book on business storytelling 30 years ago and I credit him with starting this whole revolution.

Are there any aspects of your own Story Telling skills that you are working on improving at the moment? I’d like to move into telling science stories to help educate the public about science in ways they can easily understand and be excited by. In fact, to prepare for that, I’m enrolled at the University of Cincinnati right now in a degree program in astrophysics.

Hobbies, Interests? Astronomy, science history

How can our listeners contact with you? www.leadwithastory.com or paul(at)leadwithastory.com