story and story telling for business, and b2b relationshipsI recently interviewed a client and he challenged me about the relevance of storytelling and social media in B2B situations.  I gave him a decent response that seemed to answer his questions, but it also got me looking more closely at business to business relationships.

Business is all about cultivating quality relationships with clients and customers.  B2B is no exception to this.  But business tend to take longer to trust one another, so the relationship process is extended.

Relationships have a process

Every relationship follows distinct stages in a process; introduction, curiosity, evaluation, exchange, purposing, and togetherness.  These are the crucial stages where you have to construct the story you are telling.  If you ignore any of these stages, you will miss something crucial in the relationship.

Relationships thrive on good stories

The key is in developing the story for each stage of the relationship. The story you tell must be different at each stage but they must all tie to the same theme of a larger story.

At the introduction stage you simply focus on making yourself known and the very basest of relevant detail; connect yourself to a theme, and their overall story.  At the curiosity stage you work on intriguing them to continue the relationship; you tell them a story that is interesting, cool, and relevant. And so on throughout the stages. The idea is to tell a larger story as you cultivate the relationship through telling the smaller stories at each stage.

Stories motivate to act

While the relationship will give you credibility and authority, the story will motivate them to act.  If they believe the story you are telling them, and it touches them at a relevant, deep level; only then will you have success.

Talking about benefits isn’t important at first

Creating that smaller story for each stage begins with identifying the problem. While most business or marketing books teach the reader to highlight the benefits first, the benefit is like the ending of the a story.  Unfortunately the ending isn’t usually what grabs our attention.  It’s the opening (of a good story) that holds us and draws us in.  In fact, our psychology is created to hear and process information in the form of story.  So wouldn’t it make sense to follow a narrative form in our communications, especially if that’s how our brains work?

Crafting your B2B stories

So how do you create a good story for B2B if you don’t hammer away at the benefits? They simply won’t care about the benefits until they believe you understand their problems, until you can prove to them that you understand their desires.

When you create a story to draw a client in, you want to start with the want, the desire.  Often their want is represented by a problem; something they don’t have, a lack, which is caused because the obstacles to get the thing they want are too high.  You must address all these issues first, only then telling them the ending to the story. Once you have laid the groundwork, then can you paint  the picture for them, the picture of a brand new world where they can finally get what they want (the benefit).

Think Relationships, Not Transactions

Remember, this is part of a relationship, and the process for businesses is much longer than for most consumers. Identify where you are in the relationship, craft the stories that will take you deeper into the stages of relationship, and make sure you stay true to the overall story. Honestly, if you simply remind yourself that it’s not about sales goals, it’s about cultivating quality relationships, communicating, and telling stories, then you will be on more solid, long term footing.