Welcome to Part III of my Badass Brokering series. If you haven’t had a chance to read the previous two articles (here and here), I would encourage you to do so. In this article, we are going to talk about the science and the art of storytelling when it comes to sales.
Since most of us were small children, we have all been captivated by great stories—be them from Dr. Seuss or the brothers Grimm or whomever. It’s no surprise then that we use stories on a daily basis. Whether we are telling tall tales about our weekends to co-workers, or embellishing that last “unbelievable” fishing trip, storytelling is a part of life.
Think for a minute about the last great story you heard or told. How did it make you feel? Did you feel a connection with the storyteller? Did you get engaged and activate your imagination, becoming part of the story yourself? Storytelling is a true art form and, as it turns out, it’s one that we as sales professionals should work hard to master.
Consider the science behind storytelling. Researchers at Princeton University have found that stories can create a coupling of brain activity between the speaker and the listener. They coined the term neuro-coupling to describe it.
In their experiments, the researchers connected MRI machines to both a storyteller and their listening audience. What they discovered was that as the storyteller conveyed their story, the listener’s brain activity—previously disconnected and unaligned—started to mirror that of the story teller.
Uri Hasson, an assistant professor in Princeton’s Department of Psychology and the Princeton Neuroscience Institute, states, “The stronger the coupling between the speaker and the listener’s brain responses, the better the understanding,” he said. “Sometimes when you speak with someone, you get the feeling that you cannot get through to them, and other times you know that you click. When you really understand each other, your brains become more similar in responses over time.”
Without getting any more technical, the takeaway here is that you can create a stronger emotional connection with your customer by using stories. As sales professionals we can use this to our advantage to convey our message and value proposition.
This is important when trying to build a connection with our customers. It gives us another mechanism to strengthen our bond—e.g, by using stories about past customer experiences with our product or service.
As a sales professional it’s important to have a repertoire of stories related to your product or service to match your customer interaction at any given time. For us as mortgage brokers, this can mean finding stories to illustrate some of the product options available or finding stories to allay your prospect’s concerns over rate, lender selection and so on.
The “art” aspect of storytelling is incredibly important. We’ve all had to endure stories from friends or co-workers that we wish would end quicker. This is where practice and repetition come in. The more you tell stories and think about your delivery, the better you become at it. Pay attention when you tell your stories. What part of your stories resonate regularly with your audience? What intonation works best? What body language helps? What parts have them nodding off?
Script both your stories and responses. Hey, I know, this is where I lose most people. Scripts, Mike? Really? Are we back in the 80s sales school?
People seem to have a fundamental resistance when it comes to scripting their sales dialogues. I think we tend to picture some monotonous drone reading slack-faced from a sheet of paper with no emotion whatsoever. This could not be farther from the truth and is certainly not what I am talking about.
Think about it. Who are some of the highest paid people on the planet? Do the names Robert Downey Jr. ($50 million of income in 2015), Robert DeNiro (net worth of $200 million) and Tom Hanks (net worth of $300 million) ring a bell? You know what all of these people have in common? They all make a living reading scripts. Now, obviously when you watch their movies you aren’t thinking of them as scripted. They have rehearsed, practised and perfected the delivery of these scripts over and over again.
The beautiful thing about scripts is that human response is predictable. Think about some of the most popular movies you’ve seen. Take Titanic for example. Do you remember the scene where they are all jumping off the ship and the one guy jumps but ends up going ‘THUNK’ on the propeller? When that happened the entire theatre let out a collective gasp. I can guarantee you that every night that movie plays the reaction at that point of the movie is identical.
So when it comes to telling stories to illustrate points or overcome objections, the same is true. Human response is predictable. Practise your stories, script them, find what generates the reaction you want consistently and rehearse. Hone your art so you can let the science take its course.
By the way, I’ve used the word practise a lot so far and I think it bears repeating. When it comes to any new methodologies for your business I want to encourage you not to ‘try’ them. Instead, shift your vocabulary a little bit and ‘practise’ them. When you ‘try,’ you give yourself opportunity to fail. When you practise you give yourself opportunity to improve. It is a subtle difference in language but a key distinction that will keep you motivated when things don’t go your way.
