Mastering the One Skill You Need for Business Growth

More than 2,000 years ago Aristotle outlined a formula on how to master the art of rhetoric — the first known “crash course” on storytelling as persuasion. Storytelling, of course, has always been a part of human nature — but unlike in Aristotle’s day, today’s version has to come in bite-sized pieces and in a way that resonates with customers, prospects, shareholders, and talent. That’s no simple thing, but it’s worth it to figure out the right formula. Here are four steps entrepreneurs can use to tell and sell their business stories for accelerated growth.

1. Define your story and make it your mission

The ability to persuade — to change hearts and minds — is perhaps the single greatest skill that gives entrepreneurs a competitive edge today. But persuasive storytelling is not just about selling more products; it’s about furthering your brand, connecting with people, and sharing the why behind your business.

Consumers today know what they stand for and make their purchasing decisions accordingly; they seek out brands that operate with the values they find attractive. Think about TOMS, the first mainstream example of a B2C company using the one-for-one model of charitable giving. TOMS came to market with a great product, no doubt, but it’s the story of donating one pair of shoes for every pair purchased that catapulted the small company to exciting new heights.

That model’s success has inspired a new generation of entrepreneurs that build their brands around charitable stories — companies like Cuddle + Kind, WeWood, Project 7, and even Meghan Markle’s new fashion line. Sure, the products may be fantastic, but the story is what breaks through the noise and brings consumers to an even bigger message — one that’s greater than shoes, clothing, or candy.

Your story doesn’t have to be a charitable one. Look at Yeti’s story of rugged living, Nordstrom’s legendary customer service, or Trader Joe’s team-oriented culture. Now think about your own company: What do you want to be known for?

2. Tell your story in a way that matters

The why behind storytelling is clear — it’s the how that’s difficult. How do you communicate your company’s values in a way that not only makes sense to your customers, but that also compels them to engage with your brand?

It starts at the top. Your story must originate at the pinnacle of the company and permeate down. Build an authentic story so employees know the overall purpose of the company: why they do what they do, and how their role fits into the company’s mission. To attract great talent and create an engaged workforce, you have to give employees a reason to be there or a personal connection to the “job” they do every day. That means putting your brand message in words everyone can rally behind.

Once you’ve built an internal storyline, take your message to the streets — share your story with customers, partners, and vendors. Incorporate it into your website and shout it from your digital mountain tops. That raison d’être now organically becomes the heartbeat of your brand.

3. Show (don’t tell) your story

Storytelling is an opportunity to let the world know what you’re about — but in the end, it’s just a story. Increasingly, the principles a company stands for factor into consumer decisions, and this is where actions speak louder than words. Values can make or break customer relationships. You can’t just “storytell” your values; you have to live them.

The people of Southwest Airlines are so immersed in their culture of compassion, they chose LOVE as their ticker symbol. The Honest Company holds itself accountable by putting its core value right up front in its name. Sock company Bombas has a collaborative and purposeful “worker bee” culture which reminds customers and employees alike to “bee better.”

Research from the 2019 SMB Trends report shows 90% of SMB leaders value trust above all else in their relationship with customers — yet 54% of customers don’t believe companies have their best interests in mind. I can’t be the only one that sees that as an opportunity.

4. Use technology to build and convey your story

Are you listening to what customers are saying about you? The advances in Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software — especially with the addition of artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and voice-of-the-customer tools — give businesses today a tremendous advantage.

Now any business can analyze calls, rate customer sentiment, look for patterns in data, and understand what resonates. Automation features can help you personalize the stories used in your marketing, sales, and service materials. And these tools are no longer reserved for large enterprises with deep pockets. Even the smallest of businesses can easily start with CRM to reimagine the way they engage with and support customers.

Be sure your technology can help you build a compelling and authentic brand story to cultivate customer relationships. As a small or midsize business (SMB), having customers advocate on your behalf because of the experience you deliver is priceless: SMBs can win against larger players if customers advocate for them.

Tell and sell your business story

Storytelling is more than the sales and marketing tactic du jour. It’s a historically proven strategy to connect with customers and grow your business. Aristotle himself believed persuasion can be learned — and that a person’s ability to speak well and use rhetorical devices to change perspectives could unleash tremendous potential. Prove him right — Go forth and inspire.

Global Growth & Innovation Evangelist, Salesforce | Sales and Transformation Adviser | Book: Growth IQ| Podcast: What's Next! | Former Research Fellow Gartner