Episode 76: Stories as a Valuable Sales Tool – Jim O’Gara

Predictable Prospecting
Episode 76: Stories as a Valuable Sales Tool - Jim O'Gara
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When people in sales hear the word story, they think the focus is on marketing. What if I told you that there was a way for sales executives to use story to frame their sales conversations? Story can be used to explain what a company does, the value they deliver, and how they are different. Story can also be used to begin a conversation, continue a conversation, and feed that all important sales pipeline.

This week’s guest is Jim O’Gara the founder and CEO of Story Dimensions. Jim shares why he began his company. Along with how sales professionals can use story throughout their sales process, and how Story Dimensions can help automate, organize, and publicize the process. Story can be a valuable tool in the sales process, and Jim shows us easy ways to implement story into the process.  

Episode Highlights:

  • How Story Dimensions came into being and what they offer
  • Lack of relevant customer stories and insights in the buying process
  • Providing salespeople with a consistent stream of relevant stories
  • Tactics for using story in different phases of the buying journey
  • Connecting with buyers on a more human level
  • Compartmentalizing the most relevant part of content
  • Structuring content for salespeople to easily share
  • Tracking usage and capturing analytics for matching stories and personas
  • Account based selling and meeting with multiple stakeholders


Episode Transcript:

Marylou: Hi everyone, it’s Marylou Tyler. This week’s guest on our podcast is Jim O’Gara. He’s the CEO and founder of Story Dimensions. He and I connected probably on LinkedIn. For those of us who are in sales, the moment we hear the term story, I think we focus on or think about marketing. Jim is here to talk to us specifically, solely, exclusively about how sales people, sales executives can utilize story and framing up the conversation so that they have more of those first conversations, follow up conversations, and then further to the pipeline. We focus on top of funnel. It’s really how to set up the story, what stories are, how they’re used, the case studies, etc. Jim is the expert.

Welcome to the podcast, Jim.

Jim: Thank you very much, Marylou. Glad to be here with you today.

Marylou: As you know, we are bombarded with stories. You have to have more stories, you have to have more case studies, you have to have more of this and that, these and those, testimonials, whatever. Help us understand why your company came into being and what it is that you offer to sales executives so that they can have more quality conversations, less fluff, more substance. Obviously, kick it over the gold line and get those closed deals.

Jim: A little bit about Story Dimensions, Story Dimensions was actually carved out of a company that I founded back in 2001 called [Unmessage.] THat’s a management consulting firm that really worked with sales and business executives to help them crystallize their corporate story, explain to the market who they were, what they did, the value they delivered, what made them different.

In working with these companies over the years, we saw a persistent and systematic pain point within the selling organization. That was the lack of a void. [00:06:36] relevant customer insights and stories that the sales reps could use in the buying process that would really bring to life the impact and the value that their company could have on them as an individual, making this decision as well as the organization that they work for.

That really was the genesis, look, there needs to be a company out there that really could provide these selling organizations with a consistent stream of fresh, relevant customer stories that they can use in the selling process.

Marylou: If you know me, you know that we’re at top of funnel. We’re really trying to wake up that chill, we’re trying to get people leaning into their computers or leaning into the email and identifying with us saying, “They’ve got me nailed.” Let’s talk the tactics. How do we go about utilizing stories so early on in the conversation, or have you found from your research and your evidence based know how, is that a good spot to introduce some of these stories that you’re talking about?

Jim: Absolutely. We believe that stories actually play a role in all different phases of the selling process and the buying journey. Tactically, if you think about it, these prospects are getting bombarded with inquiries, cold calls, cold emails if you will early in the sales process. One thing that we found is one way to break through the content clutter is to connect with that prospective buyer on a more human to human level. There’s no better way to do that than to share a story about an experience from one of their peers that is an existing customer of yours and really describe the situation, the experience from their point of view, basically empathize with where they are and paint a picture of where they could be.

From a top of the funnel perspective, we believe real, relevant, peer to peer stories really can break through the noise.

Marylou: If we look at the pipeline positionally and we have points of reference along the pipeline, the buying signals, if we were to go all the way up to the pre-conversation, we haven’t even had those conversations yet. What have you discovered is most impactful? What I’m asking is we see a lot of people attach case studies early on in the process that are sometimes three to five pages long of customer testimonials, of how they marched along the success path from having a problem or challenge to actually having it resolved by the company.

