Proof Positive

In today's business world, boring facts and empty stats simply won't make the impression on potential customers that a story about someone "just like them" will. True stories are much more compelling and better remembered than other information. So to get coveted word-ofmouth advertising, start by telling your company or product story. When you do, you'll find that storytelling is a powerful tool that differentiates you from your competition.

Storytelling your way to greater profit is based on the idea of "social proof." When people are unsure what to do, they look at others to see what they have done in the same situation. In our eyes, the more people doing something, the better. Social proof comes into play in all buying decisions, from the most basic to the most expensive. This includes everything from what movie to see or restaurant to eat at, to what car to buy or contractor to hire.

Whatever your industry, you can essentially get your customers to write your best stories for you by documenting your successes through testimonials and pictures. Develop powerful stories that sell your customers by following these 10 simple steps:

1. Identify your positioning.

If you don't position yourself, your competition will do it for you. What is your unique selling proposition (USP).

What added value do you deliver that your competition won't. Get your customers to say "Wow!" Maybe it's your unique expertise, free installation, or free delivery. Whatever you offer, it should be low-cost but have high perceived added value.

2. Define your ideal customer.

Contrary to popular belief, your customer base isn't "everybody." While you may have customers across all spectrums, who's are going to be the most profitable customers for you, and how can you attract more of them. You don't want to be always selling to everybody. Be proactive, and let your competition suffer the consequences of giving their sales force too broad a brush.

3. Identify what's different about you.

Different is good. Create a point of differentiation between you and your competition with a story. You may have noticed this recent trend in retail when looking for a barbecue sauce or a bottle of wine. To get customers to pick their product off the shelf, companies use packaging and Web sites to tell an intriguing story. Check out and for good examples.

4. Draw them to you.

If you've done the first three steps well, the customers you want will be attracted to you. Rather than pursuing customers, learn their key issues/pains/problems and how you can solve them.

Do the little things that make for a great story so your customers will sing your praises and bring the business to you. Ideally, you'll be able to choose your customers, instead of begging them to choose you over your competition.

5. Show, don't tell.

One of the main principles of storytelling is to show the details of the story, and let those details speak for themselves. Effective storytelling is in the details, and the more the better. Leaving out a minute detail that you feel may not be important could turn out to be the deciding factor from the customer's point of view. Paint a picture with your words to bring your story to life for the reader or listener. You don't have to be a master fiction writer to tell a powerful story. Set up a problem, then work through and resolve it by offering specific benefits to the customer.

6. Feel their pain.

You can use your stories to help overcome common objections you receive, such as cost. You don't want to compete on price but on customer experience and your unique ability to solve customers' problems. In life insurance and financial services, for example, many people haven't planned well. In this case, smart advisors tell their customers, "Don't feel bad. Last week I met with someone just like you who had that same problem. Here's how we worked together to solve it . . . "

7. Keep 'em coming.

Dog-eared, over-copied success stories from seven years ago won't do the trick. Document everything and keep it current! Develop a system to follow up with satisfied clients because you can't have too many stories at your disposal. Utilize the Web, phone calls, letters and e-mail to generate new stories, and then put them on your Web site in the form of written, audio and video testimonials. Have them organized and ready to send out with e-mails to prospects.

8. Use pictures.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. A testimonial with a photo shows that there is a real person behind the name, enhancing your credibility. Build your testimonials one at a time, asking clients, "If I can exceed your expectations, get the work done on time and at the budget we set, would you give me a testimonial so I can share your success with other customers." The majority of your customers will happily say, "Yes!" Then you can create a "raving fan" book that will let you select the jobs you want to do. Homeimprovement contractors, for example, can fill it with before-and-after pictures plus testimonials. Smart contractors will have 10 success stories, impressive photos and raves from past customers. Even if their price comes in 10 to 20 percent higher, if they've proven that they can meet the customer's needs, the customer is likely to pick the professional who provided social proof.

9. Utilize product reviews.

Vendor ratings and product reviews such as you find on eBay,, and can tell your story and offer social proof even without personal contact. The combination of customer rants and raves is highly believable.

10. Create a personal marketing sheet.

Tell a good story about who you are, especially if you're selfemployed. It should feature a picture of you and your product and tell who you are and what your USP is. On it, list some of your customers and include the right quotes and detail the experience, special training or certifications you and your team have and any community involvement.


Many people are hesitant to sell themselves and their products or services with stories because they don't want to feel pushy, as if they're forcing their clients to do their marketing for them. A simple paradigm shift is all you need to see the benefits of this practice, for you and for your customers. Consider this: You're cheating people if you don't share what a great experience you offer customers. They'll go somewhere else and get an inferior product and experience.

In the end, it's simply a matter of utilizing the power of social proof: Tell your story, attract customers to you and deliver what you do best, and you won't be able to stop them from talking about their lucky find, sending others to you and coming back again and again. Remember: A good story can change the way people think. A great story can change the way people behave.

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