Selling With Stories

This is certainly not the first time I’ve written about using stories in business and it certainly won’t be the last.

Desk and chair of Sugar Maple and Paduak, Dan Dunbar AP Woodworking

I’ve been spreading the message of employing personal stories in marketing and selling for over fifteen years now and it’s incredibly encouraging to see how this concept routinely accepted these days. It wasn’t always the case.

I remember participants in speaking events actually recoiling at the notion that I suggest they share something personal in their marketing materials. There was a time when people didn’t share with the world what they just had for lunch – I know, hard to believe, but true.

Now, some may suggest that social media sharing has opened the world up to a new level of personal storytelling and some might suggest that perhaps we are sharing “too much information”, but either way, the power of a relevant story to help educate, connect and yes, sell, is undeniable.

I want to share a recent story about how a story moved me to act.

My wife and I were attending a local art fair in our neighborhood. I first must share that I have a fondness for woodworking and am often drawn to booths of the makers of wooden furniture, bowls, train sets, etc.

On this incredibly splendid first day of Fall I found myself in the booth of a Wisconsin woodworker named Dan Dunbar. I was admiring a simple writing desk and chair for both its beauty and incredible functionality.

As a writer I’ve found that I have to be sitting in precisely the right spot to get much done. I can’t lounge around on the couch or sit at the kitchen table, I have to be very intentional about where I write in order to be productive.

I admired this writing desk for its decidedly analog feel. I also picked up the style and engineering of the well known Japanese-American woodworker George Nakashima. Years ago I purchased his book, The Soul of a Tree, and have admired his signature look ever since.

As I studied the desk, the artist approached me and started to tell me a little about the joinery, design approach and types of woods he used (Sugar Maple and Paduak.)

But, it was what he shared next that made me need this desk.

He told me about this maple tree he had admired on many walks in a nearby wood and how he noticed a few years back that it had developed a disease and was rotting. He saw the rot was worsening so he felled the tree before it rotted completely out.

When he cut clean across he learned by the tight rings that the tree had struggled its entire life for light, growing slowly, but for 360 years the tree had grown thick and with intention.

He had cut this desk and chair from the tree and allowed the material to guide him in finding both its form and its function. He showed me how the piece held itself together and how each separate components cooperated in making a useful object that could be art.

By the time he finished telling his story I felt as though I knew this desk, that I had met the original tree on one of my many treks in the woods and that I connected with the intention and purpose of the artist so thoroughly that I had to acquire this piece. Price, while always a factor, was no longer a constraint. Don’s story sold me a piece of art.

One of the most important elements of this telling is to also understand the role of the story I (the prospect) was telling myself. Dan did not know I was a writer, he did not know I admired Nakashima, he did not know that I enjoy spending time in nature, but he told me a story about himself and his craft and allowed my inner story to do the rest.

So, what’s your story? How can you use stories to bring seemingly inanimate objects to life? How can you use your story to help others build stories? How can your stories help clients connect?

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John Jantsch

John Jantsch is a marketing consultant, speaker and author of Duct Tape Marketing, Duct Tape Selling, The Commitment Engine and The Referral Engine and the founder of the Duct Tape Marketing Consultant Network.
  • Tech Corp Legal LLP

    Nicely written. Desk and chair look awesome :)

  • MobileMojo

    Interesting story. I’m rather curious about the sturdiness of the chair – from the photo it looks like the seat doesn’t have much support apart from the clamp like protrusions from the backrest. Will it hold a grown man’s weight?

    • ducttape

      That’s part of the magic of the design – this cantilever joint in maple will hold 500 #s or more.

  • Steve

    Great example John! Thanks for the encouragement and insight.

  • Dallon Christensen

    That desk and chair are really well done, and the story was great. Even though I was sure where the story was going (you buying the desk and chair), I kept reading because I wanted to hear more about the tree. I know I’m too analytical and focused on the bottom line. I need to create these stories about my clients and me even though I sell things that are decidedly “right-brain”.

    Even if this desk and chair aren’t functional, it’s a great office piece to get your creative juices going!

    • ducttape

      Thanks Dallon – there is certainly more to the tree story and to carry this through you would have photos of the tree and the forest and maybe even the rotting part as you felled it – you could make a great movie out of this story! I just gave you the trailer I guess.

  • Lawrence Blumberg

    Very cool story! Just yesterday while shopping for my favorite peanut butter at Trader Joe’s, I was told they pulled it from shelves due to salmonella in some areas. My dismay was obvious, and the crew member who informed me saw that and made an alternative suggestion.
    The kicker was that he recommended if I was to eat this alternative (as he was also a fan of the former), I should also get these Portuguese orange wood toothpicks to complete the ‘experience’. What he didn’t know was that I have been looking for quality picks and his personal story about originally using them while living in Brazil instantly made me a believer in his recommendations.

    If he had advised me on his NFL picks for the week I probably would have believed those as well! Good storytelling can move continents.

  • SalesPortal

    The story makes all the difference, It is what connects your product to your consumer in a real and tangible well. It makes your product part of their life.

  • Pam Christie

    Thanks for sharing this John! We are looking to better position what we offer with stories and this really spelled out how important it is to connect with people for more than just a “sale”. We have always known this – it is a matter of WHAT to convey to create feelings that trigger us working together. Come from the heart of course!!

  • Jay Paterson

    ” He allowed my inner story to do the rest!” A few Keys here, First, YOU WERE LISTENING…, really listening about the story, second, he paid attention to what was true, third, by sharing the story and your experience, and the photo , you are creating wisdom for everyone. Thanks

  • Dan Dunbar

    Thanks, John, for posting this. I’m touched you would take the time to tell my story. I’ve been designing furniture for 15 years, then lugging pieces around the country, hoping someone will value them as much as I do. They are like my kids. I’m glad this desk found a home with you.

    • ducttape

      You bet Dan – really enjoying and valuing your craft!