The educational community has been buzzing lately with research on how story-based learning improves learning outcomes because the human brain can better categorize and retain information delivered in story format. #duh! If Math had been presented as a dramatic three-part mini-series I could have become a rocket scientist!

Career paths aside, I did get enough education to know that where there’s good brain research on teaching something to kids, it can be applied just as effectively to pitching something to sales prospects. Let’s see if we can apply that story-telling business to our craft.

When you sell technology, particularly one that is abstract or difficult to explain, you are probably used to seeing glazed over eyes looking back at you. Here’s a typical technology presentation talk track:

Drop out rates are holding steady at 7%. There are key indicators your district can measure to flag students as they become a drop out risk. Here’s how our science works.   We ingest data from your SIS and using research-based algorithms and custom indicators you are concerned about and run analytics that will produce reports for students at risk.

Ok, for someone immersed in the data science behind drop out risks, they might be following you. For the typical school or district administrator, they might be more engaged by a sales “story board” that sounds more like this:

I want to tell you about Michaela Green. She was raised in a single-parent household and moved 4 times before the 2nd grade. That year, she missed 28 days of school. In the 3rd grade she started to get into trouble with her classmates, including 3 visits to the principal’s office for fighting at school. In the 6th grade, she failed a class for the first time, English. In 7th grade, she failed her Math and English class and was retained. At age 16, in only the 9th grade, she dropped out of high school. Today, instead of a college senior, Michaela is uneducated, underemployed, and has few prospects. Had we been looking at the data correctly we could have intervened in elementary school to put resources around Michaela that may have changed what researches today tell us was practically inevitable given her behavior, attendance, and performance.

See the difference? Telling a story around a student is just one way to used story-based learning techniques in sales. You can also do a “day in the life” story about a teacher or a group of school district employees. You can feature the pain point of each different stakeholder in that conversation:

Mary was struggling with reading so Mr. Franklin used our widget to communicate his concerns with Mrs. Juarez her teacher who used our widget to get Mary to try xyz. Bob Jones, the principal used our widget to notice that it wasn’t just Mary but 15 different 2nd graders that were struggling with the same concept and then he organized a PLC…

Story-based learning is just a structure to organize the information in your presentation around characters the prospect can visualize. They may start seeing their own face or that of a particular teacher or student as one of the characters in the story. It’s how our brains are wired to accept information best, and also to retain information best, therefore giving you the best chance they’ll repeat the sales pitch to their colleagues. I’d tell you a story about a rep that tried it and was successful but that’s just too obvious at this point. Try it yourself and let me know your story!

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