Tell Your Story to Sell What You Do

Stories resonate better with customers than pure data, especially when they relate directly to the situation the customer is trying to address. 

When customers visit most precision machining companies, they are often met at the door, ushered into the conference room for coffee and donuts and some small talk before embarking on a plant tour. Once out on the shop floor, they are walked around the facility where they can see, first-hand, the equipment and processes being used to produce a variety of precision parts. It is a plant tour filled with lots of technical data and discussions, but no soul.

What’s missing in this scenario is the story behind each project. I once worked with a talented engineer who was personally involved in landing and launching multiple projects for a precision machining company. Whenever I had a customer in for a visit I always tried to make sure he was available for the plant tour. When he described the process used to produce a part, he recited it as a story. He started out with a description of the problem the customer, or their current supplier, was having building the parts. He talked about the problems it was causing internally. He talked about their efforts to fix them. He talked about the heat that was being put on the engineering and purchasing teams to get this fixed. He put the parts into the customer’s hands, so they could feel them while he talked. He told them exactly how we went about solving this problem for the customer, warts and all.

The customer’s engineering and purchasing teams were ecstatic and both drew major kudos from the VP of manufacturing who could finally go back to his boss and report that the problem had been solved. They could see the blanks being loaded in the Hydromat. They could see the cuts being made, the holes drilled and the finish grinding. We didn’t have to explain how the process worked—they could see it for themselves. What they couldn’t see, until our engineer gave them a peek inside the tent, was the story behind the project.

His delivery was measured, but dripping with the passion he brought to work with him every day. He wasn’t just a great engineer, he was a great storyteller and that made him a great salesperson. His stories allowed the customers on the plant tour to relate, in detail, to the challenges, problems and pressures that always accompany the manufacture of technically challenging precision metal components and subassemblies. By the time the customers got back into their cars to head home there was no doubt that we were more than capable of handling their toughest parts—because we had shared story after story about how we helped other customers handle their toughest challenges. The stories were the difference—they gave us soul.

When you give a plant tour, do you tell stories? Probably not and the reason is that most engineers and business development people aren’t taught how to talk about case studies and other marketing content as stories. It’s great to have written case studies, videos and whitepapers on your website, but the real payoff comes when you train the people who will be interfacing with the customer how to put those resources in the context of a story that talks through challenges from the buyer’s perspective and says, “Here’s how our customer’s life got easier by working with us.”

So, the next time a customer comes through your shop, tell them a few stories that convey the human side of the story as well as showcase the technical expertise of your people and your shop.

When you put your stories together, include a hero that the customer can relate to personally. The hero shouldn’t be your shop. It should be the customer’s engineers and purchasing people who were smart enough to hire you. While it’s important to share metrics, cost savings, on-time delivery rates and DPPM, make sure you also talk about the impact that solving the problem had on the lives of the buyers, engineering, quality, plant management and the customer’s customers. If someone got promoted six months later, bring that up. If the project led to additional work from their customer, say so.

Stories resonate better with customers than pure data, especially when they relate directly to the situation the customer is trying to address. Try it the next time a customer comes to call.