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Here in the Twin Cities, (and I imagine in several other markets), auto manufacturer Volvo is running some very interesting radio ads. In one 60-second spot, someone relates a humorous story about Internet dating. Just when the quirky story builds to describe the first-time meeting between two people who have so far only chatted online, the voice trails off. The announcer then comes on and says that the best thing about a good story is you want to know how it ends. The announcer then directs the listener to visit the local Volvo dealer website to hear the rest of the story.

I contrasted this form of advertising to the way real estate firms market and sell their services. We tend to throw everything against the wall and see what sticks. Some of us continue to believe that the thickest RFP response will win the business. We all know that most of the information in responses to RFPs is neither interesting nor compelling. Statistics are dull, case studies are trite, and fluff is, well, fluff.

But how do you put your clients and prospects on the edge of their seat during your presentation? How do you leave them wanting more? How do you leave spaces in your written proposals for them to imagine and develop their own conclusions? Here are some thoughts:

How many times have you been at a cocktail reception and noticed a small group gathered around someone relating a fascinating story? What is it about the speaker that gets others to stop and focus? I contend that it’s not the speaker but the universality of the message. More often than not, the story is either one in which you a) can picture yourself or b) find yourself emotionally engaged. The trick for service providers is to find stories that both grab the client’s attention and strike an emotional chord.

If you are a good storyteller, you’ve likely heard someone say, “Tell the one about….” A good story has a life of its own and never gets stale. On the other hand, case studies have to be refreshed and updated regularly. Stories become legend, and the same story can be told by many different people with unique and interesting results. This industry needs more case stories and fewer case studies.

When someone tells a story, you are likely visualizing the story in your head. If the story has gaps, you may not realize it but your mind naturally fills them in for continuity. If the story is missing an ending, you will provide one or mentally play out several different scenarios. This is all part of the way humans think and communicate. This is also why we’re sometimes disappointed with Hollywood movie endings. Similarly, service providers often overanalyze their prospective clients’ needs and provide an ending when they should have provided the alternatives and let the client create their own ending.

By the way, I was disappointed in the conclusions to the Volvo stories on the web. Most of the ads had an anti-climactic finish and none of them tied back in any way to the actual product. I closed my browser thinking Volvo came very close to something revolutionary and fell short. But, if nothing else, they did encourage me to bring more storytelling into the business-development process. I’ll be doing it. So, what’s your story?

Vik Bangia is managing director, strategic services for the corporate solutions group of United Properties in Minneapolis. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own.

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