What’s Your Story? A Powerful Way to Teach

Here is how John Denver helped a struggling software company, or how great stories and thoughtful positioning can revive a business. 

I have a client who is CEO of a software company selling to a niche industry.  But his software wasn’t so robust and glitches, crashes and lots of service requests left his customer base disgruntled.  Many abandoned him and went with other providers.  He told me, “Now the software works fine.  I’ve corrected many of the weaknesses, created patches for some defects and provided better central support.  But when my salespeople go to former customers and tell them how we’ve fixed the software and ask them to come back, they won’t budge.  What should I do?”

So I told him the story of Jerry Weintraub, the great entertainment producer.  Weintraub handled a number of top entertainment clients, Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin and Frank Sinatra.  One of his clients was John Denver, and Weintraub told the story of the time John Denver wanted to fire him:

“He was in Europe on tour. And everything was wrong. He hated everything. He hated the venues. The airplanes were no good. The sound systems were no good. Everything was no good. And he said, ‘Jerry I’m going to fire you; everything is wrong here.’ I said, ‘yeah, I know, I know.’

I said, ‘John, everything is going to be fine because today I fired Ferguson.’ He said, ‘why did you fire Ferguson? What is firing him going to do?’ I said, ‘he’s been responsible for all the things that you’re troubled by: the hotels, the sound system, the venues, all of it.’ And he said, ‘it’s going to be okay now?’ I said, ‘Yes, I’m putting other people in.  Everything will be great.’

And that evening, we went out to have something to eat. I said to him, ‘John, you know, I feel really terrible about firing Ferguson.’ He asked why. I said, ‘because it’s not like you and it’s not like me.’ And John Denver said to me, ‘I agree with you; it’s not like us. What can we do to help the guy? We’ve got to help him.’ I said, ‘I’ll put him in another area in the company. He’ll be fine. We’ll take good care of him.’ He said, ‘That’s great, I feel so much better.’ Of course, there never was anybody named Ferguson.”

So I asked my client, “Do you see what you should do?”  And of course he did.  He had his salespeople tell the old customers, “That software we sold you had too many problems.  We got rid of it and went with a new supplier. The new software works perfectly now.  We want you to come back with us and we’ll give you a free trial,” and then he started getting his old customers back.

There’s a lesson here, or maybe several of them.  First, powerful stories are a great way to teach. In the training room when I say, “let me share a story with you,” there is an immediate and positive change in the learners’ body language.  Second, while it’s not right to lie to customers, the ability to position what you say will help you influence the way people think.  By packaging all the customers’ problems in one box called “Ferguson” and saying, “That problem is now gone,” both Weintraub and my client were successful in helping people see things in a different and positive way.

I hope you liked this story, and because stories are such a powerful teaching tool, I’m going to begin including them in my Friday posts.  I’ll call them “Fable Fridays” and I hope you will use them to help you…

Think Like Your Customer!

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About Gregory LaMothe
I teach people how to sell things. I own the company ActionSystems. Visit my website at www.actionsystemstraining.com.

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