Let’s face it: for people outside of the industry, managed print services can be seen as a boring chore. It’s akin to doing the dishes — someone has to do it but no one really gets excited about it. I know when I tell people outside of the industry what MPS means, they get a lost look in their eyes and their nose scrunches up a bit. It isn’t until I really start to describe the problems our company solves for the end users of managed print services that they actually start to become interested.
“Our company has a suite of applications that help MPS providers do their job.”
Blank stares. So I put it a different way.
“The majority of our founders started at HP. We have our roots in printing. So when we decided to expand our portfolio into products, MPS solutions were a logical place to start. We really get the problems and challenges that the managed print services companies face. We have worked closely with OEMs and resellers to identify areas needing improvement and we have created a suite of applications that makes their jobs easier, faster, and more efficient.”
Now, the second way may be a little longer but it lands differently. It shows our history and our relationship to the industry. It tells a story. And storytelling should be an integral part of your sales and marketing.
In the MPS world, things are becoming more similar, not less. There may be a few outliers who are leading the pack in terms of technological advancements, but overall, most devices can basically all do the same things. Speeds and feeds used to be the name of the game and if you couldn’t beat a competitor with faster processes, you could beat them with price. And while price does matter, it is the stories you tell that will help you stand out.
I have a feeling you are all great salespeople. You have read the books, taken the classes, learned from your mentors and from your mistakes. You know your industry, your products, your clients’ challenges. You should also know that specs aren’t interesting anymore. Everyone is talking about those. So what is going to set YOU apart? Your story, your company’s story, and the story of how your company can support your clients’ business needs.
To tell a story is to be human
A Time Magazine article from 2017 explores the findings of a study published that same year about the human universal that is storytelling: “… [storytelling] pays valuable dividends to the storytellers themselves, improving their chances of being chosen as social partners, [and] receiving community support … .” While the study centered around hunter/gatherer tribes in the Philippines, the sentiment can be applied to every community throughout history. From drawings found in caves to songs passed down through generations, stories have connected humans, taught lessons, and moved progress forward.
When applied to sales and marketing, those same results can be seen. The salespeople who are natural storytellers can also improve their chances of being chosen over their competitors and keep clients for longer; after all, as the common saying goes, people do business with people they know, like and trust. The most authentic way to get people to know, like and trust you is to share meaningful information in a way that matters to your audience.
Storytelling can achieve multiple business objectives:
- Connect you with your audience in your marketing materials
- Share similar stories
- Find a common ground
- Give the clients something to remember about you and your company
On the other hand, listening to your clients’ stories can open up endless possibilities. It allows you to:
- Get to know their “why”
- Understand why certain problems are in the way
- Get to know what they are up to and want to achieve in their business
When to share and ask for stories
I am a client of a bank that has been around for more than 115 years. The reason I bank there is because I met one of their personal banking representatives at a networking event and she told me about how the bank survived the depression. She said that the owners of the bank actually gave money from their own accounts to those who needed it. She described the pictures she saw at the corporate headquarters of this time in the bank’s history. She was genuinely inspired by this story. I could tell how passionate she was about the company and I appreciated her sharing. I admired both her excitement and the story. It reassured me that if I opened accounts at this bank, I would be taken care of and heard. She shared a powerful story with me that shifted my perspective about what banking could be and it stuck with me. Shortly after our meeting, I visited her branch and brought over my accounts.
This banker knew what she was doing, and she used that skill well. It would have hit me differently if I sensed she was reading from a script or just telling me what she had been told to tell me. She knew that by sharing that story, I would remember the bank, so when I got hit with unnecessary fees from my own bank a couple of weeks later, I immediately thought of her. The accounts offered at this bank were not much different from the ones offered at my old bank and yet I still switched because of a good story.
Using this tactic can significantly change the way clients relate to you. In looking at every stage of the sales process, there are many ways to leverage storytelling.
Pre-sales. Your company’s story should be on the website, in the bio of every social media profile, in the boilerplate of press releases, etc. Every employee should know the company’s story; in fact, they should be proud of it and excited to tell it. If they aren’t, you need to make the story more memorable. (More on that in the next section.) You should have YouTube videos telling your company’s story and blog posts about the company’s history.
As a salesperson, you should also be telling your own personal story. Your LinkedIn profile bio should show people who you are, why you are in the industry, what excites you about your job, and what you have learned on your journey. When you meet people and they ask what you do, don’t just tell them your job title — tell them how you got there.
Hopefully you also have the opportunity to give presentations about your company or products at some point. I guarantee that your audience does not want to hear you talk stats and facts for more than a few minutes. Unless you want them checking their email during your presentation, you should be telling interesting stories and giving them something to remember.
During sales. Once you have a potential client’s attention and there is a possibility for engagement, you have many opportunities to connect. This is when you can shift from telling stories to asking for stories. People want to know you care about them and you shouldn’t fake this part. The purpose here is to listen to not only what is being shared but why it is being shared.
When you have your first focused conversation with a potential client, ask them to share their stories: “How did you get into this industry?” “What do you like about your job?” “How did the company come to be?” “What is your favorite part of the company’s history?” These types of questions can reveal the underlying motivations for both the people you are working directly with and the company itself.
