How Sellers Can Combine Storytelling and Data to Win

By Ben Taylor

Many businesses collect lots of data. The problem is that these volumes of information rarely add up to anything meaningful or useful. In fact, 75 percent of CFOs and CIOs say they have trouble using the data to make decisions.

Sales professionals have an opportunity (and an obligation) to leverage the value of data when selling to decision makers. What we’ve found is that data is necessary for legitimizing the solution, but a story is also necessary for promoting the solution.

First, Find Data That Resonates

Sales professionals need to understand the customer’s needs to determine which data is relevant and will most effectively convey the value of a solution. Doing so is important because sales professionals today need extra firepower to incite action from the buyer.

Overcoming the buyer’s inertia often means articulating the upside value of a solution. The reason: Customers aren’t always seeking to solve a problem – often, they’re reaching to capitalize on unrealized opportunities. Identifying the relevant data involves three steps:

  1. Develop a clear understanding of the customer’s circumstances
  2. Understand what data will best communicate unrealized gains
  3. Determine what data most effectively underpins the value of the solution

When sourcing data, sales professionals must remember to right-size the information. Too much data creates a burdensome cognitive load. “Analytic thinking requires more effort and puts greater demand on attention and memory,” explains research published by the American Psychological Association. The solution: Sift the meaning from the noise by considering the three factors that build persuasion:

  • Strong Evidence

Evidence persuades. Participants in one study were shown to dramatically change their preconceived opinions when presented with research-backed findings.

  • Predisposed Learning

Sometimes a customer is only half sold on a solution. In these cases, they’ve seen evidence to support the value of the product, but they’re not moving forward. Here, sales professionals need to provide a nudge; they must offer some additional (but concise) findings to move the customer over the line.

  • The Boomerang Effect

Statistics can backfire. If someone has an opinion, then sees questionable or incomplete statistics that support that same opinion, they may change course. The takeaway: Ensure the statistics represent sound science and come from reputable sources.

Second, Organize the Data

Sourcing the right data is only part of the process. Sales professionals must focus the customer’s attention on the salience of the findings. After all, the data is not the story – the data is a part of the story. Putting this idea into practice requires acknowledging the customer’s data tolerance.

Sales professionals can identify the data that will focus and compel customers by considering “iconic memory.” This is the stage of memory that’s ultra-short term. Here’s an example of how it works. Imagine standing in a field at night. Everything is dark. Then, a bolt of lightning illuminates everything for just one second. This fleeting image is our iconic memory.

Sales professionals must understand that the data they use is a lot like this flash of light. While it may have taken days to prepare, it’s just a glimpse to the customer. Therefore, it’s important to use visual cues to underscore the data and make the message and meaning clear.

Sales professionals can maintain this clarity with an understanding of cognitive load theory. This area of research explores how well we absorb and retain information. Three critical components of cognitive load theory are intrinsic load, extraneous load, and germane load. Adhering to these three concepts can, respectively, be summarized as:

  • Presenting material that accounts for the customer’s existing knowledge base
  • Avoiding nonessential information that complicates the solution
  • Segmenting information to make absorption easier

Third, Communicate the Data

As educators at Johns Hopkins University explain, “In simplest terms, a business plan must tell a compelling story.”

Good storytelling in sales follows a logical progression. While narratives differ across various genres, each adheres to the same core structure. What’s important is that each stage of the story leads to the next. This flow is important because the sales professional needs the solution to fit seamlessly into the story.

Story structure keeps listeners engaged because it moves. Therefore, sales professionals should not labor over one part. Rather, they should make their point, then move to the next piece. As Pulitzer Prize-winning author David Mamet explains, the basic format of a story is:

  1. Once upon a time – (The business entered a new market.)
  2. And then one day – (They started to grow and take market share.)  
  3. And just when it was going so well – (Unforeseen technical challenges upended customer implementations.)
  4. When just at the last minute – (They partnered with a provider to rapidly fix the issues and scale.)
  5. And they all lived happily ever after – (They reached ROI performance goals and improved customer satisfaction.)

