Friday, September 15, 2017

Book Review: 'Sell with a Story' by Paul Smith

I am deeply grateful to Stephen Denning and (especially) to Annette Simmons for what I have learned from them about how to combine the fundamental components of storytelling with Aristotle’s first principles in Ars Rhetorica, the four levels of discourse. Years ago, I formulated an acronym, EDNA:

Exposition explains with information.
Description makes vivid with compelling details.
Narration explains a sequence.
Argumentation convinces with evidence and/or logic.

EDNA has almost unlimited applications in all forms of communication, usually with more than one of the components. Paul Smith shares in his book what he has learned about how to “capture attention, build trust, and close the sale.” Keep EDNA in mind as you work your way the material that now follows, beginning with important advice Smith provides in the Introduction:

“Treat storytelling like any other professional skill. If you invest the time to learn how to do it well, and then practice it, you can master it. This book is your first step on that journey. It’s designed to answer the following questions: What is a sales story, why should you tell them, which sales stories should you tell, and when should you tell them, how can you come up with these stories, and how can you craft and deliver them for maximum impact.”

Smith thoroughly answers each of these and other key questions as he provides dozens of exemplary stories as well as an abundance of information, insights, and counsel. For example, here are the six attributes of a story (Pages 8-9):

1. A time indicator
2. A place indicator
3. A main character
4. An obstacle
5. A goal
6. Events

I now presume to offer an example provided by

“In December 1835, during Texas’ war for independence from Mexico, a group of Texan volunteer soldiers occupied the Alamo, a former Franciscan mission located near the present-day city of San Antonio. On February 23, 1836, a Mexican force numbering in the thousands and led by General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna began a siege of the fort. Though vastly outnumbered, the Alamo’s 200 defenders — commanded by James Bowie and William Travis and including the famed frontiersman Davy Crockett — held out courageously for 13 days before the Mexican invaders finally overpowered them. For Texans, the Battle of the Alamo became an enduring symbol of their heroic resistance to oppression and their struggle for independence, which they won later that year.”

Steve Jobs followed essentially the same format when organizing/preparing each of his product announcements while CEO at Apple. He once confided to me that, throughout each presentation, he keeps clearly in mind an unspoken question in the mind of each person in the audience: “Why should I care?”

True, Paul Smith explains how those in sales can “capture attention, build trust, and close the sale.” I became convinced along ago that, with rare exception, the success of human interactions requires a high level of salesmanship. There is at least as much “selling” between and among the members of a company’s workforce as there is between members of the company’s sales force and past, current, and prospective customers. Some people are selling themselves. Others are selling ideas to consider. Still others are selling answers to questions or solutions to problems. The best way to sell [begin italics] anything [end italics] is with a story.

If you are in urgent need of expert advice on how to gain that unique competitive advantage, look no further.

Editor's note: This review was written by Robert Morris and has been published with his permission. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right. 

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