I’m finding that if you start bombarding people too early on with that much detail, you lose them. I came up with this concept, I borrowed it from somebody for sure, of taking a case study, flipping it sideways, and then pulling out the relevant points so that we can build almost like a serial email stream of talking about one problem and expanding on it every time. How does that relate to what you’re discovering in the usage of these types of stories?

Jim: I think it’s very relevant to the buying mindset of today. Content is just out of control. Buyers are overwhelmed with everything from white papers to videos to case studies. They just don’t have time to sort through it and get to what is relevant.

A big part of what we do and how we help the seller is compartmentalize the most relevant story-telling content and source material that’s going to connect with that particular buyer. Case studies, many people think, are the answer. Case studies are meant to be read from top to bottom, just like you said, Marylou. What a sales person needs to do is cut to the chase and connect with that buyer on a more emotional decision making level. You’ve got to be able to pull those pieces of the story out, highlight them in a way that really elevates the key message for the buyer, so that you can actually continue that conversation or dialogue.

Marylou: Right.

The other thing that is a little bit scary for sales people is we don’t think of ourselves as really writers. Having the ability to take a document, generate it by marketing or some other organization, or maybe even within the sales department, and slice and dice that thing so that it makes sense and that it’s impactful and that it has the sense of urgency built in.

It just seems mind boggling to try to figure out now only how to take it apart and put it together so that it’s relevant for the right stage, but also what to take apart and when to introduce it. I heard you say that you’re also looking at the type of people, so the personas come into play. That’s a lot of legos to juggle to try to figure out how to put all this together.

Jim: Yeah, you’re really getting to the fundamental point and the way that we’re addressing some of the challenges sales people have and leveraging stories in the selling process. Most of the material is written in marketing or corporate communications type speak. It’s heavy, it’s not written in conversational format. What we’ve done is we have a team of content developers that literally write the conversational content the way that the sales person would want to share it.

The other thing we’ve done is we’ve compartmentalized, as I said, the content so that a sales person can get to the specific part of the story, if you will, that’s most relevant to them. If they need to find a story that’s oriented from an industry perspective because this prospect is in a specific industry, say healthcare, they can go straight to that storytelling source material. If they’re going to be meeting with a specific buyer over lunch in the decision making process, say the CFO, they can quickly go to a relevant customer story that is delivered from a more peer to peer perspective, CFO to CFO. They can share, “This is what our customer XYZ, their CFO had to say about that challenge in the situation and how we helped them navigate it.”

It’s all about, one, compartmentalizing the most relevant content. And then, having it structured in a way that the sales person can easily consume and share. If you take a look at how we’ve done that through our mobile application, we believe we’ve cracked that code there.

Marylou: This is really sounding cool. Basically what you’ve developed, should I say software app? Some type of application that is this massive card index. If I am at a position like cold status and I’m trying to wake up the chill of a CFO who’s my target persona that I really want to start conversation with and have him refer me downward. Then, I just go to my story telling database that you’ve created and put in some parameters of the conversation, the gist of the conversation I want to have, the type of person, and I’ll pop some options for me. Is that how you put it together?

Jim: Absolutely. It is a cloud based application. Our solution is to deliver it as a software as a service subscription. Literally, a sales rep from their phone, from their tablet or desktop computer can go ahead and find story telling content that is relevant for their specific selling situation. They can also capture the content based on how they’re planning to deliver it.

Our content is structured so they can deliver it in conversational form. Say over a lunch meeting, or in a presentation, or they can actually literally copy and paste content that is written the way a sales person would correspond with a prospect in written form.

We also can allow them to attach documents or send documents, say a case study if it’s relevant, or a video or an infographic that illustrates the point that they’re making in either that conversation or written correspondence format.

It’s all about providing or weaponizing sales people with rapid access to relevant storytelling content that they can play out at various stages of the sales process.

