In sales, many techniques can help you increase your profits. Storytelling is also a sales method, but often sellers do not use it in their activities. First of all, this is because many people have a fear of performing or improvising, it is difficult for them to come up with something, it is easier to do everything according to the script, but easier does not always mean better. Storytelling is a skill, remember that, and therefore, like any other skill, it can be acquired and improved. Sell with a Story book is a practical guide for mastering this skill. With storytelling, you can win people over, engage them in the process, touch their feelings, build relationships with them, all of which will help you close the deal. 

Paul Smith, in his book Sell with a story. How to capture attention, build trust, and close the sale, defines a sales story as any story that is used in the process of making a profit from selling and maintaining a customer. To distinguish stories from other types of narrative, he identifies six features of the story.

Six Features of the Story

  1. Time indicator. All those words that indicate when the event occurred.
  2. Place indicator. All those words that indicate where the event occurred. 
  3. Main character. In a story, there can be either one main character or several, and in a sales story, a company or brand can also act as the main character.
  4. Obstacle. This is the villain in the story. A villain can mean a person, a company, a situation, and much more. 
  5. Goal. The main character of the story must have a goal that is clear to the audience. Don’t let your personal goals and the main character’s goals get mixed up. 
  6. Events. For a story to be a story, something has to happen. 
Sell with a Story Book Cover

The seller can use the stories at any stage of the sale at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end of the deal. The earliest opportunity to do this is to introduce yourself, the moment you meet your prospects. According to the author, at this stage it is best to use the following types of stories:

  1. “What I do, simply” story
  2. “Whom I’ve helped and how” story

When working with a client, you should not focus on yourself or your product. Allow the consumer to speak. He must tell you a story too so that you can infer what is best for him. After all, it is not necessary that all your prospects face the same problems, which means that each of them should be treated individually, and you should have a suitable story for each situation. Paul Smith offers five ways to help buyers tell their stories.

Help Buyers Tell Their Stories

  • Shut up and Listen
  • Ask questions that require a story for an answer. For this purpose, the author describes the following methods:
  1. ask mostly open-ended questions instead of closed-ended questions.
  2. ask about specific events in time. Example: What happened last year when…
  3. use “problem prompts”. Example: Have you ever noticed that your Internet slows down after dinner? 
  4. ask “day in the life” questions. Example: Tell me what a typical day is like for one of your team members today?
  • Ask about something personal in the buyer’s office
  • Get buyers away from the office. In the office, people usually play certain roles, so it is better to negotiate in another place.
  • Tell your stories first. If the consumer still didn’t tell the story, then do it yourself, show an example.

To build rapport with your customers and gain their trust, you need to use the following types of stories.

Stories about you

  1. “Why I do what I do” stories
  2. “I’ll tell you when I can’t help you” stories
  3. “I’ll tell you when I made a mistake” stories
  4. “I’m not who you think I am” stories
  5. “I’ll go to bat for you with my company” stories

Stories about your company

  1. Founding stories
  2. “How we’re different from our competitors” stories

When you have introduced yourself and your company and built the initial relationship, then move on to the next stage, directly to the sale. Here Paul Smith highlights the following types of stories.

Types of Stories

  1. Your product’s invention or discovery story. Your story should answer the following question: What situation gave rise to the inventor creating this product?
  2. Problem story. Such a story will allow the buyer to understand the problem, since they may not have even thought about it before.
  3. Customer success stories. This is not feedback. This is an inspiring story.
  4. “Two roads” stories
  5. Value-adding stories. What can you say that makes your product or service interesting or unique?

