Story-Based Selling: A book review by Bob Morris

Story-Based SellingStory-Based Selling: Create, Connect, and Close
Jeff Bloomfielcd
SelectBooks (2014)

How to tell stories that influence others, “not for control or manipulation but for mutual benefit”

I agree with my dear friend, Dan Pink: “We are our stories. We compress years of experience, view, and emotion into a few compact narratives that we convey to others and tell to ourselves.” Selling today requires a whole new mind, the title of the book from which I excerpted Dan’s comments.

In this volume, Jeff Bloomfield shares his thoughts and feelings about the importance of story-based communication. The “selling” to which the book’s title refers is, in fact, the skills one needs to explain with information, describe with vivid images, and (yes) convince with logic and/or evidence. During a three-year period, a carpenter from Nazareth used parables (framed as stories) to illustrate articles of faith. Almost two centuries later, a rail-splitter from Kentucky who later became an attorney and then president of the United States used anecdotes and aphorisms to explain fundamental values and political realities.

My own rather extensive experience, especially with my communication failures, has convinced of these three realities:

1. It is not a successful communication unless those who receive it “get” the intended meaning.

2. During face-to-face interaction, no matter what is said, at least 80% of impact is determined by tone of voice and body language; during voice-to-voice interaction, at least 80% of impact is determined by tone of voice.

3. How much one cares about the given audience is of much greater importance to that audience than what is actually said.

Bloomfield’s purpose is to help each reader to “leverage the way the brain processes stories to establish a foundation of trust.” Once earned, that trust must never be violated. A story told may be authentic but if sharing it seems manipulative and self-serving, the storyteller has forfeited, wasted, a precious opportunity to achieve an objective of mutual benefit.

These are among the dozens of business subjects and issues of special interest and value to me, also listed to indicate the scope of Bloomfield’s coverage.

o How Great Leaders Communicate (Pages 8-12)
o The Secrets of the “Buying” Brain (18-22)
o The Limbic “Filter” (27-30)
o The Anxiety Highway (32-34)
o The Synchronization of Two Brains Communicating (39-48)
o Using Visual Aids or a Prop (52-59)
o Planning Your First Impression (68-73)
o Overcoming Objections with Story-Based Selling (77-87)
o Six Obstacles (95-106)
o Four Myths About Effective Storytelling (123-125)

Bloomfield devotes Chapters 1-9 to helping his reader formulate or revise a “personal story” that is really an anthology of thoughts, feelings, experiences, and insights that serve as raw material for responses during interaction with others that are most relevant to the given situation. The key skill is anchoring a message within a human context, one that consists of characters and plot developments, setting and conflicts, resolution and lessons learned from it. I agree with him that human interaction must be mutually beneficial, shared with mutual trust and respect, with emotional as well as rational engagement. Correctly, he stresses the importance of humility, vulnerability, and authenticity to earn and sustain another’s trust.

In Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet, Polonius admonishes his son Laertes, “To thine own self be true.” Centuries later, Oscar Wilde suggests, “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.” Presumably Bloomfield agrees with me that the greater challenge is to become the best person we can be. That is a process, not a destination.

The title of this book could have been — perhaps should have been — Story-Based Communication if, as I suspect, Jeff Bloomfield views “selling” as including but not limited to commercial transactions. Throughout human history, the greatest leaders offered visions that millions of others then “bought.” (I wish I had a dollar for every time I have heard someone say, “I’ll buy that.”) Positive and productive employee engagement involves “buying into” the values and objectives of the given enterprise. Who will derive the greatest benefit from this book? Those who interact with other people. In a word, everyone.

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