The Power of “What If” Storytelling

A well-crafted story gives power to your ideas and recommendations like nothing else can.

It can open people’s minds to new ways of thinking. It connects them with your solution on an emotional level. And it can make your idea more memorable, encouraging people to share it with others.

In other words, your ideas start to sell themselves.

A story that belongs in every salesperson’s toolbox?

The “what if” story.

Also known as a day-in-the-life story, a what if story contrasts how much better life would be for your listeners if your recommended solution were already in place, or your idea already a reality.

Unlike other types of stories or anecdotes, a what if story hasn’t happened yet.

Its power comes from how accurately you’re able to describe the problems your customer is experiencing now—and then how well you can imagine a future where those problems are overcome.

People should come away from your story thinking, “This person really gets me and what I’m up against. I can see this solution working.”

How do you build an effective “what if” story?

Putting your idea into a what if story format is a true test of how tangible and attractive it will be to your listeners.

If you’re struggling to translate an idea into a what if story, take a step back to rethink it or refine it before presenting.

  1. Create a hero for your story.
    Your goal is to portray your hero’s quest (i.e., your customer’s challenge or goal) in such a way that your customer deeply feels the dilemma and embraces it as their own. Your customer’s ability to identify with your hero is what gives your story emotional weight, making it more memorable—and more persuasive—than a series of facts on a slide.

    Describe your hero well enough for listeners to form a mental picture of him or her. Include details like job title, length of time on the job and, most importantly, what their needs and goals are. Your hero can either be a real person, disguised if necessary, or a composite of several people.

    Keep in mind that specific demographic information is much less important than what the person cares about, or what motivates or challenges them.

  2. Put your hero in the thick of things.
    Once you’ve created your hero, place them in the thick of the same problems your customer is facing. Be careful not to make assumptions about what your customer’s problems are.

    Do your discovery homework, because if you don’t know or can’t identify the real problems, your story won’t resonate.

  3. Give your hero a brighter future.
    Paint a future where your hero reaps the benefits that your proposed solution brings.

    That might be improved team productivity, projects managed with less stress, new customers coming on board, better work-life balance, increased product margins, or the successful launch of new software—whatever you’ve discovered is most important to your customer.

Learn how to sell with storytelling.

Stories are powerful motivators.

More than any sales methodology or slide deck, a strong narrative helps sales teams establish credibility with customers, build momentum, and get to a decision faster.

Through 30 years of research and applied practice, Mandel has created simple, yet effective storytelling frameworks that any professional can use.

Using these easy-to-apply tools, we train sales teams to sell with storytelling—to build narratives that help customers better connect with you and your recommendations.

Learn how Hewlett Packard Enterprise uses Mandel’s methods to drive sales results.

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Diane Burgess-Faber

Diane Burgess-Faber

Diane is Senior Vice President, Chief Learning & Design Strategist, at Mandel. With over 20 years’ experience in the training and development industry, she plays an important leadership role on Mandel's Executive Leadership and Strategic Planning Teams. As global head of learning design and client experience, Diane has been at the forefront of Mandel’s AI-driven mobile and semi-synchronous online strategies. These strategies reinforce and complete Mandel’s award-winning suite of live in-person and virtual training solutions. Diane and the Learning Design Team assess, consult with, and support hundreds of clients, both nationally and globally, in designing training that delivers business results. Her Client Experience team then delivers the training that supports learners and drives true behavior change while carefully monitoring the user experience. Before joining Mandel, Diane spent 17 years with Zenger-Miller (later AchieveGlobal). Diane served as the Executive Director, Global Sales and Operations, and built worldwide networks of highly capable affiliate partnerships while crafting products and services that were locally and culturally relevant.