At the time of the sale, you should be prepared that your prospects will tell you “no”. This is a normal reaction, you have to convince the client, and here storytelling will help you too. The most common objection that sellers face is the price. A good story will help you overcome this type of objection. You only need to correctly determine why exactly the buyer doubts your price. For example, if he is not satisfied with the price because he does not see the difference between your product and the cheaper ones, then you need to tell “How we’re different from our competitors” story. You can also use other storytelling techniques to overcome various objections, for example:

  • A journey of discovery story. Do not tell anyone that they are wrong, such tactics will not bring you the desired result. We all consider our point of view to be the only correct one, and if we are told the opposite, we stand up for it, choose a defensive position. To get around this position, you need to use “A journey of discovery” story. Tell your prospects exactly how you came to this discovery, and involve them in your journey.
  • Resolve Objections Before They’re Even Brought Up. If you notice that the objections are repeated, identify them and find a story that could resolve all the buyer’s doubts in advance. 

At the closing stage of the sale, the following types of stories are used:

  1. Creating a sense of urgency. Even if you have passed all the previous stages of sales successfully, the customer does not always decide to buy, he may refer that he needs time to think or something like that. In this case, you need to provide them with a story that shows what the consequences may be from the delay of the sale, you need to create a sense of urgency in your buyer.
  2. Army your sponsor with a story. Making a purchase decision does not always take place in your presence, so you need to find an internal sponsor in the organization who can defend your interests.
  3. Coaching the breakup. As a rule, when you try to sell your product or service, the customer already has their supplier. The most difficult thing, in this case, is to overcome the resistance of your potential buyer to abandon his supplier, as this makes him feel guilty. If you are faced with such a situation, then develop breakup stories to help them get through it successfully. You can do this by using the example of your best customers who have already done this.

Even if you have closed your sale, you should not leave your client, post-sales service increases trust in you. And it can also be done through storytelling. Sellers do this in three ways.

Post Sales Storytelling

  1. “What’s worked well in the past” stories. These are post-sales service stories to help consumers understand how to better use your product or service.у.
  2. Generating loyalty. This type of story is told so that the customer does not think to go to your competitor.
  3. Summarizing the call. These stories are so that other sellers can learn from your experience, whether it’s a failure or a success.

The most important part of creating a great sales story is choosing the right events in the lives of the right people to tell the right audience. So what does a great story consist of? Paul Smith highlights 4 elements.

Elements of a great story


The hero of your story should be similar to your audience so that people can associate themselves with him. Such a hero will attract the attention of your audience. Common mistake is choosing the wrong hero that people can’t see themselves in.


A challenge is an obstacle or opportunity that the hero faces. The challenge is the villain in your story. Challenge can be the company, the goal, the situation, and even yourself. The main condition is that your call touches the audience so that the problem you are solving is also a problem for your customers. Common mistakeтis the skipping of this element in your story, because of this, it will become boring and uninteresting.


The struggle between the hero and the villain is a key moment in your narrative. The hero must go through certain difficulties to get what he wants, he must fight for it. If there is no struggle, there is no history. Common mistake: the fight can be both between the main character and the villain, but also within the hero himself. Therefore, if you are not the hero of this story, you may not see this fight and thus miss it.


Your story should teach you a lesson. People have to make a certain conclusion when they listen to it, otherwise, your efforts were in vain.

So how do you choose the right story to tell? Paul Smith suggests four steps for this.

4 Steps to Choose the Right Story

  • Define your objective. What do you want your audience to think, feel, or do as a result of your story? Since the most important element is that the story contains a worthy lesson, we should start by defining what lesson we want our audience to learn.
  • Look for a relevant success, failure, or moment of clarity surrounding that main idea.
  • Make one up. If you can’t find the right story, you can make it up, but only on one condition: your audience must be aware that the story is fictional. For this purpose, you can start your story with words like “suppose” or” imagine” and the like. 
  • List and choose. Choose from the collected list the most appropriate stories for your goals and your audience, and save the rest for future use.

Paul Smith, based on his experience and analysis, gives us the structure of the story, which, in his opinion, will be the most successful in sales.

structure of the story

I already mentioned the first component. Before you start creating your story, you need to be clear about what you want to achieve. At the same time, you should answer the question: What do you want the audience to think, feel, or do as a result of hearing your story? Once you have defined the objective, you can now go directly to the writing structure. The author suggests two ways to apply this structure.

