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I’ll never forget the look on Sully’s face as he said to me, “Kid, I don’t care what makes HotJobs different than Monster. I’d never buy from you because I don’t like your approach.”
The year was 1999, and I was living in Chicago, IL. My girlfriend at the time was working as a marketing director for a software company. She used to rave about her company’s VP of sales, Mike Sullivan. How great he was at sales and how successful he had been. So, I convinced her to get him to join us one Thursday for drinks.
My goal was to impress him to the point where perhaps he’d offer me a job or at the very least serve as an informal mentor. After he made some small talk with my girlfriend, he turned to me and asked, “what’s your story?”
I took the opportunity to launch into my HotJobs sales pitch. Based on his attentiveness during my ramble, I figured he’d cap our conversation by telling me what a natural talent for sales I had and suggesting that we meet again.
Instead he offered the response above. Man, did I feel dopey.
But this rookie sales mistake taught me an important lesson that applies to sales every bit as much as it does to content marketing: you’ve got to start with the heart. The only place data comes before emotion is in the dictionary.
The Power of Storytelling
This sounds totally and completely obvious, but most companies approach content marketing the same way I used to approach sales. They do a data-dump. They mistakenly believe that, when it comes to business decisions, their prospects make rational decisions.
Sorry, but most people don’t operate this way. Most people make decisions with their emotions and their heart and use data to support their decision. Data doesn’t sell, stories do. As a data-driven marketing guy, this is a difficult reality to accept. But it’s true.
Think about it.
You probably can’t remember more than a slide or two from the Power Point of the sales pitch you got last week, but you could walk your son through Rocky scene by scene—even if the last time you saw the movie was 10 years ago!
Think of Your Story Like a Trojan Horse
As a business owner, you have multiple target audiences—customers, employees, partners, prospects, vendors, etc. I’ll bet you can think of dozens of occasions in which your delivered message failed to change your audiences’ behavior.
Story + Timing = Success
A well-timed story is your solution. In his book, Tell to Win, author Peter Guber explains that a well-timed story functions like a Trojan horse in that it delivers your message in a way that it actually gets through to your audience.
To illustrate his point, Guber recalls a whitewater rafting trip he took once with a handful of high-powered business executives and several celebrities (Pierce Brosnan being one of them). Guber and their guide, Richard Bangs, were concerned that the crew was goofing off to the point that their safety might be at risk as they reached the more treacherous portions of the river.
But Bangs knew that rattling off data and statistics about the dangers of the river would do little to curtail the antics of a bunch of type-A egomaniacs. So instead, he waited until a critical point of the trip—a night the group confused the roaring river ahead for a freight train—and then, he launched into his story.
Whether you’re trying to mobilize employees to lift your company’s net income or convert a tough prospect into a loyal customer, when you combine a great story with impeccable timing, the results will amaze you.
And don’t think that the stories you tell have to be about you. Hell, they don’t even have to be real. Bangs’ story wasn’t about the dangers of the Colorado river; it was legend about an ancient crocodile spirit named Sobek!
The fact that Bangs’ story was imaginary mattered not. The story captured the hearts, minds, and imaginations of the expedition crew. More importantly, it resulted in a 180 degree shift in their behavior as they tackled the most dangerous part of the trip.
For Maximum Impact, Combine Emotion and Data
Data simply doesn’t move people the way emotions do. And it doesn’t matter what kind of company you own—whether you’re McDonalds or a local plumber, you need to find ways to tell stories that connect you to your audience.
Want your message (notice I said “message”, not “pitch”) to stick? Start with your audiences’ hearts—their minds will follow.
We’ve used storytelling to take Blue Corona from zero to the Inc. 500. If you need help turning your message into a story, drop us a line!
About The Author: Ben Landers is the President and CEO of Blue Corona, a data-driven, inbound internet marketing company. Submit an inquiry to book Ben to speak at your next conference or event.
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