To Influence Buyers, Tell Stories

“Tell me a fact, and I’ll learn. Tell me the truth, and I’ll believe. But tell me a story, and it will live in my heart forever.”
-Native American Proverb

Before there were tablets, televisions, or books, people learned from the spoken word. Regardless of race, background, or nationality, humans learned from stories. In fact, several prestigious universities, like Notre Dame and DePaul University, offer storytelling courses in their management programs. We learn through stories.

Facts and figures appeal to our logic, but stories tap into our emotions. Most salespeople can present a logical case for their solution, but purchasing decisions are more than logic, they’re emotional. If you just focus on logic, the customer only experiences part of the message.

Many salespeople use case studies to provide the buyer with proof. Case studies are real-life situations where a prospect embraced your solution and experienced documented success as a result of your solution.

Case studies focus on facts and figures. Case studies appeal to the logical side of purchasing. But what about appealing to the emotions? What if you could tell facts and figures but frame them in a story? Rather than presenting a case study, present a case story.
In your next sales presentation, ditch the marketing brochure or bound proposal. Tell a case story instead. Include these four elements in your case story to outline a previous success you have experienced with a customer.

Context is the backdrop of a story. Context includes the background information that sets the scene. The goal of story context is to paint a familiar picture for the prospective buyer. You want the buyer to feel like the story is about them. Compelling stories are relatable to the listener. Use these questions to create your story context.

  • How would you describe the scenario?
  • What is the goal of this story?
  • What were the characters (customers) trying to achieve?
  • How are these characters (customers) similar to the listener (prospect)?

The more details you can share, the more real the story becomes. Context should draw the listener into the story.

Describing the characters helps the buyer put a face with the facts and figures. Characters make it real. Characters help the prospective buyer connect to the story. People connect to people, not facts.

Describe the characters in a way that resonates with the listener. These questions will help you describe the characters (customers).

  • What types of characters were involved?
  • How did this solution help these characters achieve their goals?
  • What happened to the characters throughout the story?

Much like the context of the story, you want the characters to sound familiar. Your prospect should be able to relate to the characters. The more relatable the characters, the more likely the prospect will put himself or herself in the story.

Every great movie or compelling story includes some challenge, problem, pain, or conflict. Detailing the conflict for the prospective buyer will keep them interested. Conflict makes the story real.

Thoroughly describe the problem or challenges the customer was experiencing. Also, describe the downline impact of these problems. For example, the customer has a new wood floor, and there were large scratches in the middle of the kitchen. The scratches span across several boards and it looks horrible. At a recent party, someone commented on the scratches. The homeowner was embarrassed.

In this example, the problem was scratches in the finish. The impact of this problem was the homeowner’s embarrassment. The impact of the problem is more compelling than the problem itself.

Like the context and characters, the challenge should be familiar to the prospective buyer. The more familiar the challenge, the more real it becomes for your buyer. At this point of the story, the buyer feels part of it.

Detail the experiential outcomes of your solution. This is detailing how your customer lived happily ever after. Did the character save time or money? Were you able to offer a better overall solution to your customer? In this phase of the case story, you’re articulating the value proposition. This is what the customer gained by embracing your solution.

Also, detail how the characters were personally affected by implementing your solution. Did your solution help the buyer achieve an outcome? When you hear a story, you want the key characters to succeed. Include the character’s personal win in the story.

The results section of the story is the only unfamiliar part of the story to the prospective buyer. It’s unfamiliar because they have yet to experience the same results of the case story. If the buyer feels part of the story, they will want the same end results as the customer in the story. The only way the prospective buyer can live happily ever after is to purchase and experience your solution.

Decision makers will remember a story long after the facts are forgotten. Stories live forever. Fundamentally, it’s how we learn. Facts provide the logic behind decisions, but stories inspire us to change. Facts tell, but stories sell.

Paul Reilly is president of Reilly Sales Training, a St. Louis-based, privately owned company that specializes in training sales professionals, sales managers, and service professionals. Reilly Sales Training offers public seminars, in-house sales training programs, and hiring and training assessments. For additional information on training programs, call or email Paul at 636.778.0175 or You can also visit and sign up for his free newsletter.

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