Episode 304: Mike Adams
Author of the bestselling book Seven Stories Every Salesperson Must Tell (2018), Mike lives in Melbourne, Australia, where he leads the sales storytelling practice for Anecdote International and consults to a client base as diverse and international as his own sales career.
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Storytelling is the way to connect with clients and exchange information in the easiest format for humans. Unfortunately, most business conversations are so abstract that people can’t understand what you mean. But when you tell stories, clients understand you.
As soon as someone tells a story, the other person wants to tell a story back. It’s the fastest way to get to a “sharing” conversation. It’s not about making assertions and claims about products. It’s such an important skill because salespeople have to get into problem-solving in-depth conversations to understand what’s going on. Stories are the path to understanding.
They lay the foundation and propel prospects to a buying decision. Mike Adams shares how in this episode of Sales Reinvented.
Outline of This Episode
- [0:53] The importance of storytelling in sales
- [2:43] Everyone can become brilliant storytellers
- [4:50] Relevance is key to a great story
- [6:31] Curiosity is the #1 trait salespeople need
- [8:10] The 3 fundamental problems salespeople have
- [10:27] Mike shares some storytelling resources
- [12:09] Mike’s top storytelling dos and don’ts
- [17:44] Stories have the power to influence
Everyone can become brilliant storytellers
Mike echoes what many other guests have iterated: We’re all storytellers. It’s the way we learn and the way we talk. But business conversations have become abstract. When Mike teaches storytelling to salespeople, they’re taught how to share little anecdotes about things that happen. It takes practice and it takes courage. But everyone can do it.
One of Mike’s partners in Germany was teaching a group of CTOs (specialists). They were the most technical dry people you’ll ever talk to. The “worst offender” was always asking questions in a cynical manner. They were convinced he’d never understand the power of storytelling. At the end of every program, they run a story competition. This particular gentleman told a brilliant story.
Relevance is key to a great story
Stories must have a surprise; a turning point where the listener doesn’t know what’s happening next. Great stories have to be relevant to the situation your client finds themselves in. If it’s not relevant, it wastes their time. People push back and say that CEOs and other c-level executives don’t like stories. Mike notes that isn’t true, they just don’t like their time being wasted, which is why relevance is key.
Mike teaches salespeople to overcome the three fundamental problems they have with story: forming connections, selling a change agenda, and getting clients to act.
If you can’t make a trusting connection with a client, you won’t get anywhere. If Mike tells a connection story about himself—such as how he got into sales—he’ll ask them a question. If they tell a story back, it’s a huge clue that the relationship can move forward. When they tell you a story, you can imagine yourself as them and better understand their decision-making. Stories lead to understanding and help answer the question: should you be doing business together?
Mike’s top storytelling dos and don’ts
Mike shares that it’s critical to know what a story is—and what a story isn’t. If you don’t connect a time and place to a character, it’s not a story. One of Mike’s clients sent him a white paper from a well-known global consulting research company. It was titled something like “The importance of storytelling in technology sales.” There wasn’t a single story in it.
Secondly, you have to make sure that your story is relevant. It must be directly related to the situation that you’re in. Telling a story about yourself when you’re just meeting someone is highly relevant because you’re the most interesting thing in their field of view.
Lastly, tell stories to get stories. It’s an art. A simple way to get a story is to share one, then pass it over to your prospect. If they’ve just heard a story, you’re likely to get a story in response. Some clients are dedicated to talking abstractly. They may say something “grand” sounding like “Good sustainability management is very important to us.”
That’s when you need to ask a “story listening” question, such as: “That’s interesting. Could you give me an example of good sustainability management from your perspective?” Any question that takes you to a moment in time will get you a story (story triggering). The questions that salespeople ask that can get them a story gives them an advantage.
Stories have the power to influence
Mike runs invitation courses for sales leaders to come and experience their program. Mike had been chasing a particular company he wanted to do business with. But every time he’d get close to someone in management, they would switch that person out. Finally, a head of sales training came to his course.
When they got to the 3rd workshop, Mike was teaching how to manage objections with an “influence story.” Mike refers to objections as anti-stories. When a client has an incorrect belief about your products or services, you can’t fight it with facts. You have to find a better story. Mike teaches his students to acknowledge the anti-story and then share another story from a different perspective. They reframe it.
Mike’s student, Diego, wanted to share an influence story to explain to his boss why they need storytelling as part of their training program. This is what he crafted:
“I acknowledge that our sales training program is brilliant. It’s finely tuned. I also acknowledged that our budget is less than it was last year. But thinking about being happy with what we have reminds me of my wife. We like to go mountain biking. I’ve been telling her for years to upgrade her bike. But she loves her bike and always refuses. But last week, we were out cycling and the frame of her bike broke. So I let her take my bike back and pushed her bike back to the car. When I arrived, she exclaimed that my bike was so much better than hers. She can’t believe she went that long without proper suspension. You can be perfectly happy with something but it doesn’t mean there isn’t something much better out there to consider.” Because of that story, Mike was hired to train this company’s global account directors.
Resources & People Mentioned
- Seven Stories Every Salesperson Must Tell by Mike Adams
- Solution Selling: Creating Buyers in Difficult Selling Markets by Mike Boswerth
- What Great Salespeople Do by Mike Boswerth and Ben Zoldan
- Putting Stories to Work by Shawn Callahan
- Story-Powered Sales on YouTube
Connect with Mike Adams
Learn More About Mike Adams
Are there any books on or including Storytelling that you recommend? For salespeople, I recommend Seven Stories Every Salesperson Must Tell, Mike Adams (2018) and What Great Salespeople Do, Mike Bosworth (2012), For business storytelling Putting Stories to Work, Shawn Callahan (2016)
In the field of Business Story Telling – Who do you most admire and why? Shawn Callahan for his deep understanding of story craft. I’m lucky, he’s a colleague.
Are there any aspects of your own Story Telling skills that you are working on improving at the moment? I work on all aspects, all the time. I’m currently focussed on ‘why change?’ stories for some of our large corporate clients.
Hobbies, Interests? Rock climbing, building projects including furniture building.
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