The simplicity of this five-part format is its greatest feature. Why? Because business challenges – and the solutions – are increasingly complex. Therefore, a simplified story structure helps keep the discussion focused.

Conclusion: Success Must Combine Data with Storytelling

Success in selling belongs to the sales professional who can balance the role of analyst with storyteller. Doing so requires the ability to source, organize, and communicate data in a way that connects the solution to the challenge. Like the progression of a good story, these three pieces fit together in a logical succession. Click here to learn more about why – when it comes to selling – data is the fuel and the story is the engine.

Ben Taylor is the content marketing manager at Richardson. He has an MBA in finance from LaSalle University and more than a decade of business and writing experience. He has covered content for several brands, including Nasdaq, Barclaycard, and Business Insider.

How to Sell a Service Mindset to Carnivore Salespeople

By Jim Cathcart

After years of your sales team seeing prospects as “fresh meat,” how do you cultivate a service-oriented mindset?

Well, it’s not as complex as it might seem. It is not like getting lions to become vegetarians. Instead, it’s about showing the value (e.g., payoffs) of doing things in new ways.

Setting the Right Vision

There’s a common saying in management: “What you measure is what you get more of.” In other words, what you inspect tells people what you expect. If someone wants to gain your approval or praise, they’ll do what you are measuring. If it’s sales calls, they will do what they can to increase the number of calls. If it’s new contracts, they’ll focus only on signed orders.

A utility company in California once implemented a new system to increase customer orientation and service quality in their call center. They told their people they would be rewarded based on the length of time they spent on phone calls with customers. The thinking was that longer calls would be perceived as better service.

But there were unintended consequences! Upon hearing of the new plan, the workers started placing people on hold so call times would be extended. Service didn’t improve – but call length did increase. Service quality, on the other hand, got worse.

Next, management said, “No more long calls. We will now measure you based on the number of calls you handle.” Workers immediately adapted. They started hanging up on customers so they’d call back and score two calls for each inquiry.

Finally, the leaders realized their errors and changed to a system of customer satisfaction measures that directly involved customer feedback.

Playing the Sales Game

In some fields, there is a long history of aggressive and manipulative sales practices. Customers have become numb to advertising that offers a wonderful new experience – only to be contradicted in practice by uncaring salespeople. They think, “Same rust, new paint.” Good words and slogans – promises of great treatment and respect for the customer – have just become “white noise” to many buyers. They expect to have to play the sales game, and they hate doing it.

The big question, then, is: How do you get salespeople to stop focusing just on closing techniques and profit margins, and start truly trying to help people? As with the utility company above, there is a bigger issue here than just what you measure. Measures communicate priorities, but mindset drives the culture. That is why we need to reorient the thinking toward seeing customers as assets instead of targets.

What’s the Purpose of Your Business?

Hint: it is not profit. All businesses must earn a profit in order to stay in business, but the purpose of each business is something different. Profit is a by-product of what you do – not the reason for doing it. Of course, profit is necessary and important, but your product or service has a greater value than just stimulating revenue.

The purpose of automobiles is to provide enjoyable and reliable transportation – not to generate profit margins. The purpose of banking services is to give people more control over (and security about) their money. The purpose of computers and smartphones is to give people more control over their day-to-day lives and the information flow in their work. The communication capabilities of your technology are the reason profit can be produced by selling them. But profit, again, is the by-product.

The more people see the value in what they do, the more commitment they make to doing it well. A salesperson who truly understands how their offer helps others – and makes the world a better place – will be far more persuasive in a sales dialogue than someone who simply knows 15 power closing techniques. All of this starts with how you talk about the job.

Salespeople are not paid for making sales. They are paid for helping people at a profit. If they make lots of sales and many of them “unwind” or result in high-cost customers, then profits will drop, work will be miserable, and the business will fail. It’s not the number of sales that counts; it is the number of happy customers who pay you on time and speak well of you.

