The classic story of the business teetering on closing its doors until it is miraculously saved by a last minute sale is heartwarming but misleading. The eleventh hour invoice did not save it. The momentum created by the sale made the difference. The business saw failure, rebounded, and now believed. That story gave hope!
Business stories are essential from the board room to the sales field to the shop floor. Commerce works because of communication. And, communication works best with understanding. Stories facilitate understanding. Whether key points connect through feeling or logic the resultant clarity of purpose drives results. Simply put, story inspires progress.
Stories contribute to business success by creating common binds. Effective sales involve solving problems that are not necessarily tangible. For example, an accountant does not purely sell financial reports, he sells peace of mind through documented financial accountability. With peace of mind, ownership can focus on the ongoing health of the company. The business leader has purchased a sense of relief as a result of accurate financial reporting, therefore freeing him to focus on other business priorities.
Consider that the business unit that routinely rallies around serving customers benefits from those experiences. A department that pulls an all-nighter to meet a client’s crucial deadline will wear that victory as a badge of honor. The next time an unreasonable request happens, they return to that story to perform a miracle for the next customer. The pure emotion of outperforming expectations together becomes the foundation of sustained growth. The accomplishments become contagious as long as the story is told in a positive manner.
While businesses benefit by reflecting on their ability to slay monsters from the marketplace, the emotional reservoir goes dry if they draw from it too often. However, the value reservoir replenishes itself. Value can be expressed in a lesson or through monetary resources. Through story, a founder can reinforce the culture which can be a genuine competitive advantage. Whenever Apple conjures its inner Steve Jobs, they draw from their culture of delivering incredibly cool and functional products to raving fans. These products are never found on a clearance table.
A story’s value can drive an organization toward better decision making resulting in long-term benefit. When Starbucks closed its doors a few years ago for a day to retrain their baristas, the coffee icon made a clear statement that their customers’ experience was exceptionally valuable. Undoubtedly the baristas improved their skill and consistency in delivering exceptional coffee. More importantly, Starbuck’s customers and the marketplace received a clear message that their superior price point was going to be matched by a superior product with a superior experience.
The purpose of story resides in effective communication. Yet, it is too easy to place story into the marketing box. While communication is a marketing responsibility, the marketplace is more interested in operations. Is the seller delivering on their promises? Has the customer been incented to tell the marketplace a story in support of the recent experience? The purpose of story is to sound the rallying cry of superior performance. Customers, partners, stakeholders can sing praises, or deliver a death blow. In every interaction, give them a reason to tell the story about their awesome experience.
By Glenn W Hunter
Principal of Hunter And Beyond