The business of telling stories (and how to do it)

If you’re in the business of marketing or selling products, then you’re also in the business of telling stories.

Investor and entrepreneur Ben Horowitz once said, “You can have a great product, but a compelling story puts the company into motion.”

As marketers and sellers, we put the product story to work every day. We use it to forge connections with prospects. We rely on it explain why our product matters. And we leverage it to grow our share of today’s scarcest resource, attention.

Stories are powerful. Studies have shown the profound impact that stories have on our brain. Stories not only engage us emotionally but also help build trust and even inspire action. Indeed, B2B buyers are nearly 50% more likely to purchase when they see personal value in a product.

When we rewrote our sales deck earlier this year, we did so by putting our story – not our features – first. And the results we saw confirmed the power of storytelling to drive business outcomes.  

But, if you’re not sure what it means to tell your product story, this is easier said than done. Don’t worry, though – we’ve got you covered.

5 steps to telling an effective product story

1. Ditch the list of features and the features matrix.

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Prospects don’t care about your product. While your product might be technically impressive, simply calling out your features doesn’t tell prospects why they should pick your product.

We’ve all seen feature matrices like the one below. You find them in product overviews, in sales decks, and even in reports and white papers. Look at it for a minute.

example feature matrix - product story

How does this feature matrix make you feel? Excited to jump into the product? Probably not.

And that’s exactly the point.

A feature matrix shuts down rather than invites conversation. It overwhelms prospects with details about your product without providing any real clues as to the value they might get out of it. And relying on prospects to figure out why your product matters rarely wins you the deal.

2. Put your product story in context.

All great product stories start with context. In order to grab and hold prospects’ attention, you need to establish what’s at stake. You need to show prospects that you intimately understand their situation and know exactly what it will take for them to come out on top.

More than that, naming stakes enables you to answer the question, “Why now?”.  You create urgency by connecting those stakes to the highly positive outcomes prospects will (only) achieve by using your product. Remember, how prospects feel – including the anticipation of professional and personal rewards – impacts how likely they are to purchase.

We use our discovery deck – the deck we present during our first sales call – to establish why our product matters for modern sales and marketing teams. And one of the ways we do that is by pointing out how buyer behavior has changed and the need for sales to get smarter, faster.  

changing buyer behavior - product story

Putting our product in context shifts the conversation from why our product is a nice-to-have to why it’s a must-have. And the highly positive outcome we’re pitching? To win in today’s buyer- driven world, businesses need real-time insight into the content that’s fueling the sales funnel.

3. Understand why customers hire your product.

Your customers are your best resource for getting to the heart of your product’s value. That is, what problem do customers solve with your product? And what makes your product the right solution for the job?

One of the tools we use to answer those questions is “Job Stories.” Job Stories focuses on capturing situations, motivations, and outcomes. The result typically looks something like this: When [situation] happens, customers want to do [job or motivation] to accomplish [outcome].

Here’s an example of how Salesflare describes the job that customers hire their product to do. The job story below might read, When sales reps are closing deals, they want customer data at their fingertips, so they have full visibility into the relationship.

salesflare product story job stories

When it comes to selling software, many times the only thing your customers share in common is the job they want to get done. And knowing why customers hire your product provides invaluable insight into what stories and what messages resonate with them.

A good product story weaves together what your product does with why your product matters.

4. Repeat your product story often.

Once you get started telling your product story, it’s often tempting to continually invent shiny new ones for different scenarios. Resist the urge to do so.

Why? Because the secret to good storytelling is consistency.

You need to tell the same story over and over again to actually be heard. The power of repetition is the bedrock of marketing principles like the “Rule of 7” or Thomas Smith’s Successful Advertising.

Take a look at Intercom’s story. Their mission is to make business personal again – and they tell their story in blog posts, on landing pages, at live events, and elsewhere. While they might repackage ideas for different mediums, the core message stays the same.

intercom product story landing page

When a customer purchases your product, they end up buying part of your story. That is, your product becomes part of how they realize the story you’ve just told. And it is to your advantage to tell your story wherever and whenever you can – throughout the funnel and across channels and formats.

5. Measure, learn, and iterate.

While consistency might be key, it doesn’t mean you can’t improve upon what’s been said before. In fact, the goal should always be to refine your product story and to bring clarity to what’s at stake. But you need to do so with a plan and data in hand.

You can measure the power of your product story in a number of ways. Methods we use include getting user feedback, conducting A/B tests, and measuring content performance. For sales content, we regularly use metrics like time spent per page, average percent viewed, and dropoff rate to keep a pulse on engagement.

DocSend sales content metrics - product story

We’re constantly testing whenever and wherever we can. Just like your product, your product story can and should evolve. Actively optimize how you tell your product story, what words you use, and where you feature what parts of your story.

Remember, a good product story starts and ends with your customers. And they – their preferences, attitudes, and emotions – are absolutely subject to change.

Crafting a good product story is hard

It’s not easy to come up with a product story that’s just right the first time around. In the beginning, it often feels like a shot in the dark – and, sometimes, it is. It takes time to move past the what and how of your product and to really nail why your product matters.

Our best advice? Take the time to get to know your market, your customers, and even your product. And make that learning process part of what it means to tell your story. We’ve seen incredible lifts from sharing our product story, and we rely on feedback – both critical and positive – to continue telling a story that’s meaningful for us and for our prospects.

How have you leveraged storytelling? And what’s worked best for you?

This piece is the final part of our three-post series on using storytelling in sales content.

In part one, we explain why and how we rewrote our sales deckWe outline our framework for creating our new deck and include actionable strategies you can apply to yours. 

In part 2, we share the sales metrics we used to measure the performance of our new and old decksFor example, how did our new deck impact our opportunity creation rate? Short answer: We saw a pretty significant lift.