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Harnessing The Power Of Story for Education Sales – Part 2

In this second of a two part series, guest blogger James Mayfield Smith responds to my post on Storyline in Textbooks and Video Games. James is an educational consultant, sales executive, and trained applied mythologist.

Part 1 can be found here.

Part 2 of 2: The Tactical Use of Story to Sell

By James Mayfield Smith

175sdcsdcsdcWhen done well, story can be an effective tactical approach for facilitating the buy cycle of a teacher or administrator. It can engage customers, humanize the sales process, build strong emotional connections, and stimulate passionate customer evangelists.

Lucky for us, the teachers and administrators who are our customers long to hear stories and share them with others. We can engage them with the power of business narrative as we architect conversations about our educational solutions. Far more than simply telling the right story at the right time, such a process involves.

  • Getting clear about our own story of who we are as a company (and as an executive, regional manager, sales rep, etc.) and the value we bring so that we can be remarkable, as Seth Godin puts it.
  • Utilizing data to follow the breadcrumbs to the story that districts are likely to be telling themselves. This allows us to ask the right questions when engaging administrators.
  • Listening deeply to the needs of administrators and teachers, with the intent of discovering their deeper story of who they are and the underlying values that drive their decision-making. Such values are often very different, even for those who share a similar role across districts.
  • Asking the right questions to find the polarities that plague them. For example, do they need to boost test scores with students who are on the cusp of proficiency, but lack dedicated staff to implement an intervention? Identifying the duality of where they are being squeezed is one effective approach to finding the precise lever that will close a sale, especially during tough budget times.
  • Engaging our customers in genuinely relevant dialogue at each stage of their buying cycle. It’s the district’s buying cycle that determines the timing and outcome of the deal. We can facilitate targeted decisions at each stage to keep the purchase moving forward. In contrast, when a sales rep has entered “Presentation made. Awaiting decision.” into the CRM system and doesn’t continue to facilitate the buying cycle, odds are that the purchase may stall with a key contact who is overburdened with other decisions. We can bet that a competitor is moving their own deal forward to take the zero-sum dollars from the budget that might otherwise fund our solution.
  • Using business narrative techniques (a.k.a. stories and conversations) to facilitate and co-create a shared future story featuring our customer as the central character and our company as a solution provider that meets their specific needs.

Find The Right Tool For the Job At Hand

At different stages of the buying cycle, such stories will look very different. Some stories are simply brief conversations. Others are facilitated by the salesperson and told by the customer, with a focus on the administrator or teacher feeling heard and important information being discovered. The intent of the conversations and stories are to move the buying cycle forward towards a solution that meets the need of the district and provides lasting value.

These types of stories might include:

  • The Expectations for This Meeting story
  • The Curiosity Arousal`story
  • The Company Founding story
  • The Why I’m Different Now (Transformational) story
  • The Who Are You and What is Your Pain story
  • The Consequences of Not Changing story
  • The Greater Possibility story
  • The Why I Care about This and Can Serve You Well story
  • The Fostering Safety and Managing Risk story
  • The How to Move Forward story
  • The Cost and Benefits of the Solving this Problem (Price) story
  • The Winning over Other Key Decision Makers story

Although a seasoned sales professional will immediately recognize the conversational value of such stories, each of these uses of story deserves an entire blog post of its own. For more information, the innovative financial planner and author Scott Farnsworth has done some excellent work in this area and provides a good explanation of how to use such stories for sales.

In Conclusion

As educational publishing professionals, we can harness the power that story offers as a vehicle for change. We can utilize story to help us serve educators, students, and our own organizations, and we can do so in ways that our minds and hearts are designed to do and even long for.

On a tactical level, you don’t have to be an applied mythologist to appreciate the benefits of utilizing story to generate revenue. Using powerful conversations and stories to help sell is an ideal approach for educational publishers.

Part 1 The Strategic Use of Story to Sell of this two part series is here.

Lee’s original post Storyline in Textbooks and Video Games is here.