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Selling With Stories: How Small Businesses Can Connect With Customers in 2013

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January 17,2013
By Steve Lazuka, Zerys for Agencies
Storytelling is a way of addressing that age-old sales adage “find a need and fill it.” But storytelling has special value beyond other techniques. It brings your products or services to life – and here’s the key -- in ways that matter most to your prospects.
Bedtime stories are fantasies. Content stories are real-life “dramatizations” of how your products actually help people improve their business or personal lives. Remember math story problems? As a kid you thought math was pointless. Story problems not only taught you how to do arithmetic, they taught you how to relate to math, to understand why you can’t live without it.
Stories follow a specific format:
  • There’s a heroine – your customer.
  • There’s a problem – she’s in distress for some reason.
  • There’s a denouement, a solution -- your product or service to the rescue.
You can use this simple format to relate your company’s stories. Because regardless what you sell, you have great stories to tell. Really. Here are some important things to keep in mind.
1. Stories are about customers, not you.
Sure, your products or services feature prominently, but only because they address the customer’s need. Stories explain how your strong points relieve their pain points.
Stories humanize your company. That’s critical, because unless you have no competition, buyers have a choice. Even the most esoteric products are ultimately used – or at least chosen – by someone. And people prefer to do business with people they can relate to.
For example, thanks to Hurricane Sandy, our clients in the Northeast have plenty of real-life stories – some of them horror stories – to tell about how their products and services survived the storm or are helping people get back to work and back into their homes. Anyone can easily relate to those stories, either because they’ve also suffered through a disaster or because they’re mighty glad they’ve missed that experience.
The best storytelling comes from your customers themselves. Asking them to share their own stories ensures the topics are always well-focused on your audience, and nothing builds credibility like unbiased testimonials.
2. Sharing is nice, but sales are better.
You’re looking for actionable engagement with storytelling. Amusing anecdotes that get shared are fine, but you need results. Even the best novelist doesn’t make money if her books don’t sell. And while branding is good and building reputation is better, you can’t take either to the bank. You have to sell stuff to survive.
Showing you understand their needs and that you have the best solution makes the sale. You’re building that all-important emotional link with prospects. As Jeff Molander says, they’re building confidence in you but, more importantly, confidence in themselves as buyers. And as he so rightly points out, “response matters more than reaction.” Readers will say to themselves, “that’s the result I want!” and they’ll take the next step.
3. Spread it around.
Using multiple channels reaches the most people. It enables you to highlight key aspects of your stories in different ways, important because stories aren’t always about words. Pictures – photos, video, illustrations such as infographics – all have magnetic drawing power. And some stories don’t even need words. Have you seen Coke’s latest polar bear commercial?
Don’t forget your website is one of your channels. Use testimonials -- you DO collect them, don’t you? – as teasers on your home page, linking to the full back story as a blog article, etc.
4. You’re creating nuggets, not a novel.
Think short stories. One takeaway per story is a good rule of thumb. Case studies are good examples, though they’re often written in pretty terse language. Give them a personal twist and a conversational tone, and you have a great little story.
5. Think in series.
Marketing isn’t a one-shot deal, and neither is making lasting friends – read “loyal buyers.” Telling a series of stories makes it easier to keep things simple but still cover more complex topics. Or tell a story from several different angles.
Parceling it out in “chapters” like an old-time serial is great for building anticipation and momentum. That’s why TV and radio ads now invite you to learn the rest of the story by going online. You can use this technique to:
  • Keeps people engaged.
  • Draws people farther into your sales funnel.
  • Make multiple relevant points that would be overwhelming in a single commercial or blog post.
So—what stories will your company tell this year?
Steve Lazuka is the founder of Interact Media, creators of the Zerys Content Marketplace and Zerys for Agencies content marketing platforms. Follow Steve @SteveLazuka
About Zerys
Zerys is a powerful content project management tool and writer marketplace  that makes it simple to manage any content project from start (strategy planning) to finish (auto-publishing). Zerys for Agencies is a custom, private-labeled solution that allows agencies to manage all their clients’ content projects from one, simple dashboard. Zerys was founded in 2008, and is now used by thousands of businesses and hundreds of marketing agencies.
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