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How to Sell with Storytelling

Written by:

Sean McAlindin, a business and arts writer, has a decade-long experience in music and culture journalism and recently ventured into business writing.

Edited by:

Sallie, holding a Ph.D. from Walden University, is an experienced writing coach and editor with a background in marketing. She has served roles in corporate communications and taught at institutions like the University of Florida.

How to Sell with Storytelling

How to Sell with Storytelling

When it comes to making a sale, how you tell your story is everything. 

No matter the quality of your product or the reputation of your brand, if you want potential customers to pay attention, you have to connect with them on a human level. Storytelling has always been one of the best ways to do this. 

But what really goes into telling a good story? As an English teacher turned business writer, I can tell you.
While it may seem great stories are woven out of magic mist, there are tried-and-true narrative structures you can follow to help make any sales pitch resonate with your target audience. 

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover the best storytelling structures to apply to your sales pitches, alongside real-world examples to help you apply them. Before long, you’ll have prospects hanging on your every word as you deliver them to the climax of a sale on the strength of your storyline.

Key Takeaways

  • Meaningful storytelling can engage your audience and make your sales pitch more memorable, leading to increased conversions and customer loyalty.

  • There are several popular storytelling structures for sales, including the hero’s journey, the three-act structure, and in media res.

Benefits of Storytelling in Sales

If you’re new to sales, you may think that all you have to do is show off your amazing product to potential customers, and the sales will start coming in, right? Well, I’ve got news for you. Unless you’re the only company selling something in the entire world, your competition is going to have something to say about that. 

That’s where great storytelling can set you apart from the crowd. It helps you capture your audience’s attention and engage them with your content, generating interest in your product while creating a special feeling, or persona, associated with your brand. 

Science has shown that storytelling makes your branding content more memorable. In fact, chemicals like cortisol, dopamine, and oxytocin are released in the human brain when we’re told a story. Those chemicals help us retain information, make emotional connections, and experience genuine empathy with others.

Most people remember 5-10% of information presented as statistics or facts. Using a story with characters, descriptions, and emotions increases retention by up to 75%. (London School of Business)

Stories are more reliable than simple claims. They provide real-world evidence of how your product is changing lives. Rather than rattling off meaningless lists of statistics, stories present your data and track record in a relatable way. They help to earn your prospect’s trust by providing entertainment, purpose, and vision, all wrapped up in a shiny, captivating package. 

If people love a brand story, 55% are more likely to buy the product in the future, 44% will share the story, and 15% will buy the product immediately. (Headstream)

Narrative Structures For Sales Pitches

Real-life success stories, origin tales, and customer testimonials are all popular stories sales and marketing professionals love to tell. But how can we truly bring these narratives to life?

To help understand how to apply storytelling techniques to sales, we’re going to look at some of the most popular and effective narrative structures of all time. Each of these narrative structures offers a unique way to engage audiences and convey brand messages effectively. 

Depending on the context and goals of your sales strategy, you can choose the structure that aligns best with your marketing message and target audience. Just remember, a good story should always be entertaining, educational, personal, and memorable. 

1. The hero’s journey

In his 1949 book, “A Hero with a Thousand Faces,” anthropologist Joseph Campbell looked at common storytelling structures found throughout cultures. He summarized his findings into a universal monomyth, called the hero’s journey, which he described as follows: 

A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder. Fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won. The hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.

Sounds pretty cool, right? What visionary entrepreneur or savvy consumer wouldn’t want to partake in such a life-changing journey? But how do you realistically apply this to your sales pitch?

The hero’s journey, also known as a quest narrative, is about delving into the deepest recesses of our souls to uncover what we fear and what we desire. It reveals our weaknesses and our ability to overcome them. What challenges can you help your client overcome? Through your mentorship, they may be able to unlock their hidden potential and conquer the demons holding them back. 

Keep in mind – the hero of the sales story is the customer. Too many salespeople try to position themselves or their product as the hero. However, in this narrative, you should always focus the story around the customer. Then, it’s up to you to meet them at the crossroads and reveal the solution that helps them conquer their challenges.

2. Three-act structure

This is a classic narrative structure used in many stories, including movies and plays throughout history. It consists of three main parts: setup, confrontation, and resolution. Each part has its own arc and contributes to the overall progression of the storyline. 

Act 1: Setup – The hook

In the first act, we cast a spotlight on the stage of your customer’s world. We don’t just describe it; we bring it to life. It’s where you reintroduce your audience to their everyday challenges and dilemmas. This is your chance to forge an instant connection with your prospect by painting a vivid picture of their world as it is now. Imagine their nod of recognition as they think, “They get it.” 

Act 2: Conflict – Raise the stakes

Now, we crank up the tension. The second act is where the plot thickens, conflicts arise, and your customer’s world becomes a whirlwind of obstacles. As the storyteller brings to life the prospect’s pain points and business challenges, the frustration mounts, and the audience is left on the edge of their seats, hanging on for a solution. 

This is the emotional heart of your pitch. By amplifying the conflict, you create a sense of urgency and need for a solution. It’s where you make them realize that something must change.

Act 3: Resolution – Save the day

Finally, the climax. This is where your product or service comes along to help the hero conquer their fears. You showcase how it sweeps away the challenges, resolves your customer’s conflict, and shines the path to a better future. This is the moment of transformation and hope that leaves them thinking, “I need this now!”

