Story Technique

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.

Rejection Antidotes

Pushback (n):  a negative or unfavourable reaction or response.

Mismatch (n):  a failure to correspond or match


In 2009, while working for a major international supplier of telecommunications equipment, I arranged to meet the CTO of one of Malaysia’s largest mobile network providers. I was accompanied in the meeting by one of our technical sales specialists.

As the meeting warmed up, I asked the CTO how many mobile base stations his company had deployed.

He responded,


Before I could ask my next question, my technical specialist, jumped in with,

“No, you only have 4911!”

Gently kicking the technical guy under the table, I steered the conversation back to my next question.

What just happened?

This was an example of push back, or mismatch. It occurs, often as an automatic response, when a fact or assertion is delivered. In this case, the CTO delivered a ‘fact’ and my technical sales guy pushed back with his own 'adjusted fact'.

While not always verbalised, push back is happening in the minds of all of us when we are presented with ‘facts'. I won't delve into the psychology but it is one of our natural truth and identity processing reflexes.

This automatic push back is often perceived by sales people as rejection of them and their message, when really it's just an automatic response. The trick is to try and avoid making assertions.

In his sales classic, “The Secrets of Question-Based Selling(2000)”, author Tom Freese also describes the

“instinctive tendency of individuals to resist, push back or respond in a contrarian manner”

when sales people make assertions. Freese calls this push back ‘Mismatch”.

Freese goes on to explain that you cannot push back against a question and proceeds to describe a questioning strategy with ‘type’ questions to facilitate the buyer’s journey.

Indeed, it is difficult to push back against a question but it’s also difficult to deliver your company’s insights and positions with questions. Questions are great for demonstrating credibility and exploring and understanding a potential customer’s situation but they are not so great for delivering content. Something else is needed, stories.

Stories are flanking manoeuvres for assertions. With your insights and assertions wrapped in a story you can place the information in the back of your customers mind and avoid automatic push back.

Questions and stories; the persuaders feint and roundhouse kick.




Source: Mike Adams personal experience

Story Type: Teaching


For Story Students:

The Setting: 2009 in Malaysia

The Complications: A disrupted conversation

The Turning Point: Re focussed conversation and realisation of what has occured,

The Resolution: Meeting returned to questioning

The Point of the Story: Questions and stories are the two dialectic tools for avoiding push back and rejection.

How to Re-Purpose a Story

Do you know what it feels like to really help someone but they don't realise you helped?

In our business story workshops, we ask participants to

tell a story about when you helped,

 this is a preparatory exercise to help them construct business success stories (not to be confused with marketing case studies).

Most people tell business stories in this exercise but occasionally there is a memorable personal story:

Nick, a successful marketing manager, told about taking his then three year-old daughter to the beach to teach her to swim in 2011. Nick took her into waist deep murky water and kept her close and firmly in sight as she tried to swim.

Nick felt a brush against his leg and at first thought it was his daughter touching him, but realising that it couldn't have been her, reached down into the water and pulled up a young boy who was drowning on the sandy bottom.

The boy spluttered and recovered as Nick carried him to the beach.

When they reached the beach, the boy's mother came up and exclaimed "oh! There you are!". She took the boy by the hand and led him away before Nick could explain what had happened.

I recently told this story in a discussion with an IT company that was struggling with customer service. Even though the story is not about customer service, the emotions it evokes are universal which makes it a generally useful story if told in the right context,

If you get in the habit of collecting your stories you'll be amazed at how versatile they can be.




Source: Nick Horton personal experience

Story Type:


For Story Students:

The Setting: 2011 beach in NSW

The Complications: Nick discovered a drowning child

The Turning Point: Nick brought the child to the shore but the mother didn't notice

The Resolution: The story is unresolved! which is exactly the feeling it induces

The Point of the Story: Good stories can re-purposed

The Accidental Sales Person

Growth in Focus is a Sales consulting company, but our Managing Director Sue Findlay does not consider herself a sales person. In fact, Sue shies away from sales activities, preferring to leverage her technical expertise in procurement, buyer psychology and winning tenders.

Company Director Mike Adams is also a technical person, but has long experience in sales and managing sales teams across several industries, and so helps Sue with sales activities for her territory in Western Australia.

Mike attended an industry conference in 2015 in Melbourne and met a Perth-based managing director of an international company that he though would be a good future customer. Mike had a brief conversation with the MD at the conference, and agreed to meet when he was next in Perth.

Unfortunately, each time Mike went to Perth on business, the MD was somewhere else in the world. It seemed likely they would never meet. After about five attempts to schedule a meeting, Mike emailed the MD suggesting that he meet Perth-based Sue instead.

