Last time, we got into why, as humans, we are attracted to great stories— which if you recall— involves a lot of biology! This time, we’ll discuss how to properly, effectively, relay, and relate data driven stories that will get reps closer to close. We should begin by stating that data without context, only tells half the story. For decades, organizations have invested in data to help them gauge product viability/success, yet fail to invest in connecting their information to a narrative which enables the customer to visualize how the offering can serve them. But times are changing, and year over year more companies are influenced by storytelling in their decision making. In fact, according to research firm Forrester, in 2017 fewer business decisions were made using data (45%) than in 2016 (49%).
The shift toward more socially connective based sales means the data itself is no longer the story, but the component that lends credibility to the story. While people are absolutely drawn to a human interest story, we can’t negate the fact that data is the key to credibility in brand storytelling. Hard information combined with human interest is integral to articulating relatable and credible stories. It’s important to frame your research and present it in a compelling way. This process is essential to moving from insight to action.
Identify the Key Message
What’s the goal of your presentation? Creating a data driven story that’s intended to sell a product or service requires a clear, focused, message. While closing the deal is clearly the ultimate goal, it’s important to identify how your product or service can help the customer solve a problem, avoid a consequence— or both. Essentially, you’ve got to identify the jobs to be done and connect them to your offering as the solution. Once you’ve established your intended messaging, you should leverage one or two key data points to highlight the problem and provide a solution or direction.
Using a surprising or stand-out statistic is much more memorable than cramming in multiple research points. Focusing on a stand out stat helps ground the message, and drives your goal home. While it may seem like a good idea to include as many data points as possible, over use of statistics is actually pretty annoying, and only serves as a distraction—diluting the focus of your story.
Not sure which statistic to highlight? Start with “why.” Simon Sinek, ethnographer and leadership consultant, delivered a popular TED talk and wrote a best-selling book on this topic. He argues that successful business leaders can motivate themselves by understanding why what they do is important. Then, they apply this understanding to push their teams forward.
Providing context with a story rather than diving into data, helps your audience understand your message. It guides them to why they should be paying attention— and what their takeaway will be.
Create a Narrative
You have the data. You know your audience, and have your key message identified. Now, how can you deliver the story in a compelling way? Develop a narrative structure.
Let’s take a look to the past for some guidance from some of history’s greatest storytellers. Great stories always feature a relatable protagonist who reminds the audience of the status quo and then reveals the path to a better way.
It’s the context around the data that provides value and that’s what will make people listen and engage.
Using this structure, you can create a cohesive story while inspiring action.
Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic, best selling author of storytelling with data, shares the fundamentals of data visualization and how to communicate effectively with data. Watch her “Bringing Data to Life Through Story” video below, and take notes as she highlights a couple of lessons from the book!
Humanize Your Results.
Data absent human connection, does not close deals. Nancy Duarte, best-selling author on visual storytelling, is a strong advocate of building emotional appeal through examples and anecdotes. In her book Resonate, Duarte gives the example of tech giant Cisco Systems. “The company’s salespeople became much more successful when they stopped delivering fact-heavy presentations to promote their products and started telling stories. For instance, the story of a struggling, small business owner who grew his company and managed it more effectively using Cisco products is much more relatable than simply hearing about all the latest features.”
The key to executing this strategy is identifying your audience and understanding what examples will resonate with them.
Make it visual.
We all love a visual! Even the best data-driven stories need them. Most of us engage more when presentations include pictures, video, etc. Presentations absent visual accompaniment are less likely to keep audience attention.
“The ways in which organizations deliver business analytics insights are evolving,” says James Richardson, Senior Director Analyst at Gartner. “Data and analytics teams have always created dashboards and visualizations, but many are unfamiliar with wrapping those artifacts into a narrative.”
Including imagery that supports your narrative will lend to the relatability of your story, and keep your audience interested!
Create identifiable next steps for your audience.
Your story needs to be constructed in much the same way a path is laid. Step by step, a direction has to be established which takes the customer from beginning to end, leaving no open ended points, or opportunities for them to become lost or bored. By creating a cohesive, well directed story that your customer can relate to, you can transform market research from a tactical tool into a strategic asset. This can ultimately enhance decision-making across an enterprise.
Data Storytelling is a specialized skill which requires coaching, practice, and more practice! Because it is just as important in driving outcomes as the quality of your data and insights, your approach has to be focussed and well constructed. Whether you’re a sales professional, a marketing professional or a leader, your team’s ability to relay a clear and compelling story to customers is quickly becoming the determining factor in an organization’s decision to move forward with you.