Have you ever read a business article that talks about “the power of storytelling”? If you have, you probably felt like it was a little shallow that researchers and analysts tout the benefits of storytelling across everything from gaining followers to increasing sales to cultivating brand loyalists. I mean, of course telling a compelling story can potentially improve sales and marketing functions, but is it really necessary at the core of the organization itself?
A recent Harvard Business Review article titled Storytelling That Drives Bold Change flipped the entire idea of storytelling in business on its head! The article claims that storytelling is far more than a “nice to have” sales/marketing approach. It makes the case that storytelling is a fundamental leadership need across all organizations. The executive summary explains,
“When tackling urgent organizational problems, leaders usually work hard to identify underlying causes, tap a wide range of knowledge, and experiment with solutions. But once they’ve mapped out a plan, there’s one more crucial step they must take: crafting a story so compelling that it will harness their organizations’ energy and direct it toward change.”
Frances Frei and Anne Morriss highlight the fact that organizational problems don’t just need a proposed fix, they need a proposal that will win people over. The narrative that leaders craft is just as important to the organization’s ability to overcome challenges as the plan itself.For B2B leadership, this may be a difficult message to hear because our space has traditionally been oriented towards action, not words. And yet, as B2B continues to evolve, we are coming to realize that one of the most powerful ways to align an organization around a common goal is to appeal to the things that unite us as people, and there’s nothing more innately human than storytelling.
In this spirit, it’s crucial to understand that one of the best ways to overcome organizational challenges is to follow Frei and Morriss’s advice to embrace storytelling for effective change management. How? By taking these key steps:
Understand the Problem Deeply and Describe It Simply
As a leader, when you are communicating a plan or strategy with others, you need to assume that the group you are addressing has a diverse set of experiences, which means that they will have different levels of familiarity with the issue being discussed. Leadership must fully understand the problem they are hoping to fix and be able to convey both the problem and the solution in a way that doesn’t lose people who are not experts in that area. Avoid using insider terms and jargon to make the message more accessible to everyone. Being able to describe the problem and the solution simply helps to keep everyone engaged.
Additionally, your narrative should include just enough detail that it’s thorough and effective, but isn’t so specific that your audience writes the problem off as outside of their purview. This is especially important in B2B because there can be vastly different areas of the business that you are trying to unite. For instance, a detailed manufacturing improvement plan or warehousing solution will probably fail to hold the attention of your sales and marketing teams, even though their efforts will benefit from the company improving these areas.
Honor your Organization’s Past (Both Positive and Negative)
Charles Dickens didn’t just say, “It was the worst of times,” and leave it at that. Instead, he said, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness… it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” And given the fact that a Tale of Two Cities was written to take place during the French Revolution, his acknowledging of both the good and the bad was certainly warranted! Now, hopefully, you won’t have anything as extreme as that to reckon for at your organization, but the point still holds that honoring both the good and the bad has merit.
Your company isn’t perfect – acknowledging that is key to creating the kind of balanced narrative that builds trust and inspires dedication. That doesn’t mean you need to focus solely on all its shortcomings. You should certainly celebrate its successes to remind employees that they are a part of an organization that can do great things. But when there’s a problem that needs to be fixed, that failure cannot be ignored. Truthfully acknowledge what needs to be fixed and what fixing that will mean for your organization to get everyone excited about the transformation. However, in doing so, avoid the tendency to use B2C-focused industry benchmarks or success indicators. Keep your organization laser focused on the things that matter most to a B2B organization such as yours.
Provide a Mandate for Change
With a recognition of what’s wrong and a nod to the company’s past, you need to then provide a clear path to overcoming it. Simply put, offer the “why!” Share why the change you are proposing is important and tailor your message to your audience. If your B2B organization has significant turnover due to temp workers or contract employees, this mandate for change will bridge the gap as staff leaves and is replaced to keep the company on a steady trajectory forward.
In many cases, there will be multiple justifications for the fix. Choose the one(s) that will resonate best with your team or the stakeholders you’re communicating with to make it more meaningful to them specifically. In a B2B organization that may look like highlighting fewer repairs on manufacturing lines, reduced downtime, or faster order fulfillment. This rationale will be the impetus for your team to keep going when a change is difficult or takes a significant investment of time.
Describe the Path Forward
Share the plan of how to fix the problem and what that fix will realistically look like along the way. Transparently communicate the fix in the same way that you were transparent in explaining the problem. Be forthcoming about how this change is now a top priority and genuinely pledge to prioritize it.
The specificity that you omitted when identifying the problem has a place here. Explain the details around why the organization is going down the path that it is, what’s required to make it work, and what kind of benefits you expect to see at which intervals. Say it once and then say it again (and again …and again!). Repeat the messaging across all your communications touchpoints to solidify your commitment to change.
Provide Ongoing Feedback
Be sure to build and gain the trust of staff and key stakeholders by providing updates as your organization moves forward down the path. Not only will this ensure ongoing buy-in to effect the change you are after, but it will also make future change easier for your organization to rally around.
When you need help overcoming organizational challenges, please reach out to us. We will work with you to create a strategic revenue plan that includes a strategic marketing framework, integrated marketing plan, sales and distribution strategy, and client development program to strengthen your most valued relationships. The result is a firm foundation for sustainable business growth. Find out how we help B2B organizations align their sales and marketing strategies to grow profitable revenue today!