Learn the Value of Stories in Business
After completing this unit, you'll be able to:
- List the ways in which storytelling is used in business.
- Describe how storytelling is used at Salesforce.
- Identify ways in which to use storytelling as a manager.
“Once upon a time, in a world where good triumphed over evil… Where it was the best of times and yet, the worst of times… One person rose up against the odds to change the world in ways no one could ever dream of…”
Storytelling. Whether it’s parents reading books to their children at night, commuters consuming their favorite new book on their kindle, or viewers binge watching their favorite show, stories are the heart of how we get in touch, escape, interpret, or connect with the world.
Stories are more than just for entertainment. They’re so powerful and influential that businesses use them every day to drive value and engagement in their companies.
- Companies create stories around their mission statement and brand.
- Salespeople weave stories into their presentations to build rapport and invoke an emotional response when they pitch to customers.
- Speakers share stories when they present at conventions.
- Managers use stories to inspire their teams.
In this module, we’ll explore storytelling in business and discuss how you can use storytelling to inspire your team, and present your ideas with credibility and creativity.
Sound good? Then put on your hiking boots, secure your backpack, and get ready to blaze the road less traveled, Trailblazer!
Storytelling in Business
“Stories can tap into a place that was once off limits in the workplace—the heart.”
Stories help us organize information and make sense of the world. In business, we use storytelling to:
- Create a company image and brand.
- Make complex information memorable and easy to process.
- Evoke emotion and inspire action.
Stories Create a Company Image and Brand
The story of storytelling in business often starts with your company’s story. That story includes your company’s history, mission, vision, customers, employees, and value proposition (what makes the company’s brand unique compared to the competition.)
Your company’s story is important because it:
- Appeals to customers,
- Endures changes in technology and evolves with the times, and
- Attracts new employees and helps current employees feel connected.
Stories Appeal to Customers
Did you ever think that maybe there’s a reason you choose to drink Coca-Cola instead of Pepsi or wear Adidas sneakers instead of Nike?
Companies put a ton of research into finding out what their customers like. Then, they build a story around it—a brand story. It’s part marketing and part engineering; something called a “customer experience.” These stories get customers to connect with, and ultimately buy their products over all others.
We’ll start close to home. Think about Salesforce and the way we talk about our company and our products. We share more about our customers, employees, and their experiences than we do about our products.
Another example comes from Jim Stengel’s book, Grow. It’s about diapers and how Pampers used its company story to sell more of them.
Why the jump from technology to diapers? We want to show that company stories can be as different as night and day!
Here’s the scoop: Diaper companies normally compete on performance such as absorbency and comfort, but that doesn’t tell too much of a story.
But in 2013, Procter & Gamble’s campaign around Pampers did something different: It told a story about babies peacefully sleeping at night. So the story around Pampers was around giving your baby a happy, healthy night’s sleep. It was much more powerful and touching than the previous messaging, based on performance. It helped parents connect emotionally, and it made them choose Pampers (and the story of a peaceful night’s sleep) over the competition.
Choosing one company’s products and services over another often means you’ve connected with its brand and wanted to be part of it.
Stories Endure Changes in Technology and Evolves with the Times
In addition to attracting customers, a company story can help a company stay strong and evolve with changes in the world.
Since technology changes and products can become obsolete over time, companies are learning that their brand, values, reputation, and vision are nearly as important as the products they sell.
For example, in 1892 GE manufactured lightbulbs. Now, GE manufactures gas engines, hybrid locomotives, HD CT scanners, ultrasound devices, and chemical sensors. Its products changed, but the brand is still thriving more than 100 years later.
The idea is that commodities can change, but a brand and company story endures.
Stories Attract New Employees and Help Current Employees Feel Connected
“The secret to successful hiring is this: hire people who want to change the world.”—Marc Benioff
Similar to how your company story attracts customers, it also attracts employees to work for your company. Think about the company you work for. What is the story you hear about why people want to work there? How does that story help people envision what it’d be like to work at your company?
And it’s not just potential new hires. A great company story rallies your existing workforce and makes them feel like they’re part of something larger.
For example, at Salesforce, our philanthropy model is a big part of our story as a company and community. We give back part of our technology, part of our employee time, and part of our resources to help improve communities around the world. When our employees volunteer, we feel like we’re all coming together to make the world a better place.
Here’s another example: When our employees host and attend Dreamforce, we all take part in Salesforce’s story. It’s the ultimate expression of our brand. At Dreamforce, our customers and our employees experience a 4-day living narrative of our values as a company. So everyone leaves feeling as if they’re immersed in who we are.
Stories Are Memorable and Easy to Process
In addition to building a brand, companies use stories because they leave a lasting impression.
Think about a meeting you attended this week. Try as hard as you can to remember all the details from start to finish. What were the meeting’s key takeaways? Did you take notes?
Now think about a book you read or TV show you watched in the last few days. Compared with the meeting, which one is easier to recall?
If your answer was the latter, you’re not alone. According to a study at Stanford, stories are up to 22 times more memorable than facts and figures alone.
