The Power of Analogy, Story, and Illustration

It was two years ago I suppose, though it seems much longer ago. We were preparing to meet with several executives to discuss matters most serious and teasingly technical.

On the one side of the discussion were those of us who wanted to allow a “guest log in” feature to our web site that would allow even known users to begin conducting business without having to formally identify themselves.

On the other side of the discussion was the party that wanted known customers to continue to have to provide their customer number. Something every customer had but few knew and even fewer ever used for anything other than logging in to the web site.

On our side we had numbers, good numbers, interesting numbers. Numbers that showed abandoned transactions and numbers that showed potentially lost revenues and numbers that showed opportunity for growth.

On their side they had numbers, numbers I wanted to call bad but couldn’t, numbers that showed the amount of additional work in hours and dollars that spawned every time a known customer transacted  as though they were new ie: without using their customer number.

Ever have to go into one of those showdowns…er… meetings? In the worst instances voices raise, emotions boil and conclusions scamper out the window like so many scared rabbits. In the best instances they’re tedious affairs that result in begrudgingly compromised half-measures that wind up satisfying no one, something akin to rice pudding.

To make matters worse this conversation had been had before, several times. Each time each party brought new, more compelling numbers to bare and yet no one was compelled. So I suggested something new, devious perhaps, but new.

As each person arrived at the appointed meeting room a polite and warm representative greeted them outside the door.  “We’re glad you’re here!”, they exclaimed, “As a new measure of security for this meeting we’re asking that you provide the VIN from your automobile. Now we understand you may not have anticipated this new development but as your car is just outside in the parking lot, and the weather today is quite fine, it should be no trouble for you to track down the required information. If you’ve never used your VIN before it can be found on a small plaque on your dash or, in some cases, on the drivers side door.”

The  reactions were priceless and I could see them all because the meeting room had a small window in the door. I was seated inside having actually captured my VIN with my phone that morning.

Rather than going through the minor hassle of walking a couple hundred yards to provide the required credentials the surprised attendees tried to push past as though it were a joke. When they found the way blocked and the ‘doorman’ quite serious they actually headed for the elevator in a huff, not to get the number, but to leave the meeting! Ok, ‘huff’ is too weak a word, they were really hacked-off!

At this point our staunch doorman apologized for the minor ruse and allowed them to enter the meeting, as a guest.

The first words uttered in the meeting? “Ok, we get it. How do we fix it?”

Allow me to suggest three reasons why this approach worked, reasons that are universal benefits of using analogy, story and illustration.

1. It moved them from mind to heart.

We’d talked through all the issues before. Both sides knew the others arguments and rationale and in many cases agreed with the numbers. This experienced moved the conversation from a head talk to a heart talk. The participants understood the situation in a new way, one that moved from the intellectual to the emotional.

2. It moved them from observation to participation.

Interestingly enough the way we first start learning in life is through story and the BEST storytellers make us feel like we’re a part of the story! When my children were youngsters I read them the Harry Potter books. When the first film came out the boys’ comment was: “But dad, what if they get the voices wrong?!?” They’d been a part of the story in a way that made it feel like they had it the ‘right way’.

In the case of our meeting we actually put folks into the experience of the customers. It moved the presentation from being a story heard to a story lived. They experienced the voices of the customer in a way they hadn’t before as the voices became their own.

3. It moved them from understanders to believers

Understanding and belief, on the surface, seem like familiar bedfellows. The difference is in the mind versus the heart. I always understood that a cruise vacation could be restful but never believed it until I’d been on one…and another one…and another one…and another one!

Too many ‘corporate’ conversations rely solely on the head, the intellect, the numbers. We talk about mind share and convincing and countering objections. Just winning the intellectual argument often results in failure, “I agree with your numbers but I’m just not feeling it.” But find a way to win the heart and the head follows easily.

What near term opportunity do you have to use a story approach to communicating a corporate message? What’s holding you back from trying?

 

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