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What Story Will Your Business Tell in 2013?

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When you walk into a meeting, with a potential customer, what is the conversation you have?

Does it, at some point, lead to you revealing the features and benefits of your offering? If so, in what context are these presented?

At best, in most sales situations, benefits are delivered as solutions to a customer's challenges. If this is the case with you, be honest and ask yourself this question:

Assuming that your competitor is also well versed in consultative selling, when they produce their solutions to the customer's challenges, will your presentation sound significantly different?

In other words, does your offering contrast so much with others in the market, that it will stand out a mile? Of course, it is possible, but if you are honest - then probably not.

The web and digital technology has meant the capital investment now needed to start a business is often miniscule. Moreover, the web has meant that everybody now has an array of channels in which to communicate their message. The consequence of all this, is that most buyers feel they have a lot of choice, and in the main, find it very difficult to tell the difference between companies, when looking to make a purchase.

In a world where everything looks the same, buyers will start to make price the most important criteria. It is the one differential that they will understand. It makes sense and provides them with a tangible benefit, that is, more money in their pocket.

However, we do know that when buyers don't perceive the purchase choice to be the same, price just becomes one of many purchasing criteria and matters a lot less. For example, go to any car park and take a look. No matter where you are, it will not be full of only the cheapest model car available.

So what does this all mean?

In an environment where most products and services have become commoditised, customers no longer buy purely on features and benefits, which often look the same. In a digital world, with an abundance of choice and where personalisation of delivery is possible, people look to purchase from companies that they feel reflect the values and beliefs they possess.

If this is a business purchase, it may be that customers share the same commercial narrative and beliefs about the market and how business should be undertaken. In consumer sales, it may be beliefs around who you are, what you stand for and how you want to be perceived or perceive yourself.

Of course, there are a number of ways businesses communicate these values. Logos, images and associations with appropriate ambassadors, whether they are business experts or famous sports stars, all provide an indication of what a business is about.

However, in order for a company to be able to communicate these values in a coherent and powerful way, they need to be understood and be able to get their story across. This 'narrative' will be the beliefs the company have, which explains why they deliver their products and services in a particular way.

So, for example, a website selling recruitment advertising online, could talk statistics about the number of unique visitors they get, the demographics of those visitors and time spent on the page etc. While all these matter, they may not be significantly different from another provider.

However, these statistics become much more powerful within a 'narrative'. It provides a context for the statistics and explains why the company works in the way it does. So, in a meeting, a salesperson may say, 'At Smith & Co. we believe the talent war has now gone online. In order to attract the best people, companies now have to look in the right places on the web'. If a customer also believes that to be true, there is then a meeting of minds. The service and statistics will not change, but they will resonate with a customer in a much more powerful way.

Stories sell. We share stories and emotions with each other. They may contain facts and figures, but only within a context. It is the story that your company tells which allows it to establish shared values with your customers. In turn, this provides your customer with reassurance and confidence in your ability to deliver. It makes it more likely that you will be their supplier of choice. It also increases the chances of them talking about you, in a positive way, to others. This will not necessarily be because your offering, service or credentials are any better than your competitors.

In fact, it might just be because you told a better story.