Tracy Crevar Warren

Are You a Good Angler?

How telling tales can win you all the business you want.

May 9, 2011
by Tracy Crevar Warren

As practitioners look to build their practices in the new economy, many are going back to the basics to win new business. Telling tales or storytelling is the oldest form of marketing and communication and one of the basics that deserve a second look. I first wrote about this topic in 2008, and as one in three business clients is expected to consider a new CPA firm this year, it’s the perfect time to revisit it.

You may be thinking “Is she nuts? We’re numbers people. We’re all about bottom lines. Business leaders don’t have time for stories. They want facts and figures to earn our trust.”

Bad news! Numbers and facts without context can be confusing to many business people. They’re also transactional in nature and don’t easily lead to relationships. And worse, what your firm does is often perplexing to those outside the organization. No matter how striking your PowerPoint or website, most people don’t understand what you do, how you can help them or how you’re different from competitors.

State-of-the-Heart Technology

So what’s a professional to do to win more new business? Although facts and figures may seem like the right way to win a decision-maker’s trust and business, you must connect with one’s emotions if you want them to make a change. “If you can’t tell it, you can’t sell it,” says Peter Guber, CEO of Mandalay Entertainment Group and author of the new book Tell to Win. Buying isn’t a rational decision, but one that involves emotion. In this high-tech age, Guber calls storytelling “state-of-the-heart technology.” Simply put, “It’s important that you lead with your heart and not with your head.”

What does this mean for practitioners? You have to connect with people in ways in which they can relate. Today’s business leaders want more than meaningless jargon and service offerings when considering a new advisor including:

  • Can we trust them?
  • How will they enable us to operate more profitably?
  • Will they be proactive and creative in their approach to help us succeed?
  • Will they continue to learn what’s new with us?
  • Are they worth the fees they charge?

Story Superpower

Good news. Stories allow you to answer prospects’ questions and more. Purposeful stories are one of the most powerful ways to build trust. Why? They have a number of business development superpowers including:

  • Gaining attention that can lead to a conversation;
  • Building relationships rather than conduct transactions;
  • Putting facts and figures in emotional context;
  • Explaining what you do and how you can help prospects;
  • Opening prospects’ minds to new ideas;
  • Learning how you’re different;
  • Understanding what you’re like to work with;
  • Remembering you; and
  • Costing nothing — you’re already hardwired to tell them.

Three Stories to Tell

Chances are good that you already tell stories, but don’t realize it. To win, you must tell purposeful stories that connect with your audience. Are you simply repeating “the same old story” or telling something new that prospects want be a part of? For starters, there are three stories you should get comfortable telling.

Who am I Story. Whether a prospective client is deciding to meet with you or to listen to you, they need to know more than you’re a CPA. Help them understand who you are by sharing a simple experience that helps them feel like they know you, such as:

  • Why you love what you do;
  • Something you’re passionate about;
  • Recent project you enjoyed working on and why; and
  • Someone from your past who impacted you.

Firm Story. Tell a revered account about your firm that helps potential clients get to know your organization and why it is special. Replace talk of “we were founded in 1953” with narrative that resonates, such as:

  • How did the firm get started?
  • Why do you enjoy being a part of the firm?
  • How does the firm make good on its promise?

Success Story. These are the stories that enable your audience to understand what you do and how you can help them. Great ones draw outsiders in by opening their eyes to new ways of achieving success.

  • What struggle did a similar client face?
  • How did you help them work through it?
  • What were the results?

Essential Elements

There’s no one right way to tell a story, but there are a number of elements to keep in mind as you prepare to tell:

  • Authentic. Be yourself. It’s your story so own it. Let your true self shine.
  • Clear Message. Tell stories with clear messages that your client[s] can easily understand.
  • Connects with the client. Help your client[s] step inside your story by offering an experience to which they can relate.
  • Angst, Struggle, Triumph. We often gloss over angst, but it’s an essential part of the story that others want to hear. It’s the glue that helps win them over by hearing how you helped others succeed.
  • Concise. Stories don’t have to be long to be effective. Get good at telling a tale in less than a minute or two.

Modern Day Campfires and Cave Walls

There are still campfires and cave walls in today’s business world, but they just look a little different. Let’s take a closer look at a few to consider. There are lots more out there, but the trick is to identify ones where your clients gather:  

  • Websites. This is one of the first places a prospective client or referral source will go before they consider a meeting with you. Welcome them with open arms with the gift of Who am I and Firm stories. Tell them with video on your home page. Tell them in your bios.
  • YouTube. This can be an effective place to post your stories and link them to your firm’s web site or other campaigns. Any of the three stories will work well here.
  • Speeches. What an infectious way to connect with your clients. Ask the person introducing you to tell a story that connects them to you. Include a Who am I story as you get started.
  • Social networks. Use your LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter connections to tell your stories regularly.
  • Lobby and conference rooms. Your office is a great place to tell your stories. Consider a video in the lobby. Photographs are also powerful storytellers too. Show-and-tell of your community involvement and your industry experience.

If you’re serious about winning new business it’s essential to help your audience understand who you are and how you can help them. That starts with a tale. Whoever tells the best story that helps prospective clients make sense of their situation is going to win their trust and their business. So dust off your stories. Tell tales your prospects want to be a part of.

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Tracy Crevar Warren, founder of The Crevar Group, helps professional services firms win more new business and build more profitable practices. A sought-after consultant, facilitator, author and speaker, she advises clients on practice growth through marketing, sales and client service. With a proven track record and positive high-energy style, she inspires and empowers local, regional, national and international groups to do more of the work they love. You can reach her at
336-889-GROW (4769) or www.thecrevargroup.com. If you are looking for more practical tips to help build your practice, visit her new blog.