INSIDE Inside Sales – Ep 125: Win More Deals Through Story-Listening

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Don’t you hate it when someone interrupts your story and cuts you off? Everybody does, including your prospects! In this episode of INSIDE Inside Sales, Darryl talks to Bruce Kirk, a prospecting, sales, and coaching expert at Slight Edge Selling, about the magic of story-listening. They will explain what this concept means, giving you a master class on becoming a great listener and storyteller. They also share how just being willing to give your prospects the floor can position them into sharing their pain points. Subscribe now and unlock the power of two-way storytelling in sales.



story-listening in sales


Why Listening Has To Come Before Storytelling in Sales


  • Story-listening is a counterpart to storytelling in sales. It means prefacing all the sales talk with validating and aiming to understand your prospect’s wants and needs.
  • Bruce Kirk of Slight Edge Selling advises us to become great story-listeners first and use storytelling only after we’ve paid attention to how the other person describes their pain points.
  • Bruce describes how listening is the key to a successful sales relationship, much like it is for personal relationships.

If you’ve ever read a self-help book about relationships or been to a therapist with your partner, you might be familiar with the idea of reflective listening

It’s classic relationship advice, in which you frame your responses like this: “What I’m hearing you say is…”

This approach makes your partner feel less threatened, more heard, and more willing to share their thoughts and feelings with you.

Bruce Kirk, sales breakthrough coach and president of Slight Edge Selling, believes we should apply the same conversational principle to the sales process.

Storytelling has been a craze in the sales world for quite some time, and the VanillaSoft team is all about that. But sometimes we need to consider that being successful in sales isn’t all about talk, talk, talk.

On an episode of INSIDE Inside Sales, Bruce reveals why he’s so passionate about the listening factor –– and what to pay attention to when engaging with your prospects.

Symptoms of too much storytelling in sales

Before you apply a Band-Aid, you have to locate and clean the wound. This part can be painful, but it’s necessary.

If you’ve been using storytelling in sales for a while, it can be hard to recognize when you’re going overboard with the talking. But there’s no way around this step.

Bruce helps make the overtalker diagnosis process as easy as it can be. 

He identifies five common signs you’re doing too much storytelling:

  • You’re hungry for approval. If both you and your prospect go into the conversation with a need for validation, you’ll get stuck in a standoff.
  • You think you’re the smartest person in the room. It’s easy for buyers to spot a lack of genuine interest in their needs. 
  • You’re doing most of the talking. It might feel like you can’t accomplish a sale without being the active talker, but that’s not true. Talking too much can make anyone feel like you’re not interested in their presence. According to Bruce, “if we tell our story at the wrong time, it loses all power.”
  • You’re in a hurry or distracted. This one comes back to basic social conventions. Moving too fast or scrolling through your phone while your prospect is talking is just plain rude –– and annoying.
  • You have a personal agenda. Let’s be honest: A prospect usually knows you’re aiming to sell them something. But if they think you’re motivated solely by the bottom line (instead of understanding their needs, worries, and frustrations), you’ll be unlikely to close.

In a nutshell, you can’t have “commission breath” going into the conversation, says Bruce.

Can you see these behaviors in yourself? We’ve all probably engaged in at least one during our sales career. And they can continue to pop up, however unconsciously, if we’re not careful.

Why story-listening is better than any scripted opener

The truth of your bad sales habits can be tough to swallow. Luckily, there’s a big reward for having the courage to assess them: finding the magic of story-listening.

If I tell you that story-listening is the opposite of storytelling in sales, you can probably figure out what it means: shutting up! But it goes a bit deeper than that.

“Story-listening is an advanced form of fact-finding,” says Bruce. When you’re a great story-listener first, you enhance the discovery phase and integrate value into the buyer’s journey.

IMPORTANT: The facts you’re listening for aren’t necessarily the potential buyer’s feelings about your product or service. You’re on the hunt for personal details that will help you fill in their story.

When you open by asking your prospect how their day went, the story-listening begins. You’re hearing them say “great” or “not so good.” But are you listening to what’s not being said? 

Are you…

  • picking up on their tone? 
  • following up to find out what’s going on in their personal lives, instead of just moving on to your usual script?
  • acknowledging where they are and meeting them there? 

Even if someone’s not feeling super chatty, you can point the conversation in a direction that matters most to them — not to you — right from the start.

Story-listening is the path to a shorter sales cycle

Listening for cues about your prospect’s emotional state and learning what makes them tick can give you a major boost in your bottom line, in addition to more personal satisfaction and confidence.

That’s because story-listening allows you to narrow down the pain points you’ll address. Your prospect has actually shared these with you, so you’re not just assuming what they need based on market research. It’s coming straight from the proverbial horse’s mouth.

The most obvious benefit of not having to guess about what a potential buyer is facing? A shorter sales cycle!

If you don’t believe this, use VanillaSoft to keep track of all the things you discover about a prospect when you’re engaged in story-listening, and see what your own data tells you.

With the power of great listening, we bet you’ll spend less time fishing and more time catching. 

Imagine you’re married to your prospect

To get to the point where story-listening is a habit, it might help to think of it as an investment in a mutually beneficial relationship. Becoming a great story-listener directly affects how a prospect evaluates you and your company, and therefore, how they will judge your company’s solution.

HINT: That evaluation starts long before you dive into any storytelling in sales. 

Open ears facilitate connection, trust, and vulnerability. When someone is regularly willing to be vulnerable because of the safe space you create, you can learn a ton about them.

You also learn a lot about yourself. Just like in a marriage, both parties are continuously growing and changing.

Even though a sales relationship takes place over a much shorter period of time, it might be just as ripe for personal evolution.

Give yourself time to transition to more listening

This story-listening thing takes time to implement, especially if it feels unnatural for you. After all, when you first gravitated to sales, it was probably because you were a great talker!

Don’t give up on this if you can’t fall into a rhythm right away. Just keep swimming.

By following Bruce’s advice in the long term, you’ll figure out why he believes “story-listening is the magic of storytelling.”

Inside Inside Sales Podcast