In a great passage from one of my favorite Michael Chabon novels, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, the two main characters are hashing out the profile of a new super hero they are developing for a comic book series.  It’s a funny litany of all kinds of ridiculous ideas for powers.  Ultimately Sam tells Joe it’s not so much the powers but the backstory that will make the character successful.  He explains that Batman is the best of all comic book heroes because of his backstory. Superman and the host of other good guys imbued with superhuman powers, are compelled to do good works simply by virtue of their special gifts.  But Batman is only a man.  His creators gave him a backstory—a dark one—which allows readers to understand the relatable “why” behind his compulsion to fight crime.  Sam’s right.  Knowing the “why” helps you connect to the “what.”

This important story telling advice also works in sales.  Last week I was treated to the rare occasion of seeing a pair of sales reps conduct a practice run through of a sales presentation for a product I was not familiar with.  What a terrific opportunity for learning what a prospect will find compelling.  You get to step into the customer’s shoes and see how the rep builds a case for implementing their product.  You find out what words you remember most a few hours or a few days later. 

I was able to most clearly recall the “why” statements best.  These were successful combinations of an explanation of a feature and then the reason for why the program creators designed that feature.  Often those backstories included anecdotes about how it felt to be a teacher, student or parent using that feature. 

There are other ways to present “why” in your sales pitch.  In introducing your business, be sure to include why the company or product was established.  Don’t leave it to the typical, “to improve student outcomes” language.  Tell the lightning bolt moment when the product was known to work and how it made the developers feel.  When you share a customer success case study, likewise begin with the problem that client had before, and how it was making different stakeholders feel.  What has changed that surprised them and perhaps surprised you the provider?

Honing the best “why” stories to include takes real work.  I’m not a big fan of the typical education rep story where they discuss their own experiences learning and how their product could have helped them.  I think those turn the camera lens on the person already talking and away from what should be the star of the show which is the product.  Try to find stories that highlight real customer experiences from using your product and instances where the product was designed or enhanced around the results of its use in the classroom.  I feel telling third party stories allows you to bond with your audience as you explore the program’s wonders together.

For a good sales training exercise, watch one of your fellow reps do a sales presentation and 24 hours later, try to write down all the specific quotes you remember.  I’ll wager it will be those “why” moments that will stand out in your mind.  Make sure your prospects have plenty of “why” moments to remember from your presentations!

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