Selling with a Story

By Ayo Mseka

Most of us know the power of a story to persuade a prospect to sign on the dotted line.  We know that the people who can tell a good sales story usually sell more than those who cannot.

But it takes take practice to tell the kind of story that draws people in, and makes them care about what you are saying about your product or service. In his book, Sell with a Story, Paul Smith, speaker, coach and trainer, explains how to excel at, and leverage storytelling, to gain rapport with prospects, enhance your closing rates, and retain customers.

The book shows readers:
  • What sales stories they need in their toolkit—for self-motivation, connecting with buyers and overcoming objections—and when to tell those stories.
  • The elements of a great story, how to “master the hook” and how to come up with the right story to tell.
  • How to incorporate challenge, conflict, and a feel-good resolution into a story in a way that is related to what you are selling.
  • Tips and techniques for telling interesting stories with data and how to keep stories short and on point.
Getting prospects to open up
A chapter of the book that many readers will find particularly helpful is Chapter 5, which describes five ways to get prospects to open up and tell them their stories. The five ways are:
  1. Shut up and listen. As human beings, we tend to abhor silence in a conversation, Smith writes. We are desperate to fill the void with something. But if you can resist the temptation for that something to be your voice, you have a chance of that something being the prospect’s voice. And the more space you give the prospects to talk, the more likely they are to tell you a story. Give them room to tell a story, he says, and they probably will.
  2. Ask questions that require a story for an answer.  If you ask yes or no questions, you will get yes or no answers. Here are some tips for asking the right types of questions, according to Smith:
    • Ask open-ended questions, which require lengthier and fuller discussions and usually lead to a story. For example, Smith writes, “What’s your number one problem area right now” is a closed-ended question. But “When did you know for sure that you had a real problem on your hands?” is a question that is likely to elicit a story from your prospect.
    • Ask about specific events in time.  If you want to hear a story, don’t ask someone to tell you a story. Instead, ask him to tell you something that happened.
    • Use problem prompts. Ask about specific problems you think your prospects might have.
    • Ask day-in-the-life questions. A good example is: “Tell me what a typical day is like for your junior team members. What did they do yesterday?”
  3. Ask about something personal in the prospect’s office. This is perhaps the oldest method for eliciting and telling stories, Smith points out. People generally reserve their desk and wall space for items of high personal value. Each one likely has many stories behind it and people are eager to tell those stories. Sometimes, it is as simple as asking them to tell you about the object while pointing to it.
  4. Get prospects away from the office. In the old days, Smith writes, the solution most salespeople could count on was time spent on the golf course with their prospects to share stories and close deals. But the faster pace of business today and stricter conflict of interest policies have cut down on that. A day on the golf course can be replaced by more business-focused time that is spent with prospects on other activities such as a market visit or attending an industry conference. Also, Smith adds, there are the hours you and your prospects spend in cars, trains and planes getting from one place to the other.
  5. Tell your stories first. If all else fails, you can lead by example, he notes. If you want to get prospects to tell personal stories of where they grew up, you can tell a personal story of where you grew up.  Just remember that when the prospect interrupts and starts telling you his story, you should shut up and listen.
Selling with a Story is available as an eBook and in hard cover from


  • Posted March 16, 2017 IN