The Art & Science of Storytelling in Sales

Regardless of age, market segment, country of residence, or personal background, everybody loves a good story. Here’s how top professionals use stories to persuade and sell.

Everybody sells!  Sales professionals sell solutions to customers.  Leaders sell the mission to their team.  Friends sell friends on taking (or not taking) action.  Marketers sell prospects on owning a product or service.  Scientists sell their employers on investing in a discovery.  Entrepreneurs sell investors on ideas.  Doctors sell patients on following a prescription. Teachers sell their students on learning new things.  Managers sell their direct reports on completing an assignment.  Parents sell their children on taking action.  And kids sell their parents on letting them do things. Everybody sells!

Whenever there is a selling opportunity, it is natural for the person doing the buying to resist.  Sometimes that resistance is strong and obvious; sometimes it is soft and subtle. 

Why the resistance? Resistance is more emotional than logical, and most often the result of the individual not wanting to make a bad decision.  It’s a whole lot safer to make no decision at all than it is to make a decision that might go wrong.  And nobody likes to get sold…but they do like to buy, especially when they feel better about the outcome.

That’s why storyselling is such a powerful way to create the environment in which the other person wants to buy what you are selling.


What is Storyselling?

Storyselling combines the elements of telling a compelling story with the delivery of a sales message.  It creates positive emotion while putting a human face to a solution or course of action to be taken.  It replaces the sterile concepts of taking action to solve a problem, improve a situation, or reach an objective, with a story in which an individual can see himself or herself solving a problem, improving a situation, or reaching an objective.  In a real sense, the individual feels the positive emotion of victory in those areas.

An effective story begins with a negative, something that the listener can relate to.  Employee turnover out of control.  Heading towards getting fired.  Losing an important customer.  Discovery of significant fraud.  A data breach.  A directive from management to cut costs. Every product or service that has ever been created was created to solve one or more negatives.  It is around this negative that an effective story is built.

Storyselling provides hearers with a template of what to do when they find themselves in a specific situation. Because the story they heard reached a positive conclusion as a result of taking a specific course of action, they are already favorably disposed to follow that successful path.  The more memorable the story, the more likely it is that the hearer will recall the story with a positive predisposition toward adopting the same solution. 


Eight Best Practices for Effective Storyselling

One: Use Authentic Stories Only!

Contrived or made up stories are about as effective as watching a magician put a rabbit into a hat.  Storysellers who tell fake stories lose the trust of their audiences, and that negatively impacts everything they say.  Listeners can tell when a story sounds fake, and trust is lost.  Remember, people don’t buy from people they don’t trust.

 On the other hand, authentic stories that come from your own wealth of experience have a true ring to them.  They invite the listener to use their imaginations to see their own world through your eyes. 

Two: Stop Telling the Ending Early

An effective story has a beginning, middle, and an ending…told in that order. An ineffective way to use storytelling is to announce the ending, then tell the story as to why the ending is important.  Listeners don’t need to invest in the actual story if the ending is announced too early.  That’s why effective storysellers allow the drama and tension to build in order for listeners to emotionally connected to your story. 

Three: Real Stories Create Real Emotion

People buy for emotional reasons (and then defend the sale later with logic).  Effective storysellers key in on the emotional aspect of buying and inject authentic emotion into their stories.  Body language – gestures and expressions connected with what happened – help to convey those emotions and draw the listener in.  Too little emotion and the story is flat, unappealing.  Too much emotion and it seems over the top.  Use the right level of emotion to reflect what happened which is appropriate for your audience.

Four: Too Much of a Good Story Isn’t Good

Keep your story concise and moving.  Too many details confuse, so avoid the story behind the story.  Give enough of what happened to engage them, but not enough to make them lose interest.  You’ll need to adjust this to your audience by paying very close attention to their body language as you tell your story.  Best to tell them too little (and have them want to hear more) than to tell them more than they want to know.

Five: Your Story Should Make Them Consider Their Own Situation

Storyselling is not about you or your solution.  It is about your prospect and his or her situation. Your story needs to be fully relatable to their situation and what they are struggling with.  The easier the connection between their situation and your story, the more conviction to your solution you’ll create through your story. 

Six: Heroes and Villains

Cast your prospect into the role of the hero, and the problem into the role of villain. Tell your story in such a way as they see themselves delivering the solution to their organization, vanquishing the villain (problem) and winning the day. 

Seven: Every Good Solution Deserves a Story (or Three)

Begin building a library of stories keyed to each one your solutions and the specific problems they solve or avert.  It’s likely that new stories worthy of adding to your library will evolve as a result of future experiences. Collect stories from your sales, marketing, customer services, and technical support teams.  Write them down so you will not lose the details. 

Eight: Practice, Practice, Practice…and Practice Some More

Most great storysellers spend hours practicing their authentic stories. Every time they tell a story to a new audience, they use the experience to refine their story, whether tweaking a word, adding a phrase, or incorporating an element of body language.  Even after the story is well-developed, they continue to continuously refine. 


Bottom Line.  Storyselling is the art and science of creating a story, whose telling makes buyers envision themselves using your solution to solve their situation.  Properly and effectively used, storyselling will help you and your sales and marketing team take your organization to the next level.

I love working with people and organizations who want to improve their effectiveness! Here are several outstanding resources that can help you and your organization to go to the next level:

  • Improving your (or your team’s) management and leadership skills: Leading Through People™. This acclaimed program equips participants in thousands of current and emerging best practices of leadership, hiring, and talent development.
  • Raising your (or your team’s) selling and sales management effectiveness: B2B Sales Essentials™ (among the 30-plus courses we offer are ones on selling with emotional intelligence and storyselling!)
  • Conducting a more effective job search: Get a Better Job Faster™

I work with some of the world’s top employers by helping them get the most out of their talented people. My company’s extensive leadership development course catalog provides effective skills-building for everyone in the organization, from the new / developing leader to the seasoned C-level executive. My company’s coaching programs produce significant results in compressed periods of time. I also help job seekers, higher ed, and employers connect people to better jobs faster. My two books on job search ( help people navigate the ever-changing landscape of conducting a successful job search. To find out more, please visit us at, email us at, or call us at 215-942-0982.


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