The first way is to answer the following questions, which correspond to a specific step of the structure.

  • Transition in: Why should I listen to this story?
  • Context:
  1. When and where does the story take place?
  2. Who is the main character (or hero) and what do they want?
  • Challenge: What was the problem or opportunity they ran into?
  • Conflict: What did they do about it?
  • Resolution: How did it turn out in the end?
  • Lesson: What did you learn from it?
  • Recommended action: What do you think I should do?

The second way is to use a story spine for the structure.

  • Transition in: “I think the best example I’ve seen of that was …”
  • Context: “Back in…, at …, there was …, and they were trying to …”
  • Challenge: “Then, one day …”
  • Conflict: “So they …, and then …, and so they …”
  • Resolution: “Eventually …”
  • Lesson: “What I learned from that was …”
  • Recommended action: “And that’s why I think you should …”

Let’s take a closer look at each element of the proposed structure:


The hook is a single phrase or sentence that makes it clear to the audience why you are sharing this story. The hook is interesting, and it serves as a way for you to jump into your story. Remember that you have to start with your client, you can prepare several stories in advance, but which one to choose, only your client will help you here. Based on the conversation with him, from his problem, from his desires, you will be able to determine your correct story and smoothly move to it in the course of the conversation. 

Paul Smith also lists ways to avoid going into your story. Don’t:

  1. apologize for telling your story.
  2. ask permission to tell your story.
  3. even tell your audience you’re going to tell them a story.
  4. introduce the story by giving away too many of the details, or the ending, or even the specific lesson.

Context helps your clients understand whether the story will be relevant to them and their situation. Here are the questions that the context should answer:

WHERE AND WHEN. – for authenticity and curiosity satisfaction.

WHO THE MAIN CHARACTER IS. The main character must identify with your potential client.

WHAT THE MAIN CHARACTER WANTS. The goal should be worthy and interesting for the audience.

OTHER BACKGROUND FOR THE STORY TO MAKE SENSE. The additional background should explain the character’s motivations or reactions to what is happening to them.


A challenge is the part of the story where the hero first encounters a challenge or opportunity. Without a challenge, nothing interesting will ever happen. This part of the story should not be long.


Conflict is when the hero fights the villain. The audience needs to see the fight, that’s what they’re waiting for, don’t make it easy for the main character. 


The resolution is the part that explains why everything happened and what happened in the end.


The main body is finished, but your work is not done yet. After you’ve told the story, you should:


The main thing here is that not only you but also your audience can understand how to relate to this situation, otherwise they may draw the wrong conclusions. As a result, it’s usually helpful to clarify what you think this lesson should be.


The recommendations are not always necessary, but if it fits smoothly into your conversation with a potential buyer, you can use this feature.

The author also advises JUST LISTEN to your client. Let him speak.

It is not enough just to use the structure. You need to add extra elements for the story to work and work successfully. The story should evoke emotions. Buyers make a purchase decision not only based on logic but also based on their feelings. Paul Smith describes some techniques for this.

Story Should Evoke Emotions

  • Technique #1: Tell Me. This is the first of a good-better-best set of three emotional delivery vehicles. The easiest method is to simply tell your audience how your main characters feel.
  • Technique #2: Show Me. You can show your audience how the characters feel.
  • Technique #3: Make Me Feel. This position allows the audience to experience the same emotions as the characters, discovering the same emotional information, just like in the story.
  • Technique #4: Let the Audience Get to Know Your Main Characters. If your audience doesn’t know anything about the characters, it’s hard for them to think about what’s going on with those characters.
  • Technique #5: Use Dialogue. Let the audience hear what the characters are feeling.

But there are some dangers when using emotions in your stories.

  • Be Aware of the Intimacy Threshold
  • Avoid Improper Emotional Manipulation

Like emotions, the element of surprise is also important in the story, thanks to this element, it becomes more effective and it is better remembered. You can create a surprise at the beginning of your story. There are two ways to do this:

  1. For parallel plot lines, lead with the most unexpected. 
  2. Flashback. 

If you want the unexpected moment to be in the middle of the story, you can skip one element of the context and let your audience figure it out on their own. Thanks to this method, the story will become mysterious and the listener will be interested in solving it.

