Originally published on Advisor Perspectives, October 16, 2018
Sales coaches emphasize the importance of storytelling, especially when you can seemingly entertain others with a tale about yourself. While doing so has a role in establishing trust and rapport with a prospect, it’s far more limited than you think.
The benefit of telling your story
There are many articles that extoll the benefit of telling your story. The best ones are based on neuroscience research. Well-known psychologist and researcher Paul Zak explored the reasons we’re attracted to stories in this article.
Good stories capture and hold our attention, according to Zak. They can also cause us to emotionally connect with the characters in the story, which Zak terms “transportation.” It means you experience the same emotions as the characters in the story, like fear or anxiety.
Zak notes that listening to a story causes oxytocin to synthesize in the brain. Oxytocin is the neurochemical responsible for empathy and “narrative transportation.” Its impact is powerful.
According to Zak, “[W]hat we know is that oxytocin makes us more sensitive to social cues around us. In many situations, social cues motivate us to engage to help others, particularly if the other person seems to need our help.”
Clearly, there’s a role for telling stories that have this positive impact.
But there’s a big caveat.
A better way
Let’s accept Zak’s research that telling the right story can trigger a release of oxytocin, which is beneficial in interacting positively with others. But what if there was a more direct and powerful way to have the same effect, without telling your story?
According to this seminal study authored by two professors at Harvard, when we empower others to talk about themselves, oxytocin is released into the pre-frontal cortex of their brain. The effect is powerful. The authors concluded that talking about yourself represents an event with intrinsic value, in the same way as with primary rewards such as food and sex.
Given a choice between hearing your story and talking about themselves, which do you think your prospects would choose?
Ask questions instead
Instead of telling your story, your primary goal should be to elicit your prospect’s story. You can do so by asking sensitive, thoughtful questions. There’s extensive research indicating a strong correlation between “the number of questions a salesperson asks and his or her sales conversion rate.”
The limited role of your story
There’s a role for telling your story, but it’s a limited one. We tend to relate better to those with whom we share values and experiences. For example, if a prospect tells you she is about to travel to Australia and you recently traveled there, it would be appropriate for you to say something like, “we recently spent time there, I’m sure you will enjoy it.” But, here’s the critical point, you should then do what I call the “Solin pivot” and ask this question: “What made you decide to go there?”
Few of us do the pivot, for good reason.
We want to experience the rush of oxytocin flowing into our own brains, because it makes us feel good. We rationalize this feeling by telling ourselves that others are interested in details about our trip because we derive such pleasure from telling it.
Avoid this temptation. The prospect has far more interest in (and will get much more pleasure from) telling their story than listening to yours.