Episode 84: John Livesay – The Sale is in the “Tale”: Selling Effectively Through Storytelling
John Livesay explains to listeners the process of selling effectively through storytelling. Tune in as John shares with us why it’s the best storyteller that gets hired.
Learn what various sales problems storytelling can solve and how it can help your prospects remember your pitch, and more importantly, share it with other potential prospects.
Bill McCormick 00:00
What does making sales social mean to you?
John Livesay 00:002
Having a conversation with somebody as if you are a friend, and you’re getting to build a relationship before you start pushing out facts and figures or asking for anything.
Brynne Tillman 00:12
Oh, that’s a mic drop moment.
Bob Woods 00:16
Welcome to the Making Sales Social podcast! Featuring the top voices in sales and marketing. Join hosts Brynne Tillman and Bill McCormick as they discuss the best tips and strategies they are teaching their clients so you can leverage them for your own virtual and social selling. You can also listen to us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, and Google Play. Here are your hosts Brynne Tillman and Bill McCormick.
Bill McCormick 00:54
Welcome to Making Sales Social! I’m Bill McCormick.
Brynne Tillman 00:57
I’m Brynne Tillman.
Bill McCormick 00:58
So Brynne, who’s our guest today?
Brynne Tillman 00:59
We have a guest that I’ve been connected to John — will introduce him in a moment — for quite some time on LinkedIn, and we keep kind of finding each other. At one point I was on his show, he was a guest trainer on one of our coaching meetings. And then now we find that we’re both part of a JVMM, which is a new group I’m part of which is a joint venture group, but why is John here today?
So I’m going to introduce him in a moment because John does something that I think every single salesperson in the entire world needs to do, which is sell through storytelling. I think this is absolutely vital and I think it’s totally underleveraged. So welcome to the show, John! Tell everyone a little bit about you.
John Livesay 01:44
Thanks, Brynne and Bill, it’s great to be with you both. Well, my passion is helping people become black belts in storytelling because my premise is the sale is in the tale, T-A-L-E. So whoever tells the best story is the one that gets hired. And also, it solves so many other problems where people hate to sell because they feel “pushy” but when you tell a story you pull people in. The other problem it solves is people forget more than half of what you say after you give your pitch but when you start telling stories they remember it and more importantly, share it.
Brynne Tillman 02:20
Hmmm, that’s a big one, right? Like sometimes it’s really hard when you’ve got this amazing champion, internally, and you’re ready to go and like, “Oh, I gotta go settle this up the ladder.” So I know, I jumped ahead, we have to say something before.
Bill McCormick 02:36
That’s okay. There are so many different ways we can go but before we do that, John, we always ask our guests the same first question to lead off. What does making sales social mean to you?
John Livesay 02:45
It means that you’re actually having a conversation with somebody as if you are a friend and you’re getting to build a relationship before you start pushing out facts and figures or asking for anything.
Brynne Tillman 02:58
Hmm, that’s a good one.
Bill McCormick 02:59
It is, it is. All right, so let’s dive into storytelling. So here’s my presupposition coming in, is storytelling takes a lot of effort and a lot of time. We live in a soundbite world and I especially think of LinkedIn and content. We tell people shorter is better, less video. How do you tell a story in a soundbite world?
John Livesay 03:21
Well, I agree with you. I have a checklist, actually. When I work with people, I say it should be 3 Cs. So you need to make sure your story does all three. It should be clear because we all know if we confuse people they say, “I don’t get it.” but they’re not going to tell you they’re confused.
It should be concise to your point so that they can repeat it. That’s the real reason. And then it should be compelling and that’s what I talk about tugging at heartstrings to get people to open purse strings.
Brynne Tillman 03:52
I love it. It’s interesting. We talk about content, has to do five things and it overlaps a little bit. The fifth piece, so you know, it has to resonate, it has to create curiosity, it has to teach them something new. Get them thinking differently about their current situation and create a compelling moment, right? So it’s got to get them to want to know more. So I love how that overlaps a little bit.
Bill McCormick 04:17
So let me marry a couple of things together, Brynne. You talked about the fact that oftentimes we have a champion internally and they’re like, “Yeah, this is great” but now they need to go and sell and what we know from the Challenger Sale is that there’s 6.8 decision-makers in most B2B selling environments, so we know that there’s more than one person that has to be brought into this.
So this whole idea of being concise and being able to tell a story that they can retell, and then that makes them your salesperson in effect, right John?
John Livesay 04:50
Exactly. I’ve been in the shoes. I used to sell media. Lexus would put out a proposal, they said, “We looked at 50 magazines and we narrowed it down to 10. You each can come in for 30 minutes and pitch back to back. Do not talk about numbers.”
