Storytelling is an important tool in any B2B sales leader’s arsenal because it allows you to ignite the prospect’s imagination and encourages them to picture themselves in the scenario you are describing. Data is always going to have its place in the world of B2B sales because of its impartial ability to tell real truths and inspire confidence in the audience. Cultivating a position of thought leadership is an innovative way to disseminate your brand’s expertise on a particular subject and provide value for your leads before they even come into contact with a representative from your company.
So what do intrepid B2B leaders do with this information? They take a cue from journalistic outlets from around the world and combine all three tools in order to more effectively engage their prospects and build an innovative sales operation that will put them head and shoulders above their competitors. The reason that data journalism is all the rage is because it accomplishes with readers all the same things you hope to accomplish with your prospects: it engages with preliminary value quickly, backs up claims compellingly, and stimulates the audience’s imagination.
Locating the right data sets for your stories
The first step in getting started with data storytelling is finding the appropriate data sets to incorporate into your narrative. The best advice I can give is to start broad, and let the conclusions drawn from the data tell you where the story is going to go. This way, you’ll avoid a potentially damaging scenario where you’re manipulating data sets after the fact in order to try and make them support your conclusions. As your investigation begins, start with the largest data sets available and work smaller from there; think high-level economic data from the census bureau or industry-wide trends.
Integrating the qualitative and the quantitative
Once you’ve found the appropriate data and analyzed its results to come to a particular conclusion, it’s time to devise a strategy for weaving that data into a compelling story which will cause a reaction in the reader’s brain. Experts will tell you that while data is extremely powerful it can’t tell a story on its own, which means it’s up to the storyteller to integrate the two components in a way that will have maximum impact.
The qualitative aspect of the equation simply can’t be overlooked. According to research from neurochemist Dr. Paul Zak, his team showed test subjects a video featuring a compelling dramatic story arc compared with others who viewed a control video. The subjects who watched the video with the effective storytelling arc featured enhanced levels of oxytocin in the brain. The scientists also gave these subjects the opportunity to donate their lab fee to charity, and found that they could accurately predict the likelihood of doing so 80% of the time by analyzing these oxytocin levels. It’s clear that well-constructed stories have a tangible impact on the reader, and they can even inspire changes in behavior, such as persuading to investigate a solution or even motivating to purchase.
With data supporting your claims, there’s no need to fear the controversial
Many B2B leaders believe that their content should shy away from controversial topics in order to not offend potential prospects. Their rationale follows that all press may be good press for B2C companies who can elicit value from widespread attention, but B2B organizations don’t resonate with the public in the same way, so the benefits of publicity gleaned from controversy are less manifest.
The great thing about using data, however, is that it allows you to embrace controversial subjects with the power of facts to fall back on. It gives you the possibility to make waves in the thought leadership world by making a statement about something that people are talking about, while at the same time remaining committed to telling the story that the data reveals to you.
To take a very timely example of this let’s take a look at Foursquare. There’s not much that’s more controversial than politics, and Foursquare, like many brands, largely aims to stay out of the political arena for fear of alienating anywhere from 40% to 60% of their users. However, when Foursquare recently published a report detailing how Donald Trump’s presidential campaign was negatively affecting the foot traffic at several of his various properties, especially among women in more liberal states, it wasn’t a political story. It was simply a series of data sets gleaned from their users which revealed an interesting and controversial truth about a news cycle’s effects on a brand.
So while standing out through controversy can be beneficial, it’s important to remember that value to the prospect is always the primary goal. As long as the data you choose and the tale you craft around it provide unique value to the reader, then you will be able to use these compelling narratives to establish your credentials with your prospects and drive sales in your organization.