Sales Engineers are Story Tellers

storyteller

Many sales engineers think of themselves as technical experts or trusted advisors. That’s great, but we should also strive to be master story tellers. Here’s why…

A Tale of Two Presenters

I recently attended an industry conference that was held over multiple days. On each of the first two days of the conference, the morning schedule was dedicated to a keynote speaker. I attended the keynotes and was struck by both the similarities and difference between the two presenters.

Both presenters were well dressed, professional and had a comfortable command of their material. Each of them had obviously rehearsed their presentations and could deliver their material smoothly without a stutter, “um” or the use of any filler words.

However, in spite of all these similarities, the two presenters delivered radically different presentations. One presentation was very well received, with the audience clearly engaged, taking notes and paying close attention. During the other presentation, the audience quickly lost interest and most of the audience turned to their phones and tablets to check email, update Facebook or crush some virtual candy. A few of them dozed off.

asleep

Why was there such a large disparity in how these two presentations were received? I asked a friend who also watched them both and he summarized it very simply “One presenter told me a story, the other one did not.”

Why Stories Matter

Mankind has been telling stories for as long as anyone can remember. Long before the existence of Facebook, Twitter, 24-hour news channels, cell phones, motion pictures, radio or the printing press, people have been entertaining, educating and persuading each other by telling stories.

Stories are how we relate to each other; they are how we share our experience of the human condition and they are the basis of how we connect to other people. When you first met your best friend you connected by telling stories. On a first date, you learn about the other person by exchanging stories. Simply put, stories are the currency of human relationships.

Demonstrating Value is Not Enough

As a sales engineer, your job is to demonstrate to your prospective customer how your product or service solves a specific business problem, the one you identified during discovery. Logically, it seems reasonable to simply show your prospect how your software works, demonstrating a list of your product’s operational capabilities that match the prospect’s requirements. I’ve seen these demos, they always fail to inspire. Sometimes they simply fail.

This failure stems from the fact that humans are not purely logical creatures; we are both logical and emotional. Merely showing features –even the features that matter to the customer– does not satisfy on an emotional level. Merely showing features gives the prospect no opportunity to connect to you or your product on an emotional level.

The Secret Benefit of Telling Stories

There’s another key reason why stories are important to the craft of sales engineering: people remember stories. Your demo might last for 90 minutes, covering many features and benefits. Sadly, your prospect probably won’t remember all of your demo, but they will likely remember the story you shared with them, especially if it was well crafted and artfully told.

Trading secrets

So… if the story is what your audience is most likely to remember, how much effort will you put into creating the story for your next demo?

6 Responses to Sales Engineers are Story Tellers

  1. Jason Turner says:

    Very relevant. Great post!!

  2. Peter Cohan says:

    Excellent post – you might also read my article, “Storytelling and Demos” at http://www.secondderivative.com/Articles.html (10th one down from the top).

  3. Jimmy O'Rourke says:

    Great post Matt! Hope you’re well man.

  4. Jason Cazes says:

    Excellent post. I think this message applies universally to the entire sales and marketing teams, though.

    The story should begin even before a lead becomes an opportunity (marketing and sales rep), and SEs need to keep the story engaging without transforming the discussion into something robotic. I struggled with balancing technicality with storytelling early in my SE career, but being immersed in different sales situations has opened my eyes to the reality that 1) presentation style should absolutely cater to a prospect’s personality and 2) people are almost always more receptive to stories and meaning than they are with features and capabilities.

  5. Dave Watts says:

    Relevant- spot-on.

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