Sell your People with Story

If you work in a company of more than one person, your work colleagues are a critically important to your sales success.

Potential customers don't buy your products and services they buy the expertise of your company to ensure an outcome.

By expertise, I mean the skills of

specific individuals

in your company, not amorphous 'corporate expertise'.

When I was selling for Siemens in the mid-2000s,


sold a pre-paid charging system to a telecommunications company for well over $10 million dollars - a deal which took several months to negotiate and close. I was the sales person but


sold it, as you will see.

When a deal is closed and celebrated, the sales person usually moves quickly to the next opportunity but I wanted to be sure the buyer was satisfied and I really wanted to know why our company was selected.

We were not the front runner in the early stages and the customer had many choices of supplier, it was a competitive market. So why us?

I met with the main decision maker and we spent most of the meeting discussing the project implementation, which was going well, thankfully. Then, as the meeting drew to a close, I asked:

“Out of curiosity, 

you had several choices for partner in this project, 

why did you choose us?”

The response was instantaneous,

“Voon Tat, your technical expert. 

He took the trouble to understand our technical requirements

And he showed us how we could achieve what we needed. 

He was the difference”

Our technical sales guy was the winning factor, it wasn’t my brilliant salesmanship! Hmm, that’s a blow to the ego.

Back in the office, I reflected on that answer.

When we decided to pursue the opportunity I was concerned that our company didn’t have technical expertise in Australia. In contrast, our main competitors had supplied similar systems in Australia and almost certainly had local experts.

Fortunately, I had worked with Singapore-based Voon Tat* before, so I knew his story and the quality of his work. I recalled telling the customer, “We’re bringing over our best technical expert to work on this", and then I told a story about how Voon Tat and I had worked together on a previous project and how good he was.

Pumping up our technical expert with a story, probably made a difference. Maybe the sales guy played a part afterall?**

End of story.

In fact, it makes a big difference if your potential customer knows about your key people, and stories are much more potent than assertions for delivering that information.

You could assert that your technical expert is highly qualified and brilliant – but everyone says those things - those assertions are

barely heard

. A story, on the other hand is heard and accepted almost at an unconscious level.

We love to hear stories.

Some things to reflect on

1. Everyone has an interesting story. To be able to tell someone’s story you will need to respectfully ask for it and then listen! Then you need to arrange the relevant and interesting parts into a narrative. A great way to learn this skill is to participate in a

story workshop


2. Telling stories about your key people early in an opportunity primes the engagement for a trusting partnership

3. Don’t forget to prompt your customer’s key people to tell their stories - that is just as important as telling your stories. When you have shared stories with your customer, you are no longer just a vendor.

Now, whose stories do you need to collect in your organisation?




Source: Mike Adams personal experience

Story Type: Key Staff


For Story Students:

The Setting: Mid-2000s Australia, after winning a deal

The Complications: Won the deal in unlikely circumstances

The Turning Point: Mike went to find out why we won

The Resolution: The technical sales guy was the key reason for winning

The Point of the Story: There are key staff in your organisation - you must position them!


** Photo: Top Left: Voon Tat Choong, technical master. 

*Many other people that contributed significantly to winning and keeping this deal including but not limited to (left to right, Top to Bottom) David Adams, David Huck, Peter Barfod, Peter Simms, TeeMeng Foo. My apologies to anyone that I've left out.

Disrupting Telecoms - Norwood Systems Company Story

Invention and entrepreneurship are in the blood for Paul Ostergaard. Paul’s start-up company, Norwood Systems, is named after his grandfather, Arthur Norwood, who invented processes for extracting gold and silver from ore bodies in the 1940s.

The first incarnation of Norwood Systems listed on the ASX in 2001 with a concept and technology to extend the reach of fixed telephone networks to mobile phones using Bluetooth communication. Instead of leaving a voicemail on the office phone, a caller would be transferred to the recipient’s mobile phone if they were within Bluetooth range.

In the heady days of the dot com boom, Norwood was wildly successful, winning the first ever tender for a large telco company to supply dual-mode converged telephony. Norwood was ranked by Time Magazine as one of Europe’s hottest tech firms in 2001 and 2002.