To make the end of the story sound sudden, then move one key piece of information from the context to the end. 

Paul Smith advises you to use dialogs in your stories and describe additional details. When you quote people in stories, you share what they think and feel. As a result, dialogue provides much of the emotional content of your stories. There are two types of dialog: outer and inner. Outer dialogue is when the narrator tells you what the characters actually said. The inner dialogue (or internal monologue) reveals the unspoken thoughts of the characters. Using details makes your story more creditable and authentic. The main condition is that the details must relate to your story.

How long should a good story be? The author answers this question based on a survey of sellers. He recommends a range of one to three minutes. But in any case, you should determine the ideal length based on the specific situation. So it’s good to have short, medium, and long versions of your most common stories, and to be able to jump from one version to the next at the last moment, or even in the middle of the story.

The best way to deliver your story is oral. You have direct contact with the person and can influence them more. But there are also written delivery methods. Author’s advice: write as you would like to speak. They should sound like a normal conversation. 

It is important to use the data in your stories, as well as the details, which gives more credibility. The author offers 2 most useful methods of storytelling with data:

“HOW WE GOT HERE” STORY. This method works by navigating the audience through the data in chronological order, illustrating how you came to the situation you are in now.

THE DISCOVERY JOURNEY STORY. The second method works by guiding the audience through your personal path of discovery as you conducted your analysis that led you to your conclusion.

And, of course, Paul Smith raises the question of the truth of the facts in your story, how true it should be. You can completely make up your story, but as mentioned above, you should warn your audience about this, so as not to lose their trust. And if the story is true, but you embellish some facts or they are not quite accurate, what then? In this case, the author distinguishes two approaches: being too aggressive and being too cautious.

If you are too aggressive, that is, you exaggerate your facts and deviate far from the real course of events, then there is a chance that you will mislead your audience and thereby lose their trust. The BEING TOO AGGRESSIVE approach depends on three criteria: Audience expectations, Intentionality of the embellishment and What’s getting changed.

Paul Smith offers solutions to these issues.

  • Set Expectations Up Front. Give your audience some idea of how true the facts they should expect from your story are. If you say, “I have a vague recollection from my childhood about . . . ,” they’ll expect something much less accurate. You can use phrases like “I’ve heard that . . .” or “Company legend has it . . .” or “A guy once told me . . .”
  • Litmus Tests for Accuracy. Imagine that you just discovered that someone who was listening to the story you told was actually there when the story originally happened. Then ask yourself these two questions: (1) Would they be offended? (2) Would you be embarrassed? If you answer ” yes ” to any of these questions, you’ve probably changed too much. If not, that’s fine.
  • What Not to Change. Hard points (don’t change): Essence of the story, Event or situation (although you could mask details to protect anonymity), People (although you could omit names to protect anonymity), Obstacle (the challenge), Process used to overcome (not all the details of the conflict, just the overall approach you took), Resolution, Lesson learned.
  • Soft points (more leeway): Time or location, Names and descriptions of people Puffery (exaggeration so big it’s obviously fake), Resequencing events, Quotes, and dialogue

Paul Smith advises treating your sales stories as the valuable asset they are. Once you find your stories and create them, create their database.

Paul Smith, in addition to describing the structure of a good story and the various techniques for developing your storytelling skills, also provides a lot of examples in his book Sell with a story. How to capture attention, build trust, and close the sale that help you most clearly see the proposed versions of stories. At the end of the book, there are several applications with extra materials: 25 stories salespeople need, Selling story roadmap, Story structure template, List of sales stories. All of these materials will help you start your journey in storytelling. The author gives his permission to make copies, electronic copies are available for download

If you enjoyed this book, I recommend to read Art of Storytelling. You can read more marketing, management and sales Book Reviews in the special section of the website.