B2B SaaS

The Power of Storytelling

Aug 28, 2019
min read

Around the mid-1970s a man rolled a pair of snow ties into a Nordstrom department store in Fairbanks Alaska and demanded a refund from the clerk. Nordstrom did not sell tires, and never did. The clerk, who had been working there for 2 weeks, saw the price tag on the side of the tires, reached into the cash register, and handed the man $145.

Whether it was the 70s or 80s, two tires or four tires, fact or fiction, this story has been used to exemplify Nordstrom’s commitment to customer service. Doug Landis used the famed Nordstrom narrative to demonstrate the importance of a good story in driving growth of a company or brand to Forum Ventures founders in a recent talk.

Doug Landis: Growth Partner at Emergence Capital, Mentor at Forum Ventures, and former Chief Storyteller at Box

“Stories teach you, inspire you, and enlighten you,” says Doug. “They help us make sense of events that happen and create alignment between different groups. People may stop listening to advice, information, or small talk, but everyone leans in for a good story.”

Why Is Storytelling Important?

“People may forget about what you say or do, but they never forget how you make them feel. “

Facts fade, stories stick. According to Doug, he often sees founders rely too heavily on facts when pitching to potential customers and forget how their product is designed to affect others emotionally.

To tap into the emotional response of your customer, you need to learn how to put your content into a narrative people will listen to and remember. Stories are powerful for 3 reasons:

  1. They connect to the audience. If you list out a bunch of facts with no narrative, people start taking furious notes. However, a surprise or emotion increases the memory as it gets the audience to FEEL your content.
  2. They provide a way to organize information. Stories have a clear beginning, middle, and end, which makes it easier for listeners to remember. Think about how people relay information to others — they struggle to regurgitate facts and numbers, but they can retell the narrative or customer story that was shared.
  3. They are persuasive. Stories help establish credibility. Stories share experiences, not opinions. They allow listeners to deduce the logic themselves.

Doug uses a simple framework to help founders be mindful of their listeners called T.R.A.N.C.E.:

  • T: Take them on a journey from what is to what can be. A journey allows the listeners to see the gap between where they are and where they want to be.
  • R: Relevance. Put yourself in the shoes of your audience and craft your story around their point of view
  • A: Analogies. [company] is like…Use analogies to make the abstract real, especially when explaining a complex product or concept. We’ve all heard the analogy of “Uber for X”.
  • N: Narrative. Organize it with a beginning, middle, and an end.
  • C: Characters. Who is the hero? Who is the villain? Companies are not characters, people in the companies are characters, and characters experience emotions.
  • E: Emotion. Emotional experience helps create tension and triumph. They help engage the audience at a fundamental level vs abstract.

Framework of Storytelling

Stories are a key element to a company’s messaging and positioning. Most pitches and decks focus too much on the founder and too little on the customer. Instead, the founder needs to first conduct an audience analysis, clarify the objective (the main reason why one would engage), and then create content from the customer’s perspective. Below is a sample messaging framework for a customer centric pitch deck:

Opening: Say something that provokes an emotion that could draw a connection between them and you. One example is Zoom — Building happiness. Make the audience go “oh, that is interesting, tell me more.”

Go UP (AKA: Unidentified Problems): Talk about what you have learned from your customers and what that means for your potential customer

Dig in: Use statistics and facts to elevate intensity, legitimacy and quantify the pain.

Connect: Share a story that draws an emotional connection to the problem. Use a real customer example that paints a picture of the problem.

Open their Mind: “Imagine if you can do x, y, and z.” Paint a picture of what is possible.

Solve: Share how your view of the world solves this, how your product makes the currently impossible, possible.

Good storytelling starts with being a good listener. Build credibility and connection by telling the customer “I get you” through the story, before talking about your solution. The connection between listening, relating to your customer is how you create a memorable engaging conversation and experience for your potential customers to put them in a T.R.A.N.C.E.

You can find more from Doug on Twitter @douglandis or check out Emergence Capital’s blog.

Like this article? Follow our Twitter @forumventures

Forum Ventures is ranked a top SaaS accelerator by the Seed Accelerator Rankings Project, we are known for our focussed and hand-on approach to Go-To-Market and fundraising for early stage companies. We have offices in San Francisco, New York City and Toronto. With over 120 portfolio companies, Forum Ventures founders have gone on to raise from NEA, Uncork Capital, 8VC, Founders Fund, Menlo Ventures, Canaan, Bowery Capital, Susa Ventures, Salesforce Ventures, SV Angel, True Ventures and many more.

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