And half the reps would freeze like a deer in headlights but I can’t talk about circulation, and I realized whoever was going to tell the best story of what the marketing idea would be to support the launch of that particular model would be the one that would be, they could take back to their client and look successful. It’s that second meeting where the sale really happens. It’s the meeting after the meeting. So they hear all these presentations or pitches and then they have to either take it up the ladder to a client at an ad agency standpoint, or they have to discuss it within themselves.
And if nobody’s told a story, then they go, “Well, it all sounds the same, I guess we just go with the lowest price.” But if you tell a story that someone sees themselves in and that’s the secret. You can tell a story that you’re not the hero — that’s the first mistake a lot of people make — you need to think of yourself like Yoda or the sherpa helping someone up a mountain. But if they see themselves in that story, then it’s a completely different side of their brain that’s activated, they go, “Oh, that sounds like my problems, you really get me I want to go on this journey with you.”
So selling becomes a whole new way of storytelling as from start to finish from the elevator pitch that I showed how people, how to turn into an elevator story to get people to even have the conversation, turning a boring case study, which we’ve heard forever, which is even the word “study” sounds like homework to me, and turn that into a story. And then finally, even the closing is a story element of “Do you want to go on the journey with me?” When you have that in your toolbox after you’ve told a really great story, you no longer feel pushy.
Brynne Tillman 06:47
So you know, I love this but a lot of people go, “You know, I’m not a storyteller by nature. I can collect my case studies, I can tell them the success stories.” How do you guide someone to start their story or to create their story in a compelling way?
John Livesay 07:09
Well, the good news is unlike having to be a golfer or an opera singer, it’s not this thing you’d have to be born with that you have this natural talent even if you didn’t study. Anyone can learn to become a good storyteller. And if you’re already good, you can get to be a blackbelt once you understand that stories really have some structure to them and then once you understand the structure, you can make sure that your story, it has all four.
So let’s just quickly give everybody what that is. (Brynne: Perfect.) The first part is the exposition, think of yourself like a journalist. The who, the what, the where, the when. Paint the picture, let us know where we are so we’re in the story, then the second part of it is the problem. And I tell people, the better you are at describing someone’s problem, the better they think you have their solution.
Brynne Tillman 08:00
Oh, that’s a mic drop moment. So let’s repeat that really quickly. Go you repeat it,
John Livesay 08:08
The better you can explain someone’s problem, the better they think you have their solution.
Brynne Tillman 08:13
Is it because they get “Wow, she or he really understands me?”
John Livesay 08:19
Yes. So if you understand my problem that well, you’re in my shoes, you get me, whatever you want to say, then you must understand what my solution is, even if I don’t know what it is.
Brynne Tillman 08:30
So that for us is the resonate to me, (crosstalk) I think.
John Livesay 08:33
You know every good story has, the stakes have to be high in the problem for us to care about the hero. So unless you have, so it’s all about getting the stakes high and then there’s a solution and the magic to a really great story is the resolution. What is life like after your solution has taken place?
Think of the Wizard of Oz, imagine if that movie ended with Dorothy getting in the balloon and going back to Kansas, the end. But no, there’s this wonderful resolution, she’s back at home and she appreciates everybody and there’s no place like home. And that’s what makes that story a classic and so few people don’t have a story with a resolution. I can give you an example and then we can break it down. (Brynne: Yeah, please.)
So I was working with a healthcare tech company and I was saying to them, “What are you saying to get doctors to buy this equipment?” “Well, it makes the surgeries go 30% faster! Do you want one?” And of course, that’s a left-brain, analytical, speeds and feeds kind of traditional push information out. It’s so logical, why aren’t you buying? And of course, people buy emotionally and then back it up with logic and so the storytelling taps into that side of our brain.
So the story they tell now and this is your point, Bill. It’s not a long story. So imagine how happy Dr. Higgins was six months ago in Long Beach Memorial when he could go out to the patient’s family in the waiting room an hour earlier than expected. And if you’ve ever waited for someone you love to come out of surgery, you know, every minute feels like an hour. “Good news, the scope shows they don’t have cancer, they’re going to be fine.” Turns to the rep and says, you know, that’s why I became a doctor for moments like this.
Now, instead of 30% faster, that rep tells that little case story that’s concise and memorable and repeatable to another doctor at another hospital, who sees themselves in the story and says, “You know what, that’s why I became a doctor. I want your equipment too” (Brynne: Hmmm.) Clients said, “Oh my god, that gives us chills. Not only are we not telling stories that never occurred to us to make the patient’s family a character in the story.”
Brynne Tillman 10:40
I love the thought of who are the characters in the story?
Bill McCormick 10:44
Yeah and that goes to our point when we talk about social listening is, you know, not only finding about, not only creating content around who your clients are, but who are your client’s clients and that’s the patients, in the story. That’s amazing.
