Once upon a time…

For quite some time I was selling Customer Centric Selling as the secret to all that ails a sales organization. I was completely bought in and it caught me by surprise me when I began to see the limitations. I started to think there was something broader out there that wasn’t being tapped; a way to reach people more effectively and deliver information better. My questions opened my mind to new things, including the hidden power of story.

Once upon a time…

My first lesson was that we all connect through stories.  Then, it was like Pandora’s box; the more I studied story, the more I realized it was even bigger than I had originally thought. And it was more than connecting with people.  I started to then learn about the affects of story on the mind, and I launched into learning about our brains and internal systems.

At one point it hit me: I had a new understanding of what motivates us to trust, to change, to move, and to act.  We had it wrong all these years.  Its not a linear, serial, problem-solving process. That stuff doesn’t move people…it never has and never will. Likewise, it is not about solving problems as we thought with our old sales methodologies (and even after all these years, that’s what everyone is still talking about). It is the deeper parts of our brains that activate our behaviors and motivate us to change.

Looking in the mirror

And there are so many things that stand in the way of that–as I found in my own journey; things that stand in the way that make this stuff so difficult. Self awareness, reflection, emotional intelligence, empathy are tough things and nobody was talking these obstacles.  I hit a brick wall myself, because I could talk about story, but couldn’t authentically tell any from my heart. I could talk about emotional connection but couldn’t connect as seemingly easy as the people that made it look so effortless. I had to learn this stuff from the inside out myself.  It almost felt like I had to start my life over.  And it has been exhilarating since.

Now, after doing this for more than 4 years, the deeper I get into this work the more people ask me what I do. I don’t have a good answer for them.  Some say sales training, some say leadership training, some say we help people connect with each other, and still others say it’s organization development training, marketing, etc. I just know this: The more we immerse ourselves in story, the more it requires self reflection and permission to look within and be imperfect/authentic. The more we do that the more courage we produce. The more courage we have to call on, the more we put ourselves out there and affect change. The more we do that, the more we listen, and the more we listen, the more we thrive.

Around the campfire

Cultures with and without written language used story as way to preserve culture and instill values in their children. Think of Abe Lincoln as one of America’s greatest users of story. More recently we had Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford commencement address, which begins, “Today, I want to tell you three stories from my life. That’s it. No big deal. Just three stories.” His simple use of story has been viewed 15,000,000 times. People connect with story and people are moved to act by story.

I get reminded all of the time. I found out why my daughter hates history. I went to the school and asked the teacher, and she showed me the PowerPoint slides used to teach. I could hardly believe it. I didn’t learn history the way my daughter has been taught. I learned by hearing the rich stories about interesting people. I loved history and I understood why my daughter didn’t.

Story is now part of my personal…story. I encourage you to look further and see where story can change the way you relate to others and help you to find success.

That’s my story.



Categories: Selling, Story

Author:Ben Zoldan

Demystifying what the most inspiring people do to influence change, Co-founder, Story Leaders and Co-author, What Great Salespeople Do: The Science of Selling Through Emotional Connection and the Power of Story

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One Comment on “Once upon a time…”

  1. June 14, 2012 at 7:15 pm #

    Ben, I’m familiar with Customer Centric Selling and some of the other sales training programs on the market. The challenge with creation of a ‘system’ for doing something is that it quickly moves to drudgery. In a past life, we left training armed with prompters, role play guides, and other reinforcements. Within weeks, the new ways got stale and disappeared because people weren’t fundamentally changed by what they were taught. Organizations have only so much ability to make people do things they don’t want to do and we were no different. Within a few months, the behavior of the sales staff reverted to its pre-training ways. Worse, if a better idea came up, cynicism had taken root over the previous experience and acted as a barrier to anything new.

    The story concept, on the other hand, has me intrigued. I think back to my own education and each of my favorite teachers had a way to make things interesting that made class pass quickly and the information stay in my mind. I had my best teacher ever in college; a retired Marine who told such rich stories of the US Civil War that at the end of the class, he would pause for five seconds while not a sounds was heard from the 100’s in attendance. He finished with, “Go gently” and the room would breath a collective breath as we realized the class was over and the spell was broken. He helped me to love history even more than before, a passion that has stayed with me all of my life.

    Great, thoughtful ideas, Ben.

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