“Stories are up to 22 times more memorable than facts and figures alone.”
To add to that, when you hear facts and data, only two parts of your brain are engaged. But a story activates seven different areas of your brain. That means your brain is really fired up when you listen to a good story!
Your senses take over and you imagine what it’s like to be there in the moment. You feel and interpret what’s happening through your own lens. You imagine what it’s like to be the characters.
Since it’s easy to get lost in the narrative, you feel like you’re not working as hard to process the information. But in reality, your brain is hard at work. Rather than trying to make sense of the facts, you’re experiencing those facts. And that experience is vivid and memorable.
So, stories are memorable. Even neurology says so!
Stories Evoke Emotion and Inspire Action
With all of that neurological action, it’s no wonder that a good story stirs up a lot of feeling. The most compelling reason to use stories in business is to create empathy and draw upon shared experiences.
Studies show that customers, potential new clients, and others act from the heart more than they act from the brain. By choosing the right stories to share, you can influence through the power of emotions.
Storytelling at Salesforce
“Stories are the currency of Salesforce. It’s how we measure and communicate success, inspire customers and ourselves.” —Marc Benioff
Storytelling is part of our culture at Salesforce.
It’s such a hot topic that we have entire teams dedicated to writing stories at Salesforce. Our sales teams learn about storytelling as part of their onboarding, and there are numerous storytelling workshops offered company-wide. Plus, we’re taking the time to write this Trailhead module!
Why are we so into storytelling? That’s easy: We’re fascinated by our customers, and we are interested in learning from each other.
Customer Success Stories
We’ll start by talking about our customers’ stories. Salesforce Chief Adoption Officer Polly Sumner expresses our thinking perfectly.
“We are only as great as our latest customers’ stories of success and transformation, and how willing they are to pass those along.” —Polly Sumner, Salesforce Chief Adoption Officer
We partner with our customers to better understand their challenges and celebrate their successes through storytelling—to inspire others. We work with innovative brands so that they can share their stories about how Salesforce helped them be successful.
Our Customer Success Stories help potential customers relate to our existing customers. It’s much easier for customers to envision what they could do with our products through customer stories than through product features and future plans.
Product Demos and Presentations
We want to help potential customers envision what it’s like to choose Salesforce. Before we meet with customers, we do our homework and learn about their business. We ask them questions to learn about their pain points, aspirations, goals, and vision for their customer experience.
Then, we put together customized product demos and presentations that are tailored to help our individual customers be successful. These demos and presentations give potential customers a vision of what Salesforce can do for their companies.
Sounds easy right? It’s not quite as straightforward as it seems. It takes a lot of care, consideration, and studying-up on other similar customers.
Creating a Culture of Storytelling
Storytelling is a big part of our culture. It’s something we do every day, and it starts the moment you join our Ohana.
During our new hire onboarding, we set aside special time just for storytelling. Speakers come to give firsthand anecdotes of the company culture, share what they’ve learned at Salesforce, and talk about what’s made them successful.
But storytelling isn’t just a thing we do at orientation.
Sales new hires go through sales simulations where they learn to use customer stories before they even meet with potential customers.
And, during our leadership development programs, senior leaders share “leadership moments” where they tell stories about important experiences and lessons learned that have shaped their leadership practices.
In addition, we’ve launched podcasts, which include everything from quick stories about our products to anecdotes about the benefits of building your personal brand.
But our stories aren’t all talk.
Anyone who’s visited any of our offices will notice the beautiful hardbound culture book on display in the lobby. The culture book represents who we are as a company and what we believe in. It tells the Salesforce story through the voices of our people. It’s filled with glossy photos of our global Ohana members—employees, customers, partners, and nonprofits—plus authentic and moving quotes about how members champion our values.
Our stories also come to life every week on our internal #SalesforceOhana blog. This engaging blog is our home base for inspiring employee stories, company news, career advice, and office highlights. It shows how our people bring our values to life around the world.
Storytelling for Managers
Similar to how stories entice customers to buy products, as a manager, you can use stories to inspire, engage, and motivate your team.
Sound interesting? In the next units we’ll share stories on how to:
- Connect with your direct reports and other colleagues.
- Inspire your team to do their best work.
- Build credibility and rapport with your direct reports.
- Present your ideas in a creative, compelling, and appropriate way.
Let’s Sum It Up
Storytelling in business has never been more popular than it is now. With the right information, and a bit of story-writing expertise in your back pocket, you can jump on the bandwagon and write your team’s story for success. In the next few units, we’ll discuss how to use stories as a manager to inspire your team.
- Tap the Power of Storytelling
- The Irresistible Power of Storytelling as a Strategic Business Tool
- What Is A Brand Story?
- The Difference Between A Pitch And A Brand Story
- How Emotions Influence What We Buy
- Storytelling: The New Strategic Imperative Of Business
- The Science of Storytelling For Presentations
- P&G - Pampers Disposable Diapers - Love Sleep & Play at 3 a.m.
- Jim Stengel's greatest brands