Storytelling in Sales: Best Practices from Hollywood

October 3, 2019

Storytelling in Sales

The best films tell stories about a hero’s journey that audiences connect to, never want to end, and never forget. Wouldn’t it be great if Sales organizations could create that same experience for prospects and customers?

Turns out, making a great movie is not so different than selling products and solutions. Sales and Marketing teams can create the best buyer experience through a compelling story.

Matthew Luhn knows what it takes to tell a great story, with over 20 years at Pixar Animation Studios. Ahead of his session, “The Best Story Wins: Using Tips from Hollywood for Business Storytelling,” we spoke with Matthew about how concepts used in filmmaking and storytelling techniques can benefit Sales reps and marketers during a Sales pitch.

Creating Memorable Experiences

Just like a great film, a business needs to impact buyer emotions to make an impression. How does Matthew recommend you do this? Wrap a story around your product, solution, or idea.

Most stories follow universal themes that we all share as humans, regardless of age, gender, culture, and other demographics. These fall into the bucket of desires-the desire for love, safety, freedom-or fears-the fear of abandonment or not belonging. If you want to impact people, touch upon their emotions by using these themes.

Matthew uses three films he’s worked on as examples of a good story. Wall-E is a movie not just about being conscious of the environment, but about a robot’s desire for love; Finding Nemo is about a father wanting his son to be safe; Brave is about a girl who just wants to be free and be herself.

Organizations trying to connect with leads and prospects must remember that you’re selling a story, but you’re also selling a feeling during your Sales pitch.

Crafting Your Story

You may think your business doesn’t have a story; perhaps you’re just starting up or are in an industry not considered “sexy.” That doesn’t mean there aren’t more profound roots.

Ideally, your company’s founder created the business based on a passion, and employees joined because they feel excited about it as well. Dig deeper into that to find your specific story. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Why do we work here?
  • Why do we feel people need our product or solution?
  • How will our product or solution improve lives?

Matthew used an example of a lawyer he knows who represents small businesses. Sure, his work is about protecting his clients’ businesses and offering legal services, but he sees it as more than that. He helps grant people financial freedom, as well as the freedom to live the lives they want and do the things they love.

You can do the same with your company’s mission. Find what the emotional message is and make it your north star.

Getting Five Stars from Your Audience

It’s one thing to develop your story; it’s another to message it in a way that connects with your customer.

Matthew also worked on the show “The Simpsons.” At the time the show was introduced, animation was typically a medium for children. The creators of “The Simpsons” had to craft the story to change the public’s frame of reference and appeal to adults.

The audience you’re trying to appeal to may not clearly see how your solution fits into their business right away; it’s the responsibility of a Sales professional and marketers to help them get there. And while a generic message is easiest and, in theory, will grasp a wider audience, it in fact does the opposite: by attempting to appeal to everyone, you connect with no one.

Decide who your audience is-you will likely come up with a number of segments-then consider what is relevant and important to them. Data will give insight into what content and messaging is getting the most engagement from your customer; use it to inform your strategy! Films have several test screenings for their audiences before being widely released; as a marketer or seller, you must do some testing with your customer as well to find out what sticks.

Keeping People Coming Back

Finally, you want your story to be compelling enough that people want to hear and experience it again and again.

Think about The Walt Disney Company. From their movies and shows to their theme parks and stores, their branding feels familiar. It’s this consistency that builds a recognizable and comforting relationship between consumers and brands.

How can you be like Disney? Carry your story through all customer and prospect touchpoints, like your website, emails, social media, and customer interactions via phone calls or in-person meetings. Not only will your story reel buyers and customers in, but the consistency throughout will also establish a recognizable brand and mission that reminds people of your story every time.

Matthew’s favorite projects were those to which he could apply his own experience. In the film “Toy Story 3,” a toy hedgehog wearing lederhosen was inspired by a toy Matthew actually had as a child, one he still connects with, as he has family in Germany. These stories that come from a place of truth and have a personal touch tend to resonate more with audiences and build personal relationships. The major takeaway for sellers and marketers: be authentic.

Matthew will be holding his session at TRANSFORM 2019 in both London and Chicago. Don’t miss it! Get your tickets.