Tracy Crevar Warren

Want to Earn More New Business?

Try storytelling.

December 8, 2008
by Tracy Crevar Warren

Ever been in a sales presentation and had your eyes glaze because you couldn’t relate to what was being said? Unfortunately this scenario happens quite frequently in the accounting sector. The nature of the profession makes it easy for CPAs to get too technical as they explain a particular product or service to a prospective client.

This technical information can be dangerous in developing new business because potential customers fail to understand how you can help them achieve success. So if you want to win more new business, it is important to remember that your clients only care to know whether you can solve a problem they are experiencing, or how your new product will make their lives easier.

The next time you feel you’re getting too technical and start to tell the prospect how your product works, S-T-O-P! Replace your technical jargon with success stories. Great rainmakers are skilled at telling real-life stories of how they have helped their clients achieve results. Their stories allow prospects to get a glimpse of how working with them can better their lives by achieving objectives or overcoming adversity.

The Power of Stories

“People don’t want more information,” says Annette Simmons, President of Louisiana-based Group Process Consulting. “They want FAITH! Faith that you know what you are talking about, that you mean what you say. Only personal experience or a story that simulates personal experience can help the people you wish to influence decide to trust your judgment.”

Storytelling is an effective part of winning new business because it:

  • Allows potential clients to understand what you do;
  • Helps potential clients to understand how you have helped similar clients;
  • Enables potential clients to get a glimpse of how working with you can better their lives; and
  • Provides you with a competitive advantage

How to Get Started

In last month’s column, I addressed the importance of pre-call planning in winning new business. An essential part of your planning is developing a bank of powerful stories that highlight how your clients have benefited from retaining you. Upon developing a menu of success stories, it is important for you and other members of your firm to learn how to communicate these stories effectively.

Simmons has written a number of invaluable books on utilizing storytelling in the business world including Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins and The Story Factor. These resources are a good starting place as you look to develop more powerful success stories. 

Build a bank of success stories.“We have built an entire library of success stories.” Says Jennifer McQueen, Director of Marketing at Michigan-based Clayton & McKervey, P.C., “We currently have over 100 of them housed on our firm’s internal portal, and we add to this library regularly. It has been an essential element in achieving successful growth over the past few years.”

Consider which stories will best allow prospects to understand what it would be like if they were your client. Take advantage of the case studies that will help you respond to your clients’ needs once you have uncovered them through insightful questioning. In developing your stories, take into account such elements as: What are the most common situations that you encounter? What are the most difficult situations to explain? How have you helped clients during this economic downturn?

Questions that your stories should answer:

  • Who did your product or service help?
  • What problem did you help them to overcome, or what objective did you help them to achieve?
  • What product or service did you and your team use to help them?
  • What tangible benefits did they receive as a result?
  • How long did it take for them to see these results?

Document your stories in a central place such as your firm’s intranet or portal so everyone in the firm can easily access them. In addition to written documents, record the stories in podcasts that can be downloaded. Use professionals who have achieved the success to recount their stories for authenticity.

Teach your professionals to effectively present these stories. Once you have identified some good success stories, it is important to learn to tell them in a compelling way. Provide some coaching sessions for your staff. Remember, this is an effective way to bring together seasoned professionals and junior professionals alike for a common purpose. Take advantage of the opportunities that exist.

Make these sessions fun. Conduct them over lunch or during an afternoon ice cream or popcorn break. Award prizes for the best storytellers. Since people learn in different ways, vary your training tools. Encourage professionals to listen to training sessions on your intranet or read about them in your firm newsletter. You can also tape the training sessions and post them on the intranet.

Consider innovative ways to tell your firm’s story. “We took storytelling to another level at Clayton & McKervey, said McQueen. As we were planning a move to a new location, we wanted to incorporate our story into our facility. We not only mapped out the new architecture for the building, but the stories that accompanied each area of the practice. For example, our lobby has an international wall that displays items from different parts of the world where our clients are located. When visitors see this wall and hear the success story behind the item, they realize that we really have built a strong international practice.” 

Put This Centuries-Old Technique to Work Today

If you are ready to separate yourself from the competition and ultimately win more new business, brush up on your storytelling. Put it to work on your next sales call. Both you and your prospective clients will be glad that you did!

Rate this article 5 (excellent) to 1 (poor).
Send your responses here

Tracy Crevar Warren, president and founder of The Crevar Group, advises professional services firms striving to grow and maximize performance. Warren was named by Accounting Today as one of the 100 Most Influential People in the accounting industry and is a new Hall of Fame inductee in the Association for Accounting Marketing. She is an author and frequent speaker on various growth, business development, and marketing topics for local, regional, national and international audiences. Warren can be reached at (336) 889-GROW (4769).