One of the best ways to sell is to use a narrative format, which is a fancy way of saying tell a story. Stories are engaging and enjoyable, so they don’t feel like a sales pitch.
Plus, if done well, a story will prompt prospects to convince themselves to take the action you want. This is because compared with more direct attempts at persuasion, well-crafted stories allow readers to draw the conclusion you want on their own, and people rarely second-guess their own conclusions.
There are many types of selling stories. Here are a few examples:
- Retelling a news story that naturally supports your sales positioning.
- Telling a personal story of overcoming an obstacle that your prospects face.
- Using a historical anecdote to create an analogy to current market circumstances.
- Sharing a customer success story in the form of a case study.
Sticking with the fourth example, one of the best ways to craft an engaging case study is with a hero story. A hero story is a narrative where one of your customers or clients is featured as solving a problem, and your solution is the crucial supporting character (you may want to read my article on hero stories before proceeding with this one).
When I wrote that article on hero stories a little over a year ago, many people asked for an example of how to create one. Better late than never, here’s a step-by-step guide to writing a hero story that sells.
1. Just the Facts, Ma’am
The first step is to collect the elements of the story you want to tell. Who is the main character (hero) and what happened? Put your storyline together before you begin to write, so you’ll have a roadmap that will keep you on track.
For this example, we’re going to tell the story of Michelle, an in-house marketing specialist for a small real estate brokerage. The firm brochure-ware website has turned out to be an expensive albatross with no measurable impact on sales, and it’s Michelle’s job to fix that.
This is just something I’m spinning out off the top of my head as a guide. I’m sure you’ll do better.
2. Nail the Headline
As with any other piece of writing you want people to actually read, the headline is critical. You can usually focus on revealing how certain results were obtained as the beneficial promise to the prospective reader.
How One Smart Online Marketing Move Made an Extra $116,321 for This Small Business
3. Set the Stage
You know how important it is to open strong and hold the reader’s attention. Your opening also sets the stage for rest of the story, so try starting in the middle of the action to accomplish both goals at once.
“This website is a complete fiasco,” the boss bellowed as Michelle tried to disappear into the bottom of her seat. It had been Michelle’s job to head up the website effort for Bain Real Estate Brokerage, and things had not gone well.
The bottom line by the time the boss stomped out of the conference room was simple. A measurable return on investment from the site within 3 months, or it was gone (presumably Michelle with it).
4. Is This the Solution?
A possible solution appears, but is it the right one? Will it solve the problem? If your hero tried other solutions before yours, feel free it throw in a red herring in order to increase dramatic effect.
After wracking her brain and searching the web for ideas, Michelle stumbled upon a copywriting consultant named James Simone who specialized in real estate marketing. He told her the entire site needed to be re-done. Michelle knew she couldn’t go back with that answer, so she pleaded for alternatives. James said he though he could work up a first step that would get the site generating solid, trackable leads for the firm, and from there the other necessary changes could be made over time.
5. Tension Builds
Make sure you build tension even after the hero adopts your solution. Everyone is apprehensive before something actually works and solves the problem, and acknowledging this in your case study adds credibility and enhances the emotional payoff.
James proposed creating landing pages that promote opt-in tutorials for both buyers and sellers. Each page of the site will drive traffic to the landing pages, and the opt-in allows the firm to communicate with buyers and sellers over time, which should boost business. Michelle thought this sounded like a good strategy, but she was terribly anxious. What if it didn’t work? There wouldn’t be enough time to try anything else.
6. Climax Relieves
It worked! The hero resolves the problem thanks to the major benefit provided by your solution.
After three months, the opt-in tutorials were directly responsible for two new selling clients and five new buyers, including one wealthy relocation that would bring in at least $30,000 in commissions. Plus, new leads were coming in each and every day. The boss grumbled something along the lines of “Keep it up,” and Michelle breathed a huge sigh of relief.
7. Happy Ending
Don’t forget to touch on the ongoing benefits and positive changes that the hero enjoyed going forward. It’s ok to leave most of this to the reader’s imagination, as long as you close the story by pointing the reader in the right direction.
By the time the firm Christmas party rolled around, that single change to the website had generated $116,321 in money in the bank. She thought the boss even smiled a bit near the tree, but it may have been the eggnog. Michelle now had authorization to revamp the entire website with James Simone’s help, but she was starting to see the power of online marketing done right. Who knows where next Christmas might find her?
8. Call to Action
If the reader relates to your hero, then that reader may be imagining herself as the potential hero who solves her own problem with your solution as well. The connotation of the story did the selling, but you must expressly ask for the next action—to call, email, opt-in for more information, etc.
Contact James Simone today at 555-1234 to see if he can boost your bottom line by six figures, too.
You’ll notice that the entire story is written in the third person. This helps you focus the story on the hero and the results, and resist the temptation to brag about yourself. Choose a relatable hero and tell a compelling story, and you can let the connotation do the selling for you.