Jim Cathcart is a long-time contributor to Selling Power and one of the world’s leading professional speakers. He is the original author of Relationship Selling plus 17 other books. helps organizations increase sales engagement and self-motivation. Contact him at

Is Your Sales Rep Onboarding Program Broken?

By Lauren “LB” Bailey

If you haven’t spent much time thinking about the rep new hire training program you provide, it’s time to start. Here’s the part where I scare you a bit. Hang with me here.

  1. The number one reason reps are leaving companies is a lack of development (Aberdeen)
  2. The average time for reps to get up to speed (quota) is three + months for SDR reps and 6+ months for quota-carrying reps –with higher average deals equaling longer ramp (Bridge Group, CSO Insights)

On top of these statistics, I would wager at least five people in your latest group of hires are still actively looking (no, of course I don’t know this for a fact, but I do know lots of job-hopping millennials in inside sales … don’t you?).

Folks, here’s the point: There’s a hole in the boat! Recruiting is bailing out the boat and filling it with more people, but your training is helping them jump ship faster than recruiting can keep up.

Fact: If we trained our people better during their onboarding, they would be successful more quickly and stay longer.

That means faster to quota. That means reduced attrition. Less swapping of books, fewer interviews…what would you do with the time your floor could save on just fewer interviews? What would your sales managers’ commission checks be if half their team weren’t new? Oh yes, lean into the dream, my friends. Good training really can be this powerful. Especially new hire training.

I’ve looked at this problem from every angle (including the head of sales, the head of training for SAP, and now as a sales training consultant), and this is the cold hard truth: 95 percent of new hire training programs I see are not great. Actually, they kind of suck. Yes, brutal honesty is the theme here.

So I keep racking my brain. We have this roadmap: train them and they will stay! But I don’t see programs getting better and I don’t see enough people talking about it. Why? Here’s my hypothesis:

We don’t know it’s broken. We don’t know what’s possible. We don’t know how to fix it.

Question: Would you count your head of training as part of your inner circle? Ten bucks if you can tell me his extension without looking. Training leaders just don’t often act like strategic partners.

Quick story: A few years ago I was facilitating a break-out session with about 15 heads of big companies talking about training as a challenge (it keeps getting voted top three by the American Association of Inside Sales Professionals). The global head of one of the world’s largest software companies said to me: “LB, I don’t know what good training looks like.”

They went on to solve the training challenge by creating pipeline and manager process solutions. It was like they didn’t even know there were training solutions on the menu.

I’m here to help you guys. First, let’s do a quick diagnosis and see if you have a problem. If you say yes to at least half of these, Houston…we have a (you get it):

Is My Rep Onboarding Program Broken?

  1. The majority of your attrition occurs in the first five months. They like the company, don’t mind the job, but they’re not ramping fast enough to make money and they’re frustrated. Time to pull the ripcord.
  2. It takes your BDR reps more than three months – or your account managers more than six months – to ramp to target. There will ALWAYS be a ramp, but a great new hire training program can cut this in half (and significantly impact your attrition too).
  3. Average call length is about 90 seconds. These are voicemails. Every last one of them. If your reps can’t get people on the phone, keep them on the phone and get calls back, they weren’t taught phone sales.
  4. Your program is less than four days or more than four weeks long. The first is an orientation; the latter is a firehose. Get them on the phones after two weeks and bring them back for the rest of it!
  5. My reps don’t have a clear plan of attack for their lead list, book, or day. Ask them how they decide who to call. If they say they start at the A’s, then you’re missing a cohesive sales strategy – or your training department isn’t training it.
  6. You aren’t training business, customer, or industry acumen. Forrester taught us that over 60 percent of buyers found their sales rep added no value to the buying process. College isn’t teaching them how and we have to.
  7. You’re using the same training as the field. I get it: you had to use something and your org is new. But it won’t work and frankly frustrates reps to try this old-school model in their new-school world.
  8. HR is teaching your reps how to sell. 85 percent of the best in class use a professional sales trainer or curriculum. When’s the last time HR sold your product?

How’d you do? Some of these might take a custom report, but trust me: You’ll be glad you had it created. Your training department needs to be your partner like marketing is your partner – no, scratch that, recruiting is your partner…wait, I can do better…like payroll is your partner.

In a recent model we completed for Microsoft, we found they could add back over 50 million in revenue by cutting new hire sales ramp time down to best-in-class – and nearly double what they could save by cutting attrition to the same.

Did you really process that? Cutting ramp time in half can earn you nearly double of what cutting attrition in half could earn you. It will be like having another third of your headcount to help you hit the number – but without having to recruit, hire, or even pay for them!

So, please, pull the reports. Send in a trusted advisor to check it out. Meet your training leader. This could be the ticket to crushing your Q4 goals (or the massive spike they’re planning for your 2018).

Lauren “LB” Bailey is a 20-year sales veteran and a five-time recipient of the “Most Influential” designation for Inside Sales. President of award-winning training and consulting company, LB and her team are known for getting massive sales revenue results with training and consulting solutions.

The Best Way to Help Your Salespeople Learn

By Byron Matthews

One of the most frequent complaints we hear from sales leaders is their teams don’t spend enough time actually selling. This is true – data backs it up. According to the 2016 Sales Performance Optimization Study from CSO Insights (the research division of Miller Heiman Group), sales professionals spent 64 percent of their time at work doing other tasks rather than selling.

I’m sure that’s a fact most C-Suite executives don’t want to hear. The last thing sales leaders should be doing is distracting their teams from selling. Isn’t that their most important job?

Forward-thinking leaders at leading organizations recognize a need to initiate training regimens that keep sellers selling the majority of the time and add value to what they are working on in real time. When training regimens are done correctly, an hour of learning doesn’t necessarily equate to one fewer hour of selling. Effective training enhances everything the sellers are doing in the moment.

One of the best ways to do this is to make sure your training is being led by sales and service professionals, not training professionals. You want your training to be a dialogue, not a monologue, and the best way to ensure this type of learning and communication is to have sales professionals lead your training initiatives.

Here’s what I mean: When professional sellers head up your learning initiatives, they can infuse the learning with real-world deals that are currently in play. After all, they have carried a bag, they’ve held a quota, and they’ve talked with clients – just like your sales team. A recent study from Forbes reveals 70 percent of learning on the job occurs informally, meaning people are naturally learning from their leaders and their peers. Since sales professionals are already learning from sales professionals, doesn’t it make sense for the same people to head up the formal training aspect of your learning initiative?

The best way to engage sales professionals and their peers is to make training a conversation about what they are experiencing in the field. Right now.

The benefit to this type of training is obvious. While it may take sellers out of the field for a brief time, they still continue selling like it’s a regular business day. The payback is obvious as well – sellers work on their existing deals during training and they get immediate feedback and coaching from actual sellers. If the training is done right, each deal is also consistent with the company’s framework and processes, and each seller will also follow the methodology already in place.

So you now think of training as deal-pursuit workshops that allow sales professionals to bring their most challenging and important opportunities forward so they can work on them throughout the training initiative.

Keep in mind the intent of any training program is not focused solely on concepts. Rather, it should encourage salespeople to employ the skills and methodologies learned during the workshops to create winning pursuit strategies and win more business. When salespeople are finished with their training, they should have a well-developed and actionable plan to go win more deals.

In this way, the result doesn’t end with training. In fact, training is only the beginning.

To learn more about how training can impact your organization, download the white paper “Six Ways to Shift Your Sales and Service Training Approach to Ensure Your Learning Investment Pays Off.”

