Don't NOT Design a Story Architecture First

Story Title: 
Don't NOT Design a Story Architecture First

Don't rely on scheduling meetings with prospects to educate the now 5.4 people in the buying organization (consensus selling) on your entire or parts of your entire story.



In the previous episode, Don’t NOT Educate Your Customer, we discussed how enterprise sales struggles to educate the on average 5.4 people in the potential buying organization, or what CEB/Gartner calls “consensus selling.”

We outlined a typical education cycle in an enterprise selling motion in four generalized steps:

  • Step 1: Schedule a first meeting and try to convince someone to care enough about your story to invest additional time to learn more.
  • Step 2: Educate this person and the remaining 4.4 people in the buying organization about your story by scheduling follow-up meetings and sending typically large text-based collateral
  • Step 3: Try to schedule your best storytellers to participate in these follow-up meetings
  • Step 4: Try to ensure that the potential buyer’s internal conversations around your offering accurately reflect your overall story

The next four episodes will provide insights into how to potentially improve each of these steps en route to better educating customers and sales reps with the overall objective to shorten the enterprise sales cycle.

This episode dives into Step 1: trying to convince the potential buyer as to Why he or she should care about what you have to say.

This episode argues that marketing should first design a story architecture that answers the fundamental questions in the buyer's journey—Why, What, How and Who—before implementing story assets in different collateral types like videos, slides and text.

To begin this discussion, let’s leverage insights from book The Challenger Sale by Brent Adamson and Mathew Dixon of CEB/Gartner. In their research of thousands of enterprise sellers, they discovered a common trait among top sellers is they challenge potential buyers as to WHY they should NOT continue with status quo because status quo is somehow broken. We call this teaching “Why Insights.”

To illustrate, let’s look at Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. He states: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

Dr. King could have stated this as a challenge, saying something like: “I have a dream that my four little children will be judged by the content of their character.” However, this statement lacks impact.

Instead, he challenged us to rethink status quo (and thereby race relations in America) with a powerful insight by saying: “I have a dream my four little children […] will NOT be judged by the color of their skin.”

A classic why insight in the tech world is Apple’s “Think Different” campaign created in 1997. Apple urges us to challenge the status quo of routinely buying Intel-based PCs, en route to convincing us to consider buying Apple products by associating the Apple brand with people in history who did think differently and changed status quo.

So to recap, at a minimum, marketing content needs to help sales reps coach buyers on WHY they should NOT continue doing status quo before talking about what it is they’re selling. Otherwise, no matter how great the product is, the potential buyer may not care, believing their status quo is good enough.

That said, a typical marketing content strategy starts by jumping right into creating large text based collateral such as a customer-facing deck. Given there is no agreed upon standard for creating customer decks, it can be organized in any number of ways often ballooning to 50 or more slides. I’ve seen decks with over 120 slides in them.

But a buyer’s educational journey is not organized this way. Rather, a buyer’s journey is organized around answering four fundamental questions, starting with: Why should I care about what you have to say? This parallels the insight the seller needs to coach them around: Why they should NOT do what they're already doing today. Next, the buyer wants to learn What is it you do? Who else uses it? And finally, How does it work?

Given a potential buyer is asking these four fundamental questions, why not architect your story around clearly answering them first, before implementing the answers into desired collateral formats like videos, presentations and PDF documents?

Without an overarching story architecture, you end up with a hodgepodge of different collateral pieces that together don’t tell a holistic, consistent and complete story that clearly leads buyers down their educational journey of better understanding your offering.

We’ve all seen it: different groups in the company creating different pieces of collateral; different pain points cited; no common syntax; often times big gaps in the story.

In addition, without a story architecture, it's difficult to break the story into smaller modules that are more easily consumed on mobile and updated as the story evolves. So, given everyone is busy, and few have time to sit through a one-hour presentation, especially when being sold to, why not architect your story so it can be told in shorter story modules that are say less than 8 minutes in length each? As a data point, the most popular YouTube videos are 1–9 minutes long.

This approach has the added benefit that a buyer—whether in a meeting or self-educating—can first invest 8 minutes into hearing your story and then if there’s interest, invest an additional 8 minutes (and so on) until they have heard your whole story.

Of course, these short story modules can then be told with video that is more easily consumed on a mobile device than reading a 10-page whitepaper or flipping through 50+ slides on your iPhone.

Finally, a content strategy that starts with creating a story architecture puts a focus on answering the all-important "Why" insight question first. Otherwise, answering the Why insight often gets missed, diluting the effectiveness of the story being told.

In summary, for enterprise storytelling, Don’t NOT design a story architecture first before implementing the creation of your story content.

Precision Storytelling takes this approach of designing a story architecture first before implementing content around answering the four fundamental questions that align with the buyer’s educational journey:

  • Why the potential buyer should NOT do what they are doing today and the reasons why.
  • What is it you do, describing the capabilities and features of your offering
  • How does your offering work and how is it implemented.
  • Finally, Who else uses your offering, mimicking a reference call.

A story architecture guides content creation to help ensure the overall story is told consistently, holistically and without gaps.

It also helps guide breaking down the telling of the story into less than 8-minute story modules, making each module easier to create and keep updated than large, text-based deliverables.

Furthermore, these story modules can then be told through video episodes, enabling both buyers and sellers to learn the entire story at their convenience on mobile, without even requiring a meeting.

In the next episode, NOT Text-First Storytelling, we dive deeper into this last point: why it’s crucial to have a content strategy that takes a video-first approach.

Vince Vasquez, CEO Precision Story
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