Storytelling That Sells: Five Tips for B2B Demand Generation Marketers

(Click for larger image)

As marketers, we know that providing the right information, to the right people, at the right time is crucial. But can we tell a good story? What is a “good” B2B story? How do we make one? And why is it important?

“When you share a story with an audience you open up their minds, their imaginations and their hearts—and as result the audience becomes more receptive to your message. This is the power of stories.”
—Jean Hamilton, “The Art of Storytelling: The Key to Memorable Presentations.”

I think that simple statement sums up the “why” pretty persuasively. The “what” and “how” require slightly more explanation, and are intertwined.

A good story is (not always) hard to write. Or film. Or record.

But it does take practice, and an understanding of some essential principles. Case studies are the most obvious vehicles for storytelling, but any information you deliver—in a product demo, a presentation,  a white paper—can be made more compelling with a personal experience baked in.

No matter what media you plan to deliver your story in, the following elements must be present.

Relevance

I trust you’ll do your B2B homework and ensure your information is relevant to a buyer persona and their stage in the buyer cycle. But if you plan to frame that information with a story, you must also ensure your buyers can relate to the characters, themes and tone of the story. If your audience is a small business owner, offering the example of an enterprise VP is likely to miss the mark, no matter how thrilling it might otherwise be.

Conflict and Redemption

Without challenge or conflict, there is no story. You might recall the old newspaper adage, “If it bleeds, it leads.” B2B stories typically aren’t quite that dramatic, but the point holds true: if you want to engage interest via storytelling, you need to show the bad and the ugly as well as the good.

In a case study, that might mean revealing challenges on the solution side as well as the customer side. If your original solution didn’t quite go to plan, but your team made an above-and-beyond effort to overcome the unexpected challenge, you stand to gain points for heroic measures.

How much conflict you reveal is a risk you have to weigh, but don’t automatically discount the power of redeemed conflict.

Character

A B2B character is any specific, named person who appears in your story narrative or onscreen. It doesn’t mean you have to dream up a fictional spokesperson, although if you can construct an articulate, charming character suitable for your audience, go for it!

A “good” character is quite simply one that your audience can relate to, based on similarity of role, expertise or situation. If they’re featured in a video, it does help if they’re comfortable on camera and well-prepared to articulate their story.

Although the following video is not what we may usually think of as a story, the IT expert featured does add a sympathetic element to what would otherwise be a purely informative narrative.

Specifics

You probably know this one already: Specific details are typically more convincing and compelling than generalities. This partly explains the popularity and pervasiveness of the case study as a content tool. Not only is it evidence of your solution’s success, it’s a mechanism for making the solution more memorable.

Action

Say less and show more. In written form, this means introducing dialogue or quotes whenever possible. In visual media, interspersing “talking head” moments with demonstrations (whether live action or illustrated) will be much more powerful than several minutes of monologue.

And remember…

The story doesn’t have to carry the entire weight of your offering.

The case study shown at the top of this post was commissioned for a large telecoms company to help their small business customers take greater advantage of technology for business. It eases the audience into a more instructive presentation of social media tools and resources. It’s a nice example of how stories provide an effective opening (or closing) act.

What’s your story? As always, your comments are very welcome.

 


2 Responses to Storytelling That Sells: Five Tips for B2B Demand Generation Marketers

  1. You wrote, “say less and show more.”
    The picture of the small business bakery owner’s a great example.

    And, yes, the customer’s words are golden, especially when used in a case study. That’s why digging deep for those nuggets with customer interviews is such a vital part of a well-written story.

  2. […] 3.    Tell a story. Stories are currency. They can create intrigue, make an emotional connection and offer proof of likability and trustworthiness. One of the great legends of Silicon Valley, according to Guy, is that Ebay was started because the founder’s girlfriend wanted to sell PEZ dispensers. This makes a huge company seem completely approachable and even personable—even if its true mission (to democratize commerce) is far more lofty. Why talk about 64 gigabytes, for example, when you could explain that an iPod holds 10,000 songs? When you talk the talk of your desired listener, you are far more likely to make a connection. (Want more ideas about making an impact with story? Check out my post Storytelling That Sells: Five Tips for B2B Demand Generation Marketers.) […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: