Stories are memorable. Ratings – not so much.
As the advertising world moves inexorably toward heavy reliance on metrics and ROI, what will separate the winners from the losers? With programmatic buying, why will we even need salespeople when computers are talking to computers?
In fact, the most profitable media outlets will contain a combination of great programming and a sales staff to match – one that understands how to paint a picture, and reflect the value and excitement of the brand. It comes down to one of the same skills that make for a great on-air personality: storytelling. And the sales marketers who have the narrative that motivates buyers to invest beyond what their spreadsheets tell them will be the big winners.
We’re at an interesting inflection point in radio as stations wrestle with their ability to create different kinds of content – videos, podcasts, and other integrated packages – all of which need to be monetized. So it comes down to this – the ability for a salesperson to weave that story could ultimately be a tipping point for the industry.
Bob McCurdy is a consummate sales pro who has seen and heard it all. He has sold locally in markets like Richmond and Indianapolis before joining Katz Radio in 1990. At Katz, he built out Sentry Radio before becoming VP of Sales when Clear Channel purchased Katz. In 2009, Bob became president of Katz Marketing Solutions, at the time, the new business arm of the firm. He is a sales veteran who has trained hundreds of salespeople along the way, as well as being a key voice for radio with agencies and advertisers. Recently, Bob wrote us a note about the power of storytelling and we felt it would make a great blog post.
Steve Jobs may have been an inventor and a visionary. But perhaps his best attribute was his ability to take the stage and tell great stories about his products, the process and effort it took to create them, and the reasons why they would turn out to be amazing innovations. Hard core audiences bought into his narratives, wanting to be a part of his company's journey.
As someone who spends a lot of time in sales meetings at stations around the country, Bob is right – storytelling is a lost art as too many sellers – and sales managers – get wrapped up in calculating their value instead of expressing it in innovative and memorable ways.
So we asked Bob to share his thoughts and perspectives on the lost art of storytelling and why it may be the secret to a successful and sustainable sales effort in our digital media world. He’s boiled it down to a dozen attributes that contribute to great storytellering – and I’ll add two of my own at the end.
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And by the way, even if you're in programming or marketing, learning to sell and communicate your brand vision is a worthy endeavor, as you'll see when you read Bob's takeaways. – Paul Jacobs
Stories convey information, often entertain, influence and are an extremely effective way to communicate a sales message. It’s the salesperson who weaves the best story that usually gets the order, their unfair share, and gets promoted.
Just as an artist views a blank canvas as a vehicle to communicate their vision to the world, a great salesperson views their audience’s mind as a canvas upon which to paint their sales story.
Storytelling is really about informing and educating rather than hardcore selling. It enables the speaker’s message to slip under the radar, providing enough information that moves decision-makers closer to taking the desired actions.
People buy emotionally and they justify with logic. Stories communicate emotion far more effectively than any “fact” possibly could. Here are some of the key factors that go into telling an effective sales story:
- Humor. The good storyteller utilizes humor, often at his or her expense to make key points, humanizing themselves in the process, and allowing the client to drop their guard and increase their receptivity to their messaging.
- Effort. Effective sales “stories” don’t just appear out of nowhere. Like anything else worthwhile, creating and refining great stories requires focus and hard work.
- Get real. Great stories are based on experiences, facts, and aren’t fairytales. They sometimes might be stretched a bit for maximum impact, but ultimately, they must be based on truth. Exercise a certain amount of poetic license when crafting a story, but not too much. Go too far and you lose credibility.
- Focus. Great stories don’t descend into the “detail weeds” and provide only the information that’s required to make the point.
- Cred. Great storytellers are believable and practice and refine their delivery, understanding how they say something is more important than what they actually say.
- The EI. Great storytellers consistently fine-tune and enhance their EI or “emotional intelligence,” enabling them to more accurately read their audience seamlessly altering their stories on the spot if necessary.
- The dig. Great storytellers understand the importance of becoming “radio archaeologists,” sifting and searching for data/information that support and enhance their story. They don’t wait for this information to magically appear, they actively go on the hunt for it, accessing disciplines and resources outside the normal marketing and radio channels.
- The little things. Great storytellers understand that no tidbit of new information is too small if it moves their story forward. What might initially appear “small” and no big deal might prove to be “big” and important to the audience.
- Freshening. Great storytellers are constantly searching for different ways/angles to communicate the same story often out of necessity delivered to the same audience in an effort to keep it fresh.
- Knowledge. Great storytellers know their stuff and are either on their way to becoming or already are experts in their field. Becoming a great storyteller requires product and industry knowledge. The more information that the salesperson has “access” to, the more successful he/she will be. Knowledge enables the salesperson to not only weave a great story but modify it in mid-sentence if they determine what they are weaving is not resonating.
- Evaluation. Great storytellers reflect on their performance after each story that’s delivered, understanding that honest reflection, not rationalization, will enable them to refine and weave an even better story in the future.
- Practice. Great story telling is a skill that needs to be rehearsed constantly. The story has got to flow smoothly off the tongue to be effective. Mark Twain once said, “It takes two weeks to prepare for an impromptu speech.” He understood the importance of practice and delivery.
And here are my two bonus suggestions on great storytelling:
- Research. Great storytellers research the end users – the people who will hear the story. This requires using all available resources – LinkedIn, Facebook, Google, and even tidbits from those who have interfaced with them. Finding those touchstones that move the client – including their personal lives – can take a good story and turn it into a memorable home run.
- Read everything. Great stories need to draw from a wide range of experience and perspectives. The more a storyteller can bring in unique examples and treatments to their narrative, the more effective it will be.
Bob has provided radio sales teams with a modern-day primer that can be put to work in any size market. And for anyone tasked with selling their ideas and communicating their vision, this is a great starting point.
If you’d like to discuss the topic further, Bob can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
During this time of exponentially increasing competition, radio’s storytelling can be a difference maker. Your comments are welcome below.
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Clark Smidt says
Excellent summary! Thanks, Paul!
Paul Jacobs says
Bob gets all the credit here, Clark. I just provided commentary!