Let me give you an example of a story that I have used for years to convey the available mortgage options—specifically with respect to term length and the pros and cons of fixed vs. variable rate mortgages.
Many years ago I sat with a couple at their kitchen table and talked mortgages. We talked about options such as fixed rate, variable rate, open, closed, long-term or short-term. The couple was in their early fifties and buying their dream home that they fully expected to retire in. After a short explanation of the different options available, the wife looked at me and said, “What is your 25-year rate?”
I responded with, “Let me explain the difference between term and amortization…”
She stopped me and said, “No, I understand that. What is your 25-year fixed rate mortgage at?”
Well, at that time we did have a lender that offered such a product (I’m sure some of you out there know who I’m talking about.). I told her that the current rate was 6.75%.
“Perfect,” she said, “What would our payment be at that rate?”
I responded and told her what her payment would be. I then went on to explain that a shorter term or even a variable rate might be worth looking at as it could significantly reduce the interest rate. She listened and politely replied, “Mike, I understand all that. No offence but, I never want to have to see you again.”
Well, I wasn’t quite sure how to take that but I understood what she was getting at. For them, it was a comfort thing. She went on to say that they knew they could afford that payment now and they could afford that payment when they retired. “Make it happen,” she said. So I did.
That was the only 25-year product I ever sold in my 20+ years as a mortgage broker. Now, is that a strategy I would recommend for anyone? Not likely. But the story illustrates the decision-making process when looking at fixed vs. variable and longer term vs. shorter term so I use it regularly.
There’s another example I use when talking about how to pay off your mortgage sooner. I co-founded an affordable housing education program back in 2001 and have been telling this particular story since about 2008. During the workshop, one of the points I want to get across is that you should not treat your mortgage like rent. With a bit of effort, you can make a significant dent in paying down your mortgage faster.
I talk about the usual bi-weekly accelerated payments and go on to explain that when I bought my house, I became fanatical about paying it down as quickly as I could. I explain that once we got settled into our routine in the new home I started looking for expenditures I could cut in order to prepay my mortgage. I’d look around the house, see something like our water cooler that we paid $25 per month for, and call the water company and say, “Come get your cooler.”
We also had those ‘free’ movie channels. You know, the ones that are free for the first month and then jump to $25-$50 a month? I called the cable company, cancelled the channels and then bumped up my bi-weekly payments $50 from my newfound savings. These “sacrifices” plus some lump sum pay downs and rate drops allowed us to become mortgage free in 8 years.
Obviously, when telling these stories live, they’re more polished and refined. The net result is, they make a compelling point that people do not forget. I still run into people at the grocery store from time to time who introduce themselves as students from a class years ago. “Hey, you’re that water cooler guy, aren’t you?” Stories that make a connection are not soon forgotten.
I have a variety of stories I use ranging from mortgage payoff, to term length, to rate shoppers. All have been refined over the years to generate the response that I want from my customer. The beauty is that no matter what the issue, objection or illustration I need to make, I can simply pull the appropriate story off the shelf and be ready to go in an instant. This makes for easy explanations on a variety of topics and one that people can relate to, and more importantly, that they will retain.
The takeaway here is to find stories from your personal experiences that relate to your sales process. Keep them authentic. Practise and refine them, building an inventory for all occasions. We all know intuitively that stories make things more interesting, but it is nice to know that there is science to back it up.
So far, we have talked about building trust and two methodologies to do this:
Asking questions to promote the right behaviours, and
Telling stories to deepen the connection with our clientele.
Join me next time when we talk about how you can eliminate your competition by being uniquely you. That’s Badass Brokering IV: “When you are your authentic self, you have no competition.”
Michael Cameron is CEO of AXIOM Mortgage Partners, a national network of independent mortgage brokerage firms. Mike has been in the mortgage brokerage industry since 1994 and is a graduate of the Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia.