There’s a time and a place for storytelling in agency new business, and it’s not in your initial outreach.

You’ve probably read or heard a good deal about storytelling in sales in the past couple of years.

Just google storytelling in sales or some version of that and you will see countless articles/blog posts.

AS an example, I’ll pick on Salesforce because they’re huge and can crush me.  (I like Salesforce just fine by the way, please don’t crush me.)

To be fair, Storytelling In Sales: Make Your Client the Hero is actually a guest post, but regardless, it reads like a lot of the “storytelling in sales” posts you can read. Here’s a snippet:

Fortunately, one veteran sales manager brought it into focus. He said that the great salespeople understand that they are not bringing their own story (or the brand’s) into the relationship, nor are they using the sales call to weave a story from scratch. Rather, they are entering a preexisting story as a supporting character who is there to help the hero — the client — achieve his or her goal.

You’re probably asking yourself what I find wrong with this?  Before I get to that, here’s one more example from the post, which I’ve edited a bit for length:

We used a three-act play as the format:

Act I: A compelling opening. The sales rep portrays the world as it is in its current state, featuring the client as hero.

Act II: A clear build. The world as it could be, changed by the brand.

Act III: A powerful close. This is the ask. It can be a clear call to action

On its face, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with this sales advice, in fact, it’s good sales advice, but this post and every other post I’ve read on this topic leave out a very critical detail/first step.

You have to actually break through to the prospect first and you never will by telling a story up front.

All these articles need is a paragraph early on with some version of this:

Storytelling can be a key component to your sales strategy, but you can’t employ it in your initial reach out.  You have precious and valuable real estate in that first email or call and you also have prospects who are being emailed, called and LinkedIn with 10 or 15 times a day, minimally. If you go in on the first reach out with Acts 1-3 (per the above example), you can forget ever getting in the door.  You’ve wasted your chance.

The storytelling comes in the first actual meeting and/or your pitch, not your initial reach out.

And when you first reach out, keep it tight initially. Include a distinct and specific elevator pitch, why it would be of value to speak with you /the team (a brief but targeted example of your specialization/unique value) and a call to action in some form.

And don’t let that initial messaging read like a robot wrote it, that is, completely impersonal, or have it read like an ad full of taglines or agencyspeak (we’re strategic, nimble, creative, etc.).

Every agency says that, and now you’re skippable, as they say.

Storytelling is important, use it at the right time.

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Lee McKnight Jr
VP of Sales at RSW/US
I'm the VP of Sales at RSW/US. We specialize in working with services firms to help drive and close new business-if you need help with that, email me at lee@rswus.com. What I actually do: drive sales efforts to bring ad agencies and services firms on board with RSW, create content around successful new business tactics and help drive RSW/US marketing objectives, including social media channels, blog content, webinars, video and speaking engagements. Dig it.