John Livesay 10:58
And you see how the technique where I take it up one level more “If you ever waited for someone you loved.” Now, even if you haven’t, you probably know someone who had or you can imagine, every minute feeling like an hour.
So the exposition is we know what doctor it is, we know how long ago, we know where the doctor is. The problem is clearly that poor patient’s family in torture and misery. The doctor’s the hero, he puts them out of their waiting misery. And the resolution is, his insight is that’s my “why” that’s why I became a doctor. And so now we’re tapping into the heart part that another doctor has reminded of why they became a doctor. So all of that is completed in those steps and yet concise, clear, and compelling. So it is possible to do it all.
Brynne Tillman 11:46
And fast. It was such a short story. I mean, that was the concise piece, obviously. And I will forever remember that story might be the only thing I remember today. But I’ll remember that. And I love that.
Bill McCormick 12:00
So let’s talk about story. So I get that, so storytelling in a sales environment when we’re in face to face. Are there ways that we can use storytelling, for example, on social when we’re posting content? What are some examples of that?
John Livesay 12:17
Well, my favorite one is because Brynne is so smart and has a pulse on the zeitgeist, and shares her expertise. She’s the one that told me, “Oh, you can now create a little video on your LinkedIn profile face.” (Brynne: Cover Story) And I hadn’t heard of that. Cover story, yes!
And I thought, “29 seconds? What story do I want to tell in that 29 seconds?” And so that’s a classic example of I tell people when you’re shooting that video, pretend like you’re welcoming someone into your home, instead of, but now it’s, you know, “Welcome into my LinkedIn profile.” And give them a little hint of what you do and why you’re so passionate about it and it’s enough to intrigue them to want to look at the rest of your profile.
Brynne Tillman 12:59
Yeah, I love that. That’s awesome.
Bill McCormick 13:01
Me too. And so you think about it, we talked about the five things that a profile must do or content must do as Brynne said, you know, so, so resonate. We discussed that, you know, creates curiosity?
Brynne Tillman 13:12
So, yeah, so as you do that, you’re talking, if we break that story down, that creates curiosity, I think, you know, it comes in a couple of places. It’s at the top, but even in the end.
Bill McCormick 13:26
You’re telling a story, it’s like, “where’s this going?” and especially, they’re expecting a pitch, and they’re not getting them.
John Livesay 13:33
They’re getting a story, like, you’re just starting to convert a word or opening with “imagine how happy” that’s a feeling. And then you get into the details of this particular doctor at this particular hospital six months ago, was when he could and so then you’re we’re curious about where is this going?
Brynne Tillman 13:53
Yeah, I love that and you even used the word “happy,” which normally you would not expect to be in a sales presentation or you wouldn’t, you know, “happy,” that’s so kind of out there. “Woohoo! This is about happy? This is about productivity and efficiency,” but it’s not. It’s really about are we making them happier? Solving problems does that. We’re making them happier, we’re making their clients or their patients happier, or their patient’s family even went one deeper on that. So I love this and you’ve got my wheels going. (John: Great.)
Bill McCormick 14:31
So if I’m a sales rep, how do I get started? So where do I start in this idea of using stories in my sales process?
John Livesay 14:43
Well, the first part is let’s zoom out and make sure that you’re not making the mistakes that so many people do, which is they jump right into the product or service and get into the features. So I tell people you have to sell yourself first and by sell, I mean tell your story of origin, how’d you get into healthcare, whatever your field is.
Then you sell the company, even if you’re a one-person company. What’s the story of origin around the company? How did you come up with the name of the company? What are the values of the company? Some little thing, and then you tell a case story instead of a case study. And once you’ve got that mindset of, you know, they’ve got to trust and like, and know me.
Notice, I said it in that order because the old order is, oh, people have to like you. (Brynne: Know, like, and trust) Know, like, and trust. And I go, no, it’s an intellectual pushing, it causes people to push out information. So I flip it and start with trust. It’s a gut thing. You know, we used to have handshakes to show we didn’t have weapons, it’s a fight or flight. Is this a safe email? (Brynne: Yeah, Bill talked about that.)
Then it goes to the heart. Do I like you? You know, are you showing empathy for what I’m experiencing? And then the unspoken question is, will this work for me? And so that’s where you as a salesperson, thinking, “Am I telling a story that’s answering that unspoken question?” “Will this work for me?” I might trust and like you, but if I don’t think it’s gonna work for me, I’m not gonna hire you or buy from you and that’s because I don’t see myself in the story but if I do see myself in the story, then I know that that person is so like me that I will do it.
