Trial by Fire, a Storyselling Project

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My First Storyselling Project - A True Story

by Mike Goss, PMP

My Storyselling Projects system didn't happen overnight. I have used each of system's three components for many years. In 2014, I formally combined them and gave them a name.

It all started in 1976. I was the new Portland branch manager for U.S. Elevator Corporation. My territory was Oregon, Idaho and southwest Washington. I sold elevators, repair jobs and maintenance contracts. I was looking forward to many happy years there.

If only I had performed my due diligence, I would have learned that U.S. Elevator was the most hated elevator contractor in my local market. It seems that the previous branch manager was a liar and a crook. He burned every architect and contractor, and then he left the state. He left no forwarding address. I was his replacement. Lucky me.

Trial by Fire

My routine was the same each day:

  1. Call a developer, contractor or architect.
  2. Introduce myself.
  3. Explain that I'm with U.S. Elevator, and take a deep breath.
  4. Listen to the cursing and the insults.
  5. Ask for a face-to-face meeting.
  6. Meet in their conference room. They wanted witnesses. (So did I.)
  7. Sit through five minutes of insults and cursing.
  8. Remind myself that it isn't personal.
  9. Prepare for a speedy exit in case firearms are exposed. (That only happened once.)

I understood their anger. They had suffered financial losses and damages to their reputations because of delays and other problems related to the elevator installation...all caused by the company I represented.

After the shouting subsided, I asked two questions:

  1. Did it feel good to get that out of your system?
  2. Can we agree that although my company did these things to you, I am personally innocent?

At this point, they felt a tiny bit of remorse for all the things they said to me. Then, I asked the magic questions: 

  • "Will you give me a chance to redeem myself and my company?"
  • "Will you privately negotiate your next small project with me? I'll give you a price that we both know is competitive. I'll complete the installation on time, with no surprises."

The response was almost always the same: "We'll give you one chance. If you screw this up, we'll bury you in the foundation."

The regional construction manager for U.S. Elevator was my new best friend. I wined and dined him whenever he came to town. He made sure I had the materials and labor crews on the job sites when I needed them.

Without formally defining them, I was already using the three components of my Storyselling Projects system:

Storytelling

When the developers, contractors and architects were finished yelling at me, I began offering them word pictures of "what could be." I told them short stories of elevator customers I had served in my previous position with Otis Elevator Company. The customers were the heroes of the stories. The stories had happy endings. I invited my new customers to be the heroes of a new wave of success stories by choosing my proposal. 

I met frequently with U.S. Elevator's regional construction superintendent. He knew of the terrible reputation of the Portland branch. I told him stories of how things would change, and how he would be the hero of the resurrection of the Portland branch. He was my success partner for the next two years. He personally made sure I never had a job-site delay for labor or materials. I made sure everyone knew he was the hero for on-time, under-budget installations.

Personalized Sales Training

U.S. Elevator had no sales training program. They assumed that if you were a branch manager or field sales rep, you already knew how to sell.

I'm a lifelong learner. I made my own sales training program, personalized to my needs.

I built my own sales call planner. After each call, I listed the top three things I should repeat on the next call, and the top three things I should never do again. The completed call planner forms became my personal sales improvement tracker. I still use versions of that planner in my sales, teaching and coaching activities.

I read every sales book I could find. I subscribed to sales magazines. I took notes of skills I wanted to adopt.

I bought cassette tape programs from nationally-recognized sales trainers. I spent a lot of time in my car. I turned my car into Mike's Sales University. I absorbed nearly two hours of audio training on the road each day.

Storytelling had not yet gained attention as a tool for business. I casually introduced storytelling into my sales conversations. I used short stories in prospecting, qualifying, need-finding, presentations, handling objections, closing and following up. Each time I used stories, the sale seemed to go smoother and faster.

Stories also helped me build value. While my competitors focused on their price, I focused on stories of my customers completing their projects sooner and making more money.

Sales Project Management

For most contractors, their price on bid day was their primary selling tool. I thought there had to be a better way to win sales than by merely being the lowest bidder. I was determined to bypass the bid process and negotiate projects whenever I could. I wanted to make my year happen, not just let it happen.

Based on my knowledge of the market, I made a promotional plan for the next twelve months. It had two parts:

  1. For the projects already in planning, approach the architects with advice and approach the contractors to seek opportunities for privately negotiating the elevator installation.
  2. For new projects, contact the architect before they began their work, to offer free plans and specifications for their elevators.

My storytelling, self-training and project management system paid off. In my second year, I increased my branch sales by 480 percent!

Live Your Own Success Story

You can be the hero of your own sales success story. All it takes is an integrated system of storytelling, sales training and project management...my Storyselling Project system.