Norwood partnered with a major handset vendor to commercialise their technology but the idea conflicted with the financial interests of the mobile carriers who preferred to carry the call over their networks (and charge for them). The project foundered and Paul sold the company in 2004.

The Apple iPhone launch in 2007 changed the balance of power. For the first time consumers could choose their own phone services via the app store and the position of mobile carriers changed to merely transporting the data.

Paul saw another opportunity for his fixed and mobile convergence patents and in 2011, with David Wilson, relaunched Norwood Systems.

Now taking advantage of Wi-Fi instead of Bluetooth, Norwood launched ‘Work Phone’ as a smartphone app that could extend the range of an office phone. When they upgraded this technology to support multiple Wi-Fi networks it was obvious that the technology was applicable far beyond the geography of the office environment.

But Work Phone required modifications to a corporation’s PBX and that was a barrier to fast adoption of the solution. A lighter version was needed and in mid-2015 a consumer app called “World Phone’ was released.

World Phone, offered significantly reduced mobile roaming fees and easy access to local phone numbers while travelling internationally. With more than 4,000,000 downloads, World Phone is a leading app in the Travel category on both the App Store and Google Play. Underpinning World Phone is a federation of high quality fixed Telco networks which carry the voice signals using internet protocol but with high fidelity.

Norwood did not forget its original mission to provide low cost converged telephony for businesses and in 2016, using the lessons from the Word Phone and inspired by the success of ‘Uber for business’, Norwood relaunched a corporate version of World Phone  called 'Corona Cloud', which avoids the need to integrate with a customer's internal telephone exchange (The PBX) but still offers control and manageability of work phone usage regardless of whether its a company or personal phone.



Norwood Systems

Source: Mike Adams conversations with Paul Ostergaard, Steve Tot and Nick Horton

Story Type: Company


For Story Students:

The Setting: The early 2000's when fixed telephony is being seriously disrupted by mobile telephony

The Complications: A business failure due to entrenched market forces

The Turning Point: New technology that allowed a re-entry

The Resolution: A booming business that is disrupting the Telecommunications industry

The Point of the Story: Get on board with Norwood Systems, you can improve your company's productivity and pay for the improvement with the telecom spend cost savings

Schlumberger in Russia

I think the first time I noticed the power of stories in sales was when I was managing a sales team in Russia for Schlumberger in 2000.

Schlumberger was formed in 1926 when Conrad and Marcel Schlumberger invented a technique to measure the variation of resistivity in oil wells and hence locate the oil. The invention was an instant success and within a few years, Schlumberger deployed their technique all over the world. They revolutionised the Russian oil industry to the extent that a portrait of Conrad Schlumberger was hung in the Oil and Gas Gubkin Institute as a pioneer of Soviet industry.

But the company suffered a huge setback in the 1930s, when Stalin nationalised Schlumberger's assets in Russia.

In the mid-1990s, when Russia was opening up again to western companies after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Schlumberger needed to make a decision whether to re-enter the market. The CEO, was asked how much money he was willing to risk on a Russian re-entry; His answer was “$200 million”.

With that, Schlumberger set about placing senior experts and investing in two of the top six Russian oil companies. The results were startling; using western techniques, the two Russian oil companies doubled production while their competitor’s production fell.

I've told this story many times and heard it re-told by my customers. The story’s effect was remarkable and unmistakable.

The power of stories to capture our attention lies in the narrative journey: the complications, trials and mistakes that expose the hero's vulnerabilities. Without the setback of Stalin's nationalisation, the story would not have the same power.

Today, Schlumberger is a company with revenues of $35 billion, dominating the oil and gas services business - and generating nearly $2 billion per year from Russia alone.




Source: Mike Adams experience and conversations with Schlumberger people in Russia at the time


"The Schlumberger Adventure"

, Anne Gruner Schlumberger

Story Type: Company


For Story Students:

The Setting: Schlumberger in Russia 1930 to present day

The Complications: The company's assets were nationalised by the Russian state

The Turning Point: Schlumberger's successful re-entry into Russia in the 1990s

The Resolution: A massive successful business

The Point of the Story: How an interesting story says more about a company than marketing claims

How to use this Story: We tell this story as an example company Creation story and to illustrate the persuasive power of stories.