Marylou: That’s great. I’m sure some of my audience is thinking, “This sounds great, but I don’t have a lot of content. It’s a struggle for me to even find things to talk about. I have my pain points, and I may have a couple testimonials to start.” How low do you go with people in terms of getting them on the system and how dynamic is it once they decide yes, we want to have a way to categorize, to structure our content, our stories, why we matter, why people should change, why now, and continually and dynamically grow this based on the feedback of how these conversations are working. How small can you get to start feeding this beast?

Jim: I think the reason that a lot of selling organizations struggle with access to real customer insights and content is in more of the experiences we’ve had, whenever a case study is needed or a testimonial is needed, it’s almost like it’s a fire drill. It’s dealt with in a very ad-hoc kind of manner. What we’re trying to do is put a highly engineered, systematic process in place so that we’re generating consistent insights and customer stories that can fuel very specific selling conversations.

How do we do that? We’re kind of a hybrid professional services and technology company. What we do is we have an automated discovery process that’s constantly mining the client’s customer database and bringing people into the discovery and story discovery process.

We’re gathering insights about their customers and the story telling content on a continual basis. All of that insight, facts, figures, and information is then passed over to our storytelling content development experts who then assemble the storytelling content in a way that sales people want it to be structured for conversation and correspondence purposes.

As that content is packaged, we serve it up through our cloud based application or our storytelling platform so that they can have access to highly relevant source material to use at different phases of the selling process. It’s really those three things brought together that allows us to produce highly relevant, detailed customer stories and content for sales people.

Marylou: Wonderful.

It sounds as if we can put together the beginnings of conversations, of stories, of testimonials. Let’s talk about once we put these things into use, and we start seeing the results of our efforts, how are we measuring which stories, what use of language, where positionally in the pipeline this conversation makes more sense, how are we intelligently utilizing now the system in order to have better conversations that help us shrink the lag in the pipeline? What kind of analytics, or are there analytics currently tied to the use of the pieces of storytelling content?

Jim: That’s a great question. Yes, one of the things that we track in the storytelling platform is actually usage. We do capture analytics on which customer stories are being utilized the most, which buyer personas, and therefore which content within those buyer personas are being utilized by the selling organization on a consistent basis?

We get some data that tells us, we also have the ability for sales people to favorite or bookmark stories and storytelling content that they deem to be most effective in the selling process so that we can produce those analytics and reports and play those back to sales leaders and marketing executives so that they can further optimize the content that’s being secured and shared with sales.

We don’t have, and you bring up a great point, the ability right now to isolate the timing of application or use of the storytelling content in the context of the sales journey or the pipeline. That’s something we will be looking at as we move forward.

Marylou: That’s great. I think, just from what you said, it’s leap to bounds beyond what we have now. As a database analyst, my calling is more of a technical person, I’m a computer scientist. I’m always trying to figure out the feedback mechanism of relative position in the pipeline to what we use, what we said, how long it’s been sitting there are that pipeline stage. Part of the Predictable Revenue formula is to be able to understand the lag in the pipeline, but also what conversational pieces allow us to traverse down the pipeline faster with more velocity and more quality.

I love where you’re going with this. The fact that we can take then that language and stories and all of the components of a good message, and not only take it in each step of the pipeline so that we can maximize its use, but also feedback to marketing now. Doing the pre-presales conversation of hey, here are the nuggets that are actually getting people to move further into the pipeline with faster velocity and also with them loving us more. Here’s what you need to put in your stories early on before they even come to us in sales in order to be able to warm up that chill faster.

Jim: Yeah, exactly. I think the thing that we find interesting on this topic is in some ways, when it comes down to conversations and needs and pain points or issues that are brought up during the buying journey if you will, the customer is in control. One of the keys that we believe to successful selling is having the right, most relevant information to share with buyers when they’re ready to talk about it.

A lot of content solutions try to map specific content to specific phases of the buying process. That is effective with certain types of content. When an opportunity to share a real customer experience story about how they went through a similar situation, came out on the other end better off or with improved results, sometimes what we’ve seen is the buyer controls when those conversations pick up in the buying process. People need to have instant access to highly relevant content that they can share.

I think it was Gartner, I forgot the quote exactly, but they said something to the effect that sales people need relevant content at the moment of truth. When is that? The moment of truth is when they’re standing in front of the perspective buyer.

Marylou: Right. Standing virtually, or in real life.