By structuring your sales pitch using the three-act framework, you take your customers on a journey from their current problems to a brighter, solution-filled future. Your sales pitch becomes more than just a presentation; it’s a blockbuster, a rollercoaster ride of emotions and anticipation. And, you don’t simply sell a product – you sell the rewarding experience of an emotional customer journey

3. In media res

If you want to grab your audience’s attention right away, having an engaging introduction is paramount. One great way to do this is to start your story “in media res.” 

In media res, or “in the midst of things,” is a storytelling technique that plunges your audience into the heart of the story from the get-go. This structure starts the story in the middle of the action or at a critical moment and then later provides context and explanation through flashbacks or exposition. It immediately engages the audience and creates intrigue that draws them in, forming questions in their mind that they’ll want answers to. 

With this storytelling tactic, there’s no more wading through introductory pleasantries. Instead, you’re diving into the main problem head-on, then showcasing your product as the dynamic solution that makes all the difference. It’s the kind of storytelling that doesn’t give your audience a chance to look away.

“In media res” doesn’t just save time – it energizes your pitch. It’s like starting a movie with a thrilling action sequence, making your audience crave more. Try it as a new way to lead into product testimonials and customer success stories. The trick is beginning at the climax, before circling back to the explanation.

Episodic Structure

In this approach, the story is divided into distinct episodes or chapters, each with its own mini-arc. This structure is common in TV shows, where each episode can stand alone while contributing to an overarching narrative. While this technique doesn’t make much sense for one-time sales pitches, it can be extremely effective for longer marketing campaigns.

A recent example of memorable episodic storytelling in branding and marketing is Kate Spade’s #missadventure series starring Anna Kendrick. Once you watch one, you need to see them all. And it even makes a regular guy like me start to really dig Kate Spade. 

Parallel Narrative

A surefire way to demonstrate the effectiveness of your product or service is to make direct comparisons to something the audience already knows. One effective storytelling technique for this is the parallel narrative

This structure involves interweaving two or more separate storylines that may be related thematically or by characters. It offers different perspectives on how to handle a situation leading to clear revelations about the best path to choose. 

To incorporate this into your sales pitch, tell the story of a customer who worked with a competitor, and then another who used your product. Then, guess which story ends up better than the other.

A Brief Example of Sales Storytelling

Hey, Noah, it’s Marissa from Network Solutions.

Hey, Marissa, how are you?

Good! Do you have a moment or two to talk about improving your business?

Sure. What you got?

You know that feeling when you’re getting ready for a productive meeting and some technology glitch stops you in your tracks? Soon, an hour has passed and you’re no closer to coming up with a solution. Now, you’re really sweating and frustrated as hell. You end up having to call in your IT person and before you know it half the day is gone. (In media res.)

I’ve been there. 

I figured you had. That’s why I thought you might like to hear about our new service package.

If you have a cure for that, go ahead!

If you listen to me, I can guarantee these types of issues are going to be a thing of the past. Our new package includes a thorough analysis of your business systems. Then, we design a customized solution that meets all your technology needs. All you have to do is give me ten minutes of your time to tell you about how this process works. What do you think? (Hero’s journey)

I’m listening. Tell me more. 

It’s Time To Start Storyselling!

See how easy it is! Now that you know some of the best methods for telling stories that make sales, it’s time to start crafting your own marketing narratives. While we’ve covered the most popular structures to use, the possibilities for storytelling are truly endless. 

Be creative, and remember the goal is to make a human connection with your audience that draws them closer to what you’re selling. Above all – it’s emotions, not logic, that drive most sales, so make your story resonate on a personal, human level. 

Good luck and happy storyselling!


Are there any ethical considerations when using storytelling in sales?

Be transparent and truthful in your storytelling. Avoid exaggerations or false claims. Stories should enhance understanding, not mislead or manipulate. 

Authenticity in sales pitches is paramount. Most customers can easily spot insincerity. Be genuine and share real stories that align with your brand and values to build trust and credibility.

Can storytelling be used effectively in short sales interactions, like elevator pitches or email marketing?

Even in brief interactions, storytelling can make a difference. Condense your stories to fit the time or space available while still conveying a compelling message and emotional connection. If told with skill and gravitas, a short story can do wonders to capture an audience’s imagination. 

What do you do if a customer doesn't seem interested in your story during a sales pitch?

Pay attention to their reactions and adjust your approach. If they’re not engaged, consider whether the story is relevant to their needs. You can also ask questions to involve them in the storytelling process. Always have a Plan B to move on to if you need to abort the program. 

Are there cultural considerations when using storytelling in sales?

Cultural sensitivity is vital when it comes to sales and storytelling. Stories should align with the values and norms of your target audience. Avoid cultural references that could be misunderstood or offensive. Think about how you’re selling to and design your story accordingly. Whatever you do, avoid coming off as rude, demeaning, or disrespectful.

Is there a recommended length for a sales story, or can it vary widely?

Story length can vary based on context. In a brief sales interaction, keep it concise. In longer presentations or content, you have more room to develop the story, but always aim to maintain engagement throughout all parts of the narrative. 

Are there any common mistakes to avoid when using storytelling in sales?

One common mistake is making the story too self-centered. Ensure the story revolves around the customer and their needs. Avoid using jargon or overly complex narratives that may confuse or disengage your audience. Remember, a story is a tool to make a sale. Use it wisely and you’ll reap the benefits. 

Can storytelling work in industries that traditionally rely on data-driven or technical sales approaches?

Storytelling can be a fantastic complement to data-driven approaches. Use stories to humanize the statistics, providing context and emotional resonance. It can help decision-makers understand the real-world impact of your solution beyond simple numbers.