And then once you’ve got all that going on, the next level I work with people on is thinking of your brain like a jukebox or playlist, you know, we pull up songs for the right moment. Well, you need more than one story for all your different avatars. And most salespeople just tell the same pitch over and over again, no matter who they’re talking to but man, if you have a story ready to go for this kind of person and that kind of person, then the odds are much higher, that they’ll see themselves in that story. (Brynne: That’s awesome.)
Bill McCormick 16:52
Yeah, really, really good stuff, and it goes to, you know, we talk a lot about ideal client profiles or avatars and knowing who it is that are your top clients, that are your top prospects that you’re going after. And I think it’s a good point you make is they’re not all going to be homogenous, they’re not all going to be the same. There may be different industries, there may be different decision-makers, and finding stories for each one of them, and I would just add authentically, you know, you’re not going to mix stuff up. You’re not telling a fable, you’re telling a story and I think that’s an important delineation to make.
John Livesay 17:31
And so you can turn your testimonials into stories, and they become even stronger. And you can also give your clients that are willing to give you some testimonials, a little bit of structure. Before you jump into how much your business has grown, would you mind us giving a little exposition about how long ago we met and what and then describe what your life was like before working with us? And then you can talk about the solution but make sure your testimonials have a resolution. Now a year later, I’ve got freedom I don’t have… I’m not waking up in the middle of the night stressed out or whatever that is.
Bill McCormick 18:05
So, Brynne, I think of two stories that you tell regularly and you do those things. First is your Rolodex story. (Brynne: Yeah) You bring people in and you talk about the resolution because now we have LinkedIn that we, that (crosstalk) is our Rolodex. And we have a client that during the pandemic closed a $1.5 million deal. And when we tell that story, we talk about the pandemic. And everyone knows what business was like in the pandemic. (Brynne: Right, that’s true.) And then the resolution is now we’re over a year and that $1.5-million deal is going to a $3-million dollar deal. And so yeah.
Brynne Tillman 18:43
And with one exercise.
John Livesay 18:47
And the unspoken question is, “Well if it works for that person, it could work for me, because I see myself in that story.”
Bill McCormick 18:54
Yeah, yeah. And so I see that we’re using, we can use stories better. I think all of us can, that are listening, watching, but that we are using them, some…
Brynne Tillman 19:03
I think we have a third one, our TD Bank story and how we got in through a warm introduction from a friend. (Bill: Yeah.) So, yeah, so we do use them. But you know, I want to go back and look at our stories and I’m going to put this up for all our listeners.
Go back and see, is it following John’s structure, right? Because we could be telling stories but leaving them hanging without the resolution or without connecting to the “imagine.” I don’t do “imagine,” right, I don’t start with that. So I think we’re going to update our stories now.
Bill McCormick 19:38
I would challenge all of our listeners to go to your LinkedIn profile. If you have recommendations on there and look through them and look for some things you can pull out. Go to your client testimonials, if they send it through email or if it’s on Google reviews or on your website and start looking and I’m sure you can probably find a story for each of your client profiles. Start pulling out to use this way. Great, great stuff.
Brynne Tillman 20:03
If you can’t, it’s time to start bringing them on a video and just asking them questions. But keep John’s structure in mind. Make sure you’re capturing all those elements, the three C’s, right? You’re capturing, compelling, concise, clear…
Bill McCormick 20:21
Clear, compelling, concise
Brynne Tillman 20:22
Concise and compelling. Yeah, that’s awesome.
Bill McCormick 20:25
We’ll definitely do that. So, unfortunately, we are at the end of our time… (Brynne: Nooo…)
Yeah, we are, can you believe it? (Brynne: That was the fastest podcast yet) The telescoping of time it’s just zooming by.
So John, tell everyone a little bit about how they can connect with you and how if they’re interested in finding out more about using storytelling in sales, how they can do that?
John Livesay 20:47
Sure! I have a free Fix Your Elevator Pitch script. If you go to my website, johnlivesay.com and you put in, you answer a few questions, I’ll send you a suggested elevator story to start working on and a lot of people say, “Oh, I want more,” then I have an online experience. Notice I don’t say “course” because you get to work with me for eight weeks, and I help you refine and retune your stories across from start to finish in the sales cycle.
Bill McCormick 21:16
Thank you, John, for being on. This was really enlightening. I’ve got notes I can’t wait to get started on. Thank you everyone for watching and join us again next time for another episode of Making Sales Social! And as you’re out this week, don’t forget to make your sales social and use some stories. We’ll see you next time. Bye bye, everyone.
Bob Woods 21:35
Thanks for watching, and join us again for more special guest instructors bringing you marketing sales training, and social selling strategy that will set you apart. Hit the subscribe button below to get the latest episodes from the Making Sales Social podcast! Give this video a thumbs up and comment down below on what you want to hear from us next. You can also listen to us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, and Google Play. Visit our website socialsaleslink.com for more information.