Five Types of Stories to Tell Your Customers

Having the right story ready to go can lead to sales.

By Julie Hansen

Sales is storytelling—but what type of story should you tell? In a dynamic market, rarely is a single story the right one for every selling situation or every customer.

Here are some tips on when, why, and how to use these five types of stories in your pitch or presentation.

1. Company Story

This is your company’s unique origin story, and done well, it can illuminate not just the problem you solve, but why. A compelling founding story can serve to humanize your company and offer insight into your values and purpose.

Tips: Don’t lead with your company story unless it relates directly to your customer’s situation or interests. Otherwise it can come across as a whole lot of chest-thumping. Instead, use bits and pieces of your company story in response to questions or to reinforce credibility—after you’ve thoroughly addressed your customer’s situation. Your company story should be succinct and purposeful. Focus on those points that demonstrate your company’s “why” rather than its “how.”

Example: Our company began because our founder had his bike light stolen and was then hit by a car when coming home. That’s why we are passionate about providing riders with the most secure bike lights available, just as you’re passionate about the safety of your customers.

2. Customer Story

A good case study or customer testimonial is vital to have on hand for any presentation or pitch. After all, a customer who has benefited from your product or service has much more credibility than any vendor will, and it allows you to “show” actual results rather than “tell.”

Tips: Find out enough about your customer so you can choose a well-matched customer story. “One size fits all” customer stories can cause a prospect to question your understanding of their own unique situation. Tailor your story to highlight the similarities and demonstrate specific outcomes when available. Provide enough detail about your customer to bring the story to life and give it emotional impact.

Example: We had this smaller company about your size who placed orders with us, not frequently or in any large amounts, and who didn’t expect us to go out of our way to treat them the same as bigger customers. But each time this company called in an order, they said they were always impressed with the time and attention our customer service reps gave to whoever was placing the order, and then how quickly their orders were delivered afterward. We noticed after a while they began placing orders more frequently and in larger amounts. They told us how much they valued working with a company who treated their customers all the same, especially a smaller company like theirs.

3. Business Story

The right story about a business or industry unrelated to your customer’s business can provide surprising insights into problems, solutions, or opportunities.

Tips: Certain business stories have become part of our well-known lore like the cautionary tale of Blockbuster and Blackberry, companies who failed to adapt to the future. Look for lesser known stories offering a fresh twist on the message you’re trying to communicate. For example, the following story could be used to help a customer think beyond the status quo.

Example: Fiji water is sold in a square-shaped bottle. Many people think this was a marketing effort to set them apart from competitors. In fact, this unique design is actually a less expensive way to ship water—as more bottles can be packed in a case.

4. Analogy or Metaphor

A story or example comparing something known to something familiar is an analogy and an effective way to help your customer quickly understand complex solutions or features. Analogies are also useful for softening any beliefs or misconceptions your customer may have. A metaphor is another way of comparing something—not actually or directly, but figuratively. For example, you are familiar with the common
metaphor: “America is a melting pot.”

Tips: Know your audience and pick a subject for your analogy or metaphor they will be readily familiar with. Obscure analogies or metaphors that require too much explanation detract from your point. To find the right subject, focus on what your key message is (accuracy, safety, convenience) and brainstorm the different ways it relates to your message.

Examples: “Much like an iPhone, our solution replaces the need for a whole host of other products” is a spot-on analogy. “Our company assures our drilling products provide Rolls-Royce reliability” would be a good metaphor.

5. Personal Story

Drawing on your own personal experience is one of the most effective and memorable ways to communicate a message. Unlike business stories, personal stories can connect with your customer on a more emotional level.

Tips: Know your audience and tailor your story accordingly. Keep it short and sweet. Personal stories are often less polished and can tend to meander. To avoid that, focus on why you’re telling the story, eliminate unnecessary detail, and when you’re done, stop!

Example: When selling my house, I thought I could save some money by going with a new real estate agent. After three months without any offers, I finally went with a proven agent who helped me price it correctly. Within two weeks it sold for $10,000 over the asking price. Like that experienced realtor, we can help you avoid costly mistakes and delays.

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By having these five types of stories in your back pocket, polished up and ready to go, you’ll be ready to meet the needs of any customer.


Julie Hansen is a professional sales trainer, speaker, and author. She authored the book ACT Like a Sales Pro in 2011 and has been featured in Selling Power, Entrepreneur, and Sales and Service Excellence magazines. She can be reached at julie@actingforsales.com and www.actingforsales.com.