Simplifying Sales: Insights from Adrian Davis

As humans, we tend to see our lives as personal stories where we are the main characters seeking logical cause-and-effect connections. This innate desire for narrative helps us understand the world and develop as individuals. However, conflicts can arise when we interact with others, as each person assumes the role of the hero in their own story. Evidently, this can make the traditional sales process challenging, as both parties often want to be the hero.

In this blog post, adapted from Adrian Davis’ latest book, he offers insights on how to navigate this conflict and succeed in your customer’s narrative, rather than being limited to your own.

Adrian Davis is the President and CEO of Whetstone Inc. He is also a TEC Speaker who is highly regarded for his thought-provoking workshops and trusted advice to CEOs and sales leaders across the globe.

Just like you, Adrian believes that sales is a valuable service. He leverages his advanced skills in storytelling and his deep understanding of the sales and buying process to inspire salespeople to achieve greater levels of performance. In this blog, you will discover some insights from his latest book.

The Power of Storytelling: Achieving Success in Your Customer’s Narrative

Neuroscientist Paul Zak has proven that stories are important to humans not simply due to psychology, but more importantly, because of chemistry. According to Paul Zak, stories modify the chemistry of our brains. In his epic short video entitled, Empathy, Neurochemistry, and the Dramatic Arc (Future of Storytelling), Zak explains how before and after listening to a short story about a father and his child named Ben, subjects had blood samples taken. They found that the brain produced two interesting chemicals. The first was cortisol. Cortisol is a stress hormone and it’s responsible for focusing our attention on something important. As the hero is in the Pit of Despair, our brains experience distress and release cortisol forcing us to pay even more attention. The second chemical released was oxytocin, which is associated with care, connection and empathy. His profound finding was that people’s behaviour would change depending on how much cortisol and oxytocin was released into their bloodstream. They would become more generous and charitable in very predictable ways.

As we listen to stories and empathize with the hero, our brains release oxytocin, the hormone responsible for social bonding. The release of oxytocin creates a willingness to partner. Stories reduce the friction of empathizing with others. History shows us that those men and women who have made the greatest changes in the world are those that understood the importance of creating connection through empathy.

Our brains use storytelling to attempt to explain the world around us. Most importantly, how others think (Zak calls this Theory of Mind), and to make predictions about what will happen next. That’s the only way we can feel safe. For the brain to explain the world around us and ensure our safety, it casts us as the protagonist in the stories. The brain makes us the hero in the stories we hear so it can sample alternate realities and better understand the potential situations we may one day face. Because its primary objective is to keep us alive and avoid suffering, the brain constantly puts us in the position of the main character to allow us to explore alternative actions and subsequent consequences, while it constantly tries to figure out how to keep us alive and successful.

Stories help our brains make sense of events. The more stories that we have in our memories then the more patterns we have at our disposal to make sense of our experiences. Those stored patterns help us understand the relationship between cause and effect.

Every human being lives out their life as their own personal movie. Each person interprets events in life as a cohesive story centred on themselves as the main character with logical cause-and-effect relationships. It’s how we mature and how we understand the world. It also is the reason why we crave stories. The brain loves stories because, according to cognitive neuroscientist Dr. Carmen Simon, it loves the relationship between cause and effect. The more examples of cause and effect the brain receives, the better it can help us understand and navigate the world. And, when something happens that it hasn’t experienced before, it is better able to provide an explanation because of these past experiences.

On the other hand, what the brain hates is when something happens which has no explanation. This causes a sense of panic as the brain is unable to predict what will happen next and safely navigate us to our destination. When the Twin Towers fell in New York on September 11, 2001, it was a shocking day for all of us. We were having trouble wrapping our minds around the events that were unfolding. Watching the news on a major cable network, the anchor expressed that the entire nation, in fact, the entire world, had “gone into shock.” He then made a statement that I have remembered to this day. He said, “Shock is when experience outstrips narrative.” That is so powerful. When the brain encounters something that it can’t make sense of, it goes into shock. It is unable to process cause and effect. Consequently, it is unable to direct us.

Playing the role of the main character in our movie is great until we try to communicate with someone who is playing the role of the main character in their own movie. Now, we have a subconscious conflict. In our movie, we are the hero. But, in our customer’s movie, they are the hero. Subconsciously, our brains tell us that we must be the hero. Instinctively, we are motivated to come in and save the day. We want the customer to tell us their problem so that we can swoop in, solve the problem, and reinforce our mental model of our heroic status.

This inner conflict presents a critical challenge to the traditional selling process. The conflict arises over who owns the heroic role. Both the customer and salesperson subconsciously see themselves as the main character in the movie. You can assess if you are playing the hero role instead of your customer by asking yourself the following questions. If you answer yes to any of these three questions, you are imposing your heroic role and pushing your heroic solution into your customer’s movie and hijacking the role of the hero.

Do your presentations begin with “helping” your customer understand who you are, how big you are, how long you’ve been around and all the companies who’ve chosen to do business with you?

Are you doing the talking instead of listening? Do “I”, “We”, and “Our” words dominate your conversation?

Remember that the hero is the main character and actor of the story. In any change effort, the main character is the person who has a strategic goal that is being jeopardized and who must act to evade tragedy and obtain the goal. The goal is being jeopardized by external forces that bring unexpected change—change which is outside of the hero’s control. This is the villain in the story (more on this later). In this conflict between the hero and the villain, a question arises — how much does the hero really want the goal? If the hero wants it badly enough, they will dig deep and do whatever they must do to overcome the obstacle.

About the Author

Adrian Davis is the President & CEO of Whetstone Inc. and a TEC Speaker! Companies such as DuPont and Johnson & Johnson have partnered with Adrian to create greater value for their customers. He is a Certified Speaking Professional (CSP), a Certified Professional in Business Process Management (P.BPM) and a Certified Competitive Intelligence Professional (CIP). The author of Human-to-Human Selling, Adrian is an internationally recognized, thought-provoking speaker and trusted advisor to CEOs and sales leaders.

Follow Adrian’s advice and don’t editorialize; let the story do the work!

Read his lessons learned, put them into practice, and embark on your own exciting journey for stronger relationships and success.

Explore Adrian’s Latest Book