Byron Matthews leads Miller Heiman Group’s commitment to championing customer-management excellence throughout the customer life cycle and across the enterprise. His dedication to placing the customer at the core of everything gives Miller Heiman Group its expanded, holistic approach for developing, managing, and sustaining long-term customer relationships. Before joining the organization, he served as senior vice president of sales at Aflac, where he led more than 30,000 sales professionals across multiple channels. He also spent more than five years at Mercer as global sales performance business practice leader, where he grew revenue more than 40 percent.

Deliver Sales Training Where Your Salespeople Are

By Byron Matthews

One constant in the life of a sales professional is change. Circumstances throughout the sales cycle change often, forcing salespeople to make quick decisions about the use of their time, their talent, and their resources. They make these decisions hoping they lead to closed deals. But what works one week may not be very effective six months down the road.

As a result, it makes perfect sense that sales leaders constantly shift their strategy as well, given today’s tenuous business landscape. Pressure to win and close more deals and drive higher revenue is as great as it’s ever been, so sales professionals must be able to win deals regardless of their situation. This is where sales training comes into the picture.

In fact, sales organizations should alter their training and sales enablement approach to effectively arm their teams with the expertise they need to meet the ever-changing challenges they face. Learning should never be static. In fact, it must evolve and be continually reinforced or it quickly becomes just another box to check during the year.

Learning that is vibrant, personal to salespeople, and current keeps the sales engine humming in the most efficient way possible.

What does vibrant learning look like? Just like it does at home. People expect to learn at work exactly how they learn at home. In other words, they have consumer-grade expectations that, quite frankly are not being met.

Here’s what I mean:

  • People, on average, pick up their smartphones 85 times a day.
  • Eighty percent of Internet users have a smartphone, which means most people deal with multiple gadgets throughout the day.
  • Eighty percent of technology users check their smartphones within 15 minutes of waking up.

When salespeople are away from work, they can access whatever content they like in an instant. This is the new way of learning – via YouTube, Google, and Siri. And, here’s the important part: Their expectations are being met.

At work? Not so much.

But doesn’t it make sense to give your salespeople the same kind of learning experience when they’re at work?

Sales professionals need sales training to be delivered where they are and applicable to real-world situations. When it’s not, you disrupt your organization’s revenue flow.

Let me put it another way: This slows down the sales engine and, in some cases, it slows to a standstill. And you must do everything you can to keep that sales engine humming.

Every seller needs to learn new selling skills and keep sharp those they already possess, but they’re constantly on the go. That’s why training initiatives that are agile, flexible, and include several modalities that open up options allow each seller to learn at his or her own pace.

Organizations need a mix of sales training modalities to meet the specific needs of their sales team. These modalities should include classroom-led, digital, and integrated learning and a reinforcement emphasis – or any combination of the four – and be delivered any place, any time.

Learning initiatives delivered where sellers happen to be should be a way of life for sales and service leaders because the world is changing – and keeping up with learning is more difficult than it has ever been.

This doesn’t mean wholesale changes must be made year after year. Rather, these changes, or shifts, must take into account the skill level and preferred learning method of every seller. It must be simple, easy to use, and deliver exactly what your sellers need – where, when, and how they need it.

“Perfect fit” learning includes experiences that fit the needs of the individual, the team, the company, and the organizational culture. If your learning doesn’t meet the needs of your sellers, maybe it’s time to rethink the way you do it.

To learn more about how perfect-fit learning solutions can impact your sales, check out The Sales and Service Training Shift Webinar.

Byron Matthews leads Miller Heiman Group’s commitment to championing customer-management excellence throughout the customer life cycle and across the enterprise. His dedication to placing the customer at the core of everything gives Miller Heiman Group its expanded, holistic approach for developing, managing and sustaining long-term customer relationships. Before joining the organization, he served as Senior Vice President of Sales at Aflac, where he led more than 30,000 sales professionals across multiple channels. He also spent more than five years at Mercer as Global Sales Performance Business Practice Leader, where he grew revenue more than 40%.