Innovation Downunder

In the early 2000s, Matt was working as a geophysicist at BHP Petroleum. He was also adjunct associate professor of geophysics at Curtin University in Perth. Keen to start his own geophysics software business, Matt saw in PhD student Troy a potential partner with a brilliant mind who could ‘do anything’. Matt and Troy were working on software techniques to ‘invert’ seismic acoustic survey data to a quantitatively useful parameter such as the probability of hydrocarbon. In late 2003, Matt left BHP and together with Troy, founded Downunder GeoSolutions (DUG).

Processing seismic data requires banks of computers to perform parallel computations on terabytes of data. Matt and Troy installed a network of PC computers in a shed they built in Matt’s backyard. They immediately encountered an overheating problem with their massed PC computers. The solution was to stack the PCs on their sides, fit the shed roof with an array of exhaust fans sourced from the local hardware store, and drape a curtain from the window to direct outside air up through the PCs to cool them. After about three months, the processor boards started turning green from the humid air and within a year they fell apart, but the first DUG supercomputer had done its job.

The company struggled to make money in the early years, surviving on grants and piecemeal consulting projects. Then in 2006, Matt and Troy had an opportunity to apply their technique to a data set from Western Australia for US oil and gas giant Apache. Three dry holes had been drilled in the licence area and Apache had an obligation to drill one more well before they could relinquish the licence.

Matt and Troy took on the job with more bravado than confidence, and after six months of processing they produced the world's first hydrocarbon probability volume map. Their interpretation showed why the initial wells had failed, and Apache used their results to drill the first discovery well and a further 18 accurately predicted oil and gas wells. The Julimar oil and gas field, which now supplies gas to the $30 billion Wheatstone liquid natural gas plant, is the result. This success launched the company, allowing Matt and Troy to open new global offices and invest in new supercomputers, expand their processing capability and take on new customers.

Today the company has outgrown the shed! DUG has grown to 350 employees and is the third largest seismic processing company in the world, and the largest land seismic processing company in the United States. They operate a network of massive supercomputers in London, Houston, Kuala Lumpur and Perth, each cooled with DUG-patented oil cooling baths, and service the seismic processing needs of oil and gas companies around the world.



Downunder Geosolutions

Source: Matt Lamont and Troy Thompson discussions with Mike Adams and Sue Findlay


Story Type: Company


For Story Students:

The Setting: Early 2000s in Perth, Western Australia

The Complications: Struggling to succeed as a company

The Turning Point: A successful interpretation that discovered a gas field

The Resolution: DUG operates supercomputers in Perth, Houston, London, Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta serving oil and gas companies all over the world.

The Point of the Story: DUG is great compay

How to use this Story:  Used by DUG customer facing staff and a great example of a company creation story

Software for Life - The Pronto Story

Pronto Software Managing Director Chad Gates tells the Pronto Story

The seeds for what would become Pronto were planted in 1976 when Dave Nolan formed Prometheus while consulting to an Australian computer hardware manufacturer called CMAD.

By 1983, CMAD was in financial difficulty and its directors decided to sell the ‘non-core’ software division. Dave Nolan purchased the rights to the application and system software and acquired six CMAD software developers as part of the deal.

The software Prometheus acquired was written in an old programming language called COBOL and would only operate on CMAD hardware. The company wanted independence from both hardware and software providers, so set about developing a fourth-generation programming language which was used to rewrite the entire code base into a product called Pronto.

CMAD went out of business but many of their customers continued using Pronto software, and some are still valued Pronto customers today, more than 30 years later.

Over time, customers began using ‘Pronto‘ as the company name and in 2001 the name was officially changed.

By the late 1990’s, Dave Nolan was looking to sell the business and retire. There was a major falling out between directors when Dave accepted what the others considered a very low offer from Sausage Software. However, the deal was accepted and Sausage took ownership in July 1999.

Sausage was an over-hyped ‘dot-com’ business which used its pumped-up valuation to buy ‘real’ companies like Pronto and SMS Management. When the dot-com bubble burst in the year 2000, SMS Management did a reverse takeover of Sausage and set about cleaning the balance sheet. Pronto did not fit SMS's business strategy and was put up for sale by tender.

This was a critical time; there was a risk that Pronto would be subsumed by a competitor or mismanaged to extinction. New CEO David Jackman saw an opportunity for a management buyout, and with a cohort of Pronto staff members and some reseller staff, successfully acquired the company.

