Remix not Remake: How to structure a better sales story
Inside Out Story: Structure (Part 3 of 4)
“You’re selling me a Vitamin, but I want you to sell me a Painkiller.”
In the the d.school at Stanford, the Vitamin vs. Painkiller framework was king.
And it made sense, right? It‘s more profitable to sell products that sell themselves.
But if we only invented Painkillers, we wouldn’t have Facebook, Apple, or even Google — companies founded on the idea that there had to be a “better way.”
The reality is, many of us are selling products to customers who aren’t in excruciating pain… yet. Or they don’t realize a better way exists. Or they don’t realize how fragile their current success is.
This is where your story structure comes in.
Use your Story’s core value to set your structure
As we discussed in our last post about making your Customer (not your company) the hero of your story, everything centers around the core value at stake.
It’s not about painkillers and vitamins. It’s about what value is at stake.
Where your core value falls on the B2B Needs Stack determines whether you’ll have more success taking a logic-driven approach or an emotion-driven approach.
Once you know the value at stake for your customer, you can use it to choose your story structure. Selling survival? Hit hard with revenue numbers. Selling esteem? Paint a vision that resonates.
Hundreds of customer conversations have helped three key story structures to emerge for my product. While I’m continuing to evolve them each time, I want to share my most common stories with you:
The Survival Story: A logic-driven approach for customers who care about revenue upside — and increasing their chances for survival as a company. Best for Managers at SMBs and startup companies.
The Security Story: An approach blending logical practicality and emotional threat for customers who don’t realize how fragile their current stability might be. Best for C-Level at middle market or scaling companies.
The Esteem Story: An aspirational, emotion-driven approach for customers who may not see the better way that’s become possible by a big change in the world. Best for C-Level at middle market or Directors at larger enterprise companies.
Blank it with buckets
Instead of diving into the details, keep it as high level as possible in the beginning to save yourself hours spent building materials that aren’t a fit.
My years at Bain building too many PowerPoint decks to count taught me that you never start a deck by making a slide. Step one is to “blank” it — by building the whole story out of titles or “tag lines” first.
One of the best resources I’ve found on B2B Sales deck content (and B2B sales overall) is from Peter Kazanjy and First Round Capital. In this must-read, Kazanjy suggests using a “bucket” mentality to cover all of your bases:
You want to start by lining up your “buckets,” but not filling them (that’s for next week). The parts of your structure, then (to reword Kazanjy’s list slightly) are 8 sentences:
[What] is the problem.
[Who] has the problem most acutely.
This problem costs them [How Much] each year.
[Who/What] are the existing solutions, but they don’t work because [Why].
But no longer! [What] has changed since [When] because [Why].
Now, our [What] is possible, and works like [How].
It is objectively better than those existing solutions, because [Why].
And it costs [How Much].
Shape your sparklines
Since I’ve moved to LA, I’ve been seeking sales story inspiration from the source of modern storytelling— Hollywood. Perhaps its most celebrated screenwriting mastermind, Robert McKee, describes his most important lesson in shaping a story:
No scene that doesn’t turn. This is our ideal. We work to round every scene from beginning to end by turning a value at stake in a character’s life from the positive to the negative or the negative to the positive. — Robert McKee
Shaping a story, therefore, is about centering around a value and then creating contrast that puts that value at stake.
To see the contrast, Nancy Duarte created sparklines:
The line moves between what is(the lower position) and what could be (the higher position) to show contrasts in content. — Duarte
Using these approaches, I started to flex the “sparklines” of my own sales stories by reordering my “Magic 8” according to the type of story I was trying to tell. An overview:
The Survival Story
You’re talking to a customer who is driven by business logic, and is seeking a solution to a problem they know they have. But instead of just solving their problem, push them in a hole to make it get worse before it gets better. Then offer them a ladder (your product) to help them out.
The Security Story
You’re talking to a customer who is balancing logic, but is influenced by emotion, especially the threat of loss. Use contrast to rock the boat and show them how their “stable” position is not as stable as they thought. There is more at stake than it seems — but you can help them secure the future.
The Esteem Story
You’re talking to an aspirational customer who is driven by an emotional vision for the future —and an openness to a better way. They may be fine now, but imagine what life could be! Build a staircase for them, and help them up until they get to be the one to walk through the door.
Remixing, not remaking
Note that all of these story structures share the same “Magic 8” content. It’s not about remaking and recreating content, but remixing and reordering ideas according to the story you’re shaping.
With the same “Magic 8” buckets, you’re able to tell a stories that resonate with a small startup, a striving middle-market company, and an established enterprise.
Give it a shot, and let me know how you’re remixing story structures in your company.
Next week, we’ll talk about how to fill that bucket structure with content, and how to flex content according to your customer.
About the Author: Alli McKee is an artist and entrepreneur who started her career making too many PowerPoints as a consultant at Bain & Company. Seeing how broken communication at work was, she spent time in education in South Africa and in design at IDEO.org to better understand how to improve communication by relying on visual, rather than solely verbal, content. After GSB, she learned to code and founded Stick to turn that “magic” visual design and storytelling process into software that turns text into visuals, automatically. Her goal is to use Stick to enable anyone to tell better visual stories to make their ideas sell, spread — and stick.