Tell me a story

Jerry L. Kennedy | TLT Selling Points February 2011

Provide your customers with emotional reasons to try something new.

Why did millions buy the iPod? Because Apple told us a great story.

In January I attended the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. This is the world’s largest consumer technology trade show and features 2,700 exhibitors, including companies that manufacture products.

I really enjoyed the show and the opportunity to see, touch and play with the new gadgets that will soon hit the shelves at your local Best Buy. The only thing I didn’t like was the hype.

Unfortunately, I have some bad news for exhibitors—nobody cares about your new products as much as you do. I know that probably comes as a bit of a shock. After all, these companies spend hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions, of dollars researching, developing and testing their new product. They may be prepared to spend millions more on marketing it to the public. It’s sad, I know, but it doesn’t change the fact that I don’t care.

Want to know how you can change that? Tell me a story. That’s right! You can move me from a shoulder-shrugging, disengaged suspect into a bona fide prospect by telling me a good story. And you’ll get bonus points for making the story all about my favorite subject: me.

Here’s a little insight into human nature: As much as we tout our sense of adventure, for the most part we’re in love with the status quo. If we can get away with using something tried and true, we will. That being the case, if you want us to try something new, you need to give us a reason. Most important, an emotional reason.

You can talk to my logical, conscious mind all day long, listing all the fantastic features of your new gadget, giving me all the reasonable, left-brain-centric arguments about its benefits and how it will change the world, but until you engage my unconscious Mind through the gateway of the emotions, everything you say will literally go in one ear and out the other. Don’t be mad at me; it’s just the way I’m wired.

As logical as we pretend to be, we all make decisions emotionally. Some (but not all) of us will then justify those decisions rationally. Consider the spread of MP3 players, especially the iPod. The iPod didn’t succeed because it made music sound better. It didn’t catch on because it was cheaper. And it certainly didn’t succeed because all of us were excited to rush out and buy our music collections in yet another format.

The iPod literally infected the world because the folks at Apple told us a great story about how unbelievably cool it would be to carry our entire music library with us wherever we went.

Game. Set. Match.

It’s time to get reacquainted with the art of storytelling or, as blogger Johnny B. Truant calls it, storyselling. Because that’s all good selling is, after all. Tell me a story about how happy I’m going to be when I have your shiny new gadget in my possession, how relaxed I’ll feel when I know your new service is monitoring critical business functions for me and how much fun I’ll have playing your new game with my nieces and nephews.

Those are the kind of stories that will have me reaching for my wallet. 

Jerry Kennedy, CLS, is owner of Inside Out Business Solutions, a sales and customer service training organization. To learn more sales strategies, visit Jerry’s blog at You can reach him at