Another important layer of stories to uncover is how business is for them. Ask what is working and not working for them now and what they are looking for. Dig deeper and ask why those things are or are not working, and why they are looking for a certain solution. Make sure you really get what they are saying. Repeat it back to them so they know you heard them. Tell your solution visualization story (we’ll get into that later in the article).
Don’t forget to also share success stories. These contain proof that what you have done in the past for others could also work for them. They can also get ideas flowing and create new solutions that might not have otherwise been considered.
Post sales. Just because they signed the contract and you got your check doesn’t mean the stories end. It is common practice to do business reviews or scheduled check-ins with your clients, but go beyond the typical, “How are things going?” and find more powerful ways to grow the connection. The best MPS salespeople keep their clients in mind when they see a good article online or come across a LinkedIn post that relates to something they shared.
A couple of years ago, our marketing team was looking for a new vendor for our branded gear. We met with a few different companies and the one that stuck out was the one who emailed us shortly after meeting. In her email, the representative shared how she just met with another client who wanted a product similar to what we were looking for. She told us how she was able to get a faster turnaround on a tight deadline without any extra cost to the client. In her sharing, she assured us that she would be able to meet the demand we had for certain items and this ultimately set her apart from the other vendors we had met. We ended up choosing her company and have been impressed with her commitment to our needs.
Bonus: Set Google alerts for your clients’ companies and leadership. If they are mentioned anywhere on the internet, find the article and email it to them with a personalized message about the mention.
How to craft a compelling story
Now that you know when to share stories, let’s take a closer look at how to make those stories work. As mentioned above, it is in our nature to tell stories. Think about the kinds of stories that have lasted generations or the ones that have moved people to make changes.
One of the most popular examples in the world today is Apple. Steve Jobs was known for his storytelling marketing. (If you really want to master this skill, do a little research into Apple’s marketing strategy and watch presentations Jobs has given.) When he first introduced the iPhone, he got on stage, said how excited he was about what he was going to share. He walked through some of Apple’s biggest industry disruptions. He hyped up the audience and then spoke the line that changed telecommunications: “An iPod, a phone, and an internet communicator … are you getting it? These are not three separate devices. This is one device, and we are calling it ‘iPhone’. Today Apple is going to reinvent the phone.”
As a passionate marketer, this gave me chills. And as an English major, I can tell you exactly why Jobs’ was so successful with his stories: He followed some very basic storytelling tactics that you can also employ.
The first tactic is having go-to types of stories. In sales and marketing, there are three stories you should always be sharing: The origin story, the success story, and the solution visualization. The second tactic is knowing the elements of every good story: character, conflict, and resolution.
By being well-versed in these two tactics, your own storytelling can become easy, natural, and effective.
Here are some examples:
The Origin Story. The Origin Story is self-explanatory. It is a way to tell part of your history or the history of the company and its leaders. For these types of stories, focus on the process. Talk about what the journey looked like, how it felt, why it is important. Here is our origin story, for example:
“Our CEO grew up in a small Indian village and he was surrounded by scarcity. Even from a young age, he knew that life could be better for him and life could be better for others. After working at HP for 10 years, he reached out to people he knew, liked, and trusted to start a small tech company. The first official office was in a small basement space in Jaipur, India. Now, more than 10 years later, we have been recognized as one of Inc 5000’s Fastest Growing Privately Owned companies for five years in a row. We are proud of how far we have come, and we hold a special place in our hearts for that basement office.”
RESOLUTION: 10+ years in business
The Success Story. This is another self-explanatory type of story. It shows how your company or product has helped a client in the past and is proof of what is possible for your potential clients. Here is an example of a dealer success story:
“We recently helped a large educational institute with their MPS needs. During the site visit, we did the discovery and mapping and found that there was an entire floor of study rooms that didn’t have any devices. None. The students and teachers had to take the elevator to a different floor to print or scan. It was causing quite the headache and as we walked this floor, we heard more than one person complain about the lack of printers. We were able to re-map the entire fleet to include printers on every floor and save the client money and the users time. I would love to be able to help you in a similar way.”
CHARACTER: Students and teachers, as well as the client
CONFLICT: Users having to go to a different floor to print
RESOLUTION: Re-mapping and saving the client money and the users time
The Solution Visualization Story. Finally, we have the Solution Visualization. This might possibly be the most important type of story you can tell. This is how you really show your clients what you can do for their specific situation. Don’t just tell your client, “This is our proposal and our price.” Instead, prove you heard their challenges and wants, tell them how that showed up for you in your discovery, and share with them what could be possible if they decided to engage with your company. For example:
“When I first met with you, you talked about how you are a technology company with outdated technology in your office. You said you were embarrassed when people would visit and see old MFPs in the corner. I can definitely see what you mean. Even as I was doing the mapping, I was surprised at the devices you have in your fleet. Most of them are more than 10 years old! It is important to me that I create the solution you are looking for, so I have included some of the more cutting-edge devices in your proposal.”
CHARACTER: Client and their visitors
CONFLICT: Juxtaposition between brand aesthetic and printers
RESOLUTION: Cutting-edge devices
There are so many opportunities to use stories to connect with your audience in every stage of the sales process. When you are planning your next proposal, presentation, or virtual networking event, you want to stand out among your competitors. Don’t just wow your potential clients with device specifications and cost savings, connect with them through stories.