There were mixed feelings for the new owners - exhilaration at being in control of their destiny again, and anxiety and concern about the next salary bill and over extended personal finances. Many Pronto staff investors had been advised by their accountants against investing, but put trust in the management team. Their investment has been repaid many times over.

Today Pronto serves over 1600 customers across Asia Pacific with 380 staff. The company has grown at an average rate of 15% per annum. It is a company in control of its destiny and confidently navigating the cycles of the software industry in the best interests of its customers and staff. In 2016, David Jackman retired and Chad Gates took over as CEO.



Pronto Software

Source: Mike Adams and Stefan Crisp discussions with early Pronto staffers


Story Type: Company Creation

Labels: Control; Change Management; Persistence


For Story Students:

The Setting: Melbourne from 1976

The Complications: A failing hardware company, changing technology, company sale and a management buyout

The Turning Point: The management buyout in 2002

The Resolution: A stable successful company

The Point of the Story: Pronto has the experience and resources to support its customers through the cycles of the software industry

How to use this Story: Pronto people use flavours of this story to connect with their customers. Its a nice example of a company creation story.

Our Story - Growth in Focus Story to The Story Leader


In 2003, after a career in government procurement, Growth in Focus Managing Director, Sue Findlay started a tender consulting business helping companies win tenders and grants.

Sue built an enviable track record of success, winning tenders and grants for hundreds of companies across Australia but a constant source of frustration was companies coming to her (late) for urgent tender assistance without basic information about their customer's critical issues and decision making process.

Sue's business partner, Growth in Focus Director David Black, with his background in IT operations and business development, identified the issue as inadequate sales training for their customer's sales teams and poor management of those sales people. Between them, David and Sue had compelling evidence for an endemically low level of sales professionalism across a broad range of industries. But how to make a difference? It seemed like an intractable problem.

When David and Sue met Growth in Focus Director Mike Adams in early 2015, they heard a different perspective on sales professionalism. Mike had spent his career as a salesman and sales manager working all over the world for blue-chip multi-national technology companies across several industries and Mike understood the 'poor salesmanship" problem from the perspective of leading, mentoring and training to get the best from diverse sales teams.

Between them, Sue, David and Mike identified two critical issues. The first is that that a majority of sales people are unconsciously unskilled. That is, they significantly overate their sales skills. The fact that these unskilled sales people do occasionally succeed (because buyers need to buy) just makes them overconfident unskilled sales people. The second critical issue is most company's failure to provide either adequate sales skill development or a suitable working environment for sales people to thrive in.

As they discussed these two issues a simple idea was born. Why not combine Sue's knowledge of buying, David's expertise in operations and IT with Mike's sales management and sales training experience to tackle the issue of poor salesmanship and poor performing sales teams head on?

And so, Growth in Focus was born.

Since its inception, Growth in Focus has helped a wide range of clients in industries ranging from IT, Telecommunications, Building Services, Oil and Gas, Mining and Professional Services. Offering a full suite of sales and procurement services. We avoid 'quick fix" point solutions like CRM systems or 'one size fits all" training courses but focus on sustained long-term improvement by carefully diagnosing each company's sales and business situation.

We've developed tools to assess the true skill level of sales people and apply appropriate development interventions and we've created programs to build effective sales collateral and sales management methodologies in support of our ongoing mission to improve sales professionalism and make buying routinely easy for our clients' customers.



: Growth in Focus (Renamed The Story Leader in 2018)


: Mike Adams, Sue Findlay and David Black

Story Type

: Company


For Story Students

The Setting

: Perth 2014

The Complications

: Sue's frustration with sales people and a belief that there must be a better way

The Turning Point

: The chance meeting of Sue, Mike and David and the seed of a business idea

The Resolution

: Growth in Focus and its unique service offerings - assessment based recruiting with ongoing coaching for sales recruits, unique training and selling with story sales development programs and sales management coaching

The Point of the Story

: Growth in Focus and its service offerings - assessment based recruiting with ongoing coaching for sales recruits, unique training and selling with story sales development programs and sales management coaching

How to use this story

: We tell this story to prospective customers, usually business owners who have sales teams