Jim: Exactly, yes.

Marylou: Indeed.

Jim: That’s becoming more challenging in the B2B sales process as you know, Marylou. The CEB came out with a more recent update to some of their research on the roles involved in the B2B buying process. The number of individuals that a sales person must encounter, convince, and earn credibility and trust with has grown from 5.4 to somewhere close to 7 now individual stakeholders in the buying process. Each one of them want to talk about the opportunity or the challenge from their own point of view and perspective. That’s why role-based stories, for sales organizations, are so important.

Marylou: We’re recognizing, again, being in this business now going on almost 30 years, there’s this new term called account based selling which in the olden days was called strategic selling or large account selling. It’s all about the fact that there are more than one stakeholder, more than one buyer that you’re going to meet along the journey.

Even though we’re at top of funnel for most of my audience, we still can meet three to five of those people. We may not be having strategic conversations with them, but we’ve got to get them to want to come to the table and at least have conversations with the quota carrying folks to take it down to close. It is becoming, even top of funnel, less smile and dial type and more into strategic as to who these people are, what’s relevant to them in their own language. That’s where I think services like yours are just wonderful to have.

And because they’re dynamic, I love that. They’re not stagnant at all or static, they are dynamic, they’re constantly changing as the conversations grow. You have more of them, about more information, you start to fine tune it. It’s an iterative process which I love.

Jim: It is. I think that’s something that your listeners should think about. This is a journey. The way we try to share the partnership with the prospective clients or Story Dimensions is imagine where you are right now. Your sales organization has what? 5, 10, maybe 20 “case studies” that illustrate the value you deliver to companies that you work with. In working with us, you’re creating an always on engine that’s creating a library over time. You work with Story Dimensions for 6, 12, 18 months, and all of a sudden you now have a library of 20, 40, 50, 200 customer stories that become more and more relevant to specific buyers, to specific industries, and specific selling situations over time.

I guess my point is if someone’s serious about injecting the voice of the customer and peer to peer stories into their selling process, they need to be thinking long term and they need to be thinking about stimulating a wealth of knowledge about their customers and their customer experiences that can be shared with the sales people on a consistent basis.

Marylou: In the language of sales, I love that you say that because even on emails when I help clients with emails, cold emails, followup emails, warm emails, doesn’t matter. There’s this marketing speak in there that just does not work for the sales conversation. What I like to do is tell people, “Look, read that email into your phone, record it, and then listen back to it. Does it sound like you?”

Jim: We write all of the content that goes into our storytelling platform as though it is in fact being read or shared from the sales person to an external buyer. You got to remember, most of the content that gets developed that is “customer centric” is still marketing or brand centric. It’s very much written from a marketing or brand point of view, it’s not peer to peer and as you said, as a sales person would share it.

Marylou: As we used to say back in the old days, belly to belly. You’re sitting across the table, virtually or in person, with one person you’re having the conversation with, especially top of funnel. Yes, I love the fact that this is something where we can focus on the person, the buyer, the individual and start those conversational pieces and very small snippets of truth that we can build on as we move along.

I’ve kept you longer than I’m supposed to. How are we going to get a hold of you? What’s the best way, Jim, that we can connect with you if we want to have further dialogue around how this works, how to set it up, and some of your success stories that you can share with people in my audience who are interested in taking the next step.

Jim: Absolutely. One way to connect is obviously on LinkedIn. You can find me by name on LinkedIn. Also, at storydimensions.com. We do offer the ability, we’ve talked a lot about it, it’s one thing to talk about it and another to see it. For listeners that are interested, they can go to storydimensions.com and also request the live demonstration of our storytelling platform. You can see how we’re really arming or weaponizing sales people with the content that they need in specific selling situations.

Marylou: I will put all these links in our show notes so that people, if they’re driving along, don’t worry, they’ll be in the show notes. All the links to Jim’s site, his connections, etc.

Jim, thank you so much for your time. This has been a very enlightening conversation. It’s where we need to go because we’re just falling down flat on some of the ability to attach or to share the relevant content at the right time, at the right place, with the right person in the sales cycle. I really appreciate you taking the time to speak with us today.

Jim: Thank you for having me, Marylou. I appreciate it.