The Smaller Story.

In pursuit of brand marketers, most sellers start with the wrong story. And when they finally start to tell the right story, they tell it too big.

As I've said in this space before, your company's own story is the wrong story. No marketers - or customers of any kind - are lying awake at night in a cold sweat because they JUST don't know ENOUGH about your company! Yet a great many of us dutifully force them to sit through our stories. ("And here's the map of the world with all our offices...and this is a page with the logos of a bunch of our partners!...)

But that's not what this post is about. It's for those of us who are trying to tell the customer their own story and then fit our products and services into that narrative. The initial approach is almost always too big: we can help your airline book seats....we can get more people to drink your tequila....we can help convince people that your bank is one of the good guys. While true, these stories are also too big and broad to be meaningful and productive. And they reinforce the idea that this salesperson doesn't really understand anything about our business; she's just mouthing generalities about our business goals and rushing to her own solutions.

The answer is to pursue the smaller story. Ask yourself questions that will make your understanding of the client's situation more specific and, hence, more actionable. Here are some of those questions:

  • Why is it difficult for this customer to sell their product?
  • Which customers are most resistant or accepting of their message?
  • What part of their story isn't being told effectively? Why?
  • What's the one thing they're not doing that might make their whole marketing plan better?
  • Where is the gap in their strategy or approach?
  • What promises is their CEO or board making that will be hard to deliver on?
  • What service, opportunity or advantage does this customer deserve that she's not getting?

Your answers to these questions don't need to be correct; only credible. The fact that you pursued them at all - before you pursued the client - will set you apart and make the customer much more open and likely to deal with you.

Your narrative about the customer's struggle should be bigger than a broken air conditioner but smaller than global warming. There is always a story within the story. Pursue it. Get specific. Take a position. You'll not only feel like you matter more to your customer, you will.