Mike received a one line reply:

"Ok I will meet her, but we're not buying anything"


Hardly a response to motivate an already nervous Sue.

Mike setup a meeting practise session with Sue and encouraged her to tell the story about

why she founded Growth in Focus

- that story is about Sue's frustration with sales people who are unable to supply critical intelligence for the tender submissions she works on - such as the underlying reasons for the tender and the competitive situation.

Sue went for the meeting while Mike waited anxiously in Melbourne to hear how it went.

Sue called after the meeting and excitedly told Mike that she had told her story about her frustration with sales people and the MD had said:

"Welcome to my world, lets go to a whiteboard ..."

We are happy to report that this company is now a Growth in Focus customer where we are supplying a range of sales consulting services.


Company: Growth in Focus

Source: Sue Findlay and Mike Adams experience


Story Type: Insight, Personal


For Story Students:

The Setting: Perth, 2015

The Complications: Sue did not feel competent or able to have a sales meeting with a prospect customer

The Turning Point: Sue was encouraged and trained to use a purposeful story in her first meeting with the prospect

The Resolution: Sue created rapport and interest with her story and it is now an important Growth in Focus customer

The Point of the Story: The right story can win a sale

How to use this Story: We use this story to underline the importance of stories in the sales process

The Zambia Malaria Outbreak Story

In the mid 1990s, Stephen Denning was angling for a top position in the World Bank after a long and distinguished career in the banking industry. Instead of the job he wanted, he was given what he considered a 'poisoned chalice' -  a role to implement knowledge management at the World Bank because the organisation operated all over the world but seemed to be repeatedly making the same mistakes.

It was the early days of PowerPoint and Stephen made what he thought was a compelling presentation full of rational argument and moving slides about why knowledge management was important. He took his presentation on a global tour but was unable to persuade any country to take on in his knowledge management initiative.

One day, back at the World Bank HQ in New York, Stephen was having lunch in the staff cafeteria when he overheard a story being told by some field workers:

A health worker who was part of a project to build a school in a tiny town in Zambia went to the Web site of the Centre For Disease Control and got an answer to a question about the treatment of malaria. This was in Zambia, one of the poorest countries in the world, and it was in a tiny place six hundred kilometres from the capitol city. 

Stephen included this story in his presentation and there was an instant change in his audience response. The Zambia story connected with his audience and his quest to implement knowledge management finally started to gain traction.

Stephen Denning calls the Zambia story a "springboard" story because it was told and retold countless times and was the catalyst for organisational change



: World Bank


: Stephen Denning "The Springboard" How Storytelling Ignites Action in Knowledge-Era Organisations, 2001



Story Type

: Business Purpose; Insight


: Knowledge Management; Change Managment


For Story Students

The Setting

: Mid 1990s Stephen Denning was angling for a top position in the world bank

The Complications

: Stephen was given the task of implementing knowledge management and found it very hard going

The Turning Point

: Stephen overheard a story about a malaria outbreak in Zambia and decided to use that story in his presentations

The Resolution

: The story worked brilliantly, Stephen threw away his powerpoint slides and focussed on using the persuasive power of the Zambia story. Stephen went on to write a best selling book on his success using the story

The Point of the Story

: The story worked brilliantly, Stephen threw away his powerpoint slides and focussed on using the persuasive power of the Zambia story. Stephen went on to write a best selling book on his success using the story

How to use this story

: This is a classic change management story. Use it whenever you need to talk about implementing change


Big Stories versus Small Stories - Jimmy Carr on Billy Connolly

Jimmy Carr recently appeared on an edition of  'The Project', an Australian current affairs TV program. When asked about his style of humour, Jimmy responded:

"I tell jokes. My jokes are like little Lego blocks that can build a child's castle. Bill Connolly, in contrast, carves his stories from marble; great majestic statues of David.

I can't do that."

Business stories are more like Jimmy Carr's jokes than a full blown movie or play. Movies and plays are real story productions of the Billy Connolly-type.

We call business stories little 's' stories, and we leave the capital 'S' stories to the masters like the film makers, and Billy ...





: Modified from Jimmy Carr (British Comedian) about Billy Connolly (A Scottish Comedian)



Story Type

: Business Purpose


: Story Technique


For Story Students

The Setting: 2016, The Project TV Program

The Complications:

The Turning Point:

The Resolution:

The Point of the Story:

How to use this story: Mike uses this story when teaching about stories. The story is also a great example of metaphoric language.