#storytellerjewels In today’s episode, I get to interview Jeremy Polard. Listen in as he describes what makes a great storyteller
Jeremy Pollard the world’s best storytellers are also the best listeners and the best of asking questions because that’s what makes their story actually line up to the other parties. Consequence or situation.
#storytellerjewels Welcome to the telling of story podcast I’m your host, Storyteller Jewels and it is with delight that I get to chat with an old friend and occasional colleague, Jeremy Pollard. Jeremy started selling at the we age of 16. He wanted a new camera. So he got a weekend job at a local camera store, learned about best cameras, made some great friends and got some staff discount as well. And then he was head hunted into revenue responsibility roles across a range of industries industrial equipment, technology, including being employee number 5 at Microsoft Australia when it was just a challenger brand. Jeremy spent a decade at IBM learning large account complex sales, which taught him the importance of having an in depth knowledge, but that the secret to customer focus imparted to him by the older, wiser salespeople meant listening more than selling. Today, Jeremy helps organisations large and small around Asia Pacific win more work with the Shipley Associates Global Consulting Practice based on customer focus. Jeremy, welcome to the show.
Jeremy Pollard Thank you, Jewels. Thanks for having me.
#storytellerjewels Jeremy there is a period between IBM and Shipley, however, the time we first met around 20 years ago or so where you were consulting via a company you founded called Best Story Wins. Tell me why you called it that. And what was the premise of what you did through that period?
Jeremy Pollard Well, the thing that I’d observed was that, and of course this is just my experience. But the majority of organisations have a have a good offering. Good product, good people. You know, as and as a customer, it’s often really hard to pick the difference between all the suppliers standing outside the window going, choose me, choose me and my observation as I worked both buying and selling both sides of that kind of divide is that you know, when I was in an organisation, we wanted to try and buy something. It was actually really hard to pick a difference between all these different bidders, these different suppliers and quite often, you know, when we make a decision and we’d sit around and talk about it. Yeah, I know. I don’t know. I was always fascinated by how the decision process work and then some quite bigger companies, sort of very, very small startups. And there’s always a degree of technical compliance necessary. You know, if you need a software system to do job tracking or you want to bridge across the river or you need a building to house a certain time of industrial equipment, all of those have a simple compliance aspect. But when all of them, all of the organisations, can meet those basic compliance issues, it often comes down to a bunch of other factors which are not always carbon by the technical specifications. Now, one of those one of those that there are some really, really good experts on in the world is just that the qualities of relationship and trust. Yeah, people buy from people they don’t organisations done by from organisations as a common aphorism, and I certainly believe in that. So then if you if you’ve got a technically acceptable product, unlike most of the other supplies, you’ve got a bit of a relationship with the organisation. You’ve got a bit of trust and credibility in the market. What’s left? How do you stand apart? And the thing that I observed and experienced began practising was the art of story. Um, you know, and in the sense of, uh, there’s a common expression. So when you meet them, so what’s your story? Not as in the tales and fables that we read our Children at bedtime or red our Children at bedtime, but more on the kind of explain yourself version. So, you know, on that idea, you know, we’d often when we were buying, we have suppliers come in. And that would be our question. What’s your story? And we weren’t We weren’t looking for all the feeds and speeds of the technology and how the service package was assembled. How much everything costs. We’re looking for things around. You know why they got into the business, you know? What are they? What are they trying to do? Why, why is helping people with this important to you? And one of the reasons for that is that and there’s a great Ted talk by Simon Sinek, you know, he gave a talk That’s very, very famous. Now, on explaining your why, uh you know, I’m not gonna I’m not gonna go repeat all of that. But it’s part of your story, is why you got into it. And and that was that was sort of a start. But then what? What I also discovered when I formed best story wins and this was my kind of transition into Shipley. Is that so often when people are asked, what’s your story? They just regurgitate like a stock response. Uh, it’s a It’s a bunch of motherhood from the website. Not that I’ve coming up against my Logan on the website, but generally it’s so vague and self serving. It’s not very customer focused. And so what’s your story? Should be thought of more as an invitation than an excuse for boring people talking about yourself. So that’s that’s where it kind of got startled.
#storytellerjewels And so through that process, Clearly, you know you’re helping, you know, many organisations start to tell their story and evolve that story. Is there some key areas?
Do you think that where storytelling actually helps in the sales process?
Jeremy Pollard Yeah, yeah, all the way through. Um is my sense of it. Of course, early on in the piece, a good a good story and I don’t want to. The language of a customer focus story is too cumbersome. So I’m just gonna say story. But in each of the levels understand that I I’m talking about a story for a prospect or a possible customer, uh, someone you’re working within a business case or an existing client In each of those instances, as they as you work through that buying journey with them needs to be customised, optimised to be relevant to the listener. And none of us would sit down and tell a story about a topic if the audience wasn’t interested in the topic. You know, that’s just self indulgence. That’s not storytelling. So the greatest storytellers in the world, um, you know, if we take this back to our pre industrial and pre sales origins, one of one of my favourite memories of studying all this was, of course, at the New South Wales Writers Centre, where there was a topic of storytelling and there was this Irish professional Irish storyteller. Yeah, he told this Marvellous. Yeah, about growing up in a little village where he on Saturday night everybody would go down to the local pub, which wasn’t that large, but that was where everybody gathered and the wind would be blowing. The fires have been burning, the conversation be going, and he can remember falling asleep to the sound not of occasionally of music but not of screens with football scores being shouted at yet. But people telling stories telling yards. And they were a way of reminding people of who they were and where they come from. And I’m sitting at this in this class hearing this character talking, and I thought, Well, look, this is one of the oldest forms of communication of connection and of passing on ideas. Nobody sits down and says, OK, everybody here at the pub. I’m going to give you a lecture on how to behave in this situation. It’s like eyes and roll, everyone to turn their back and go back to the bar on fire. But when you tell a story about somebody going on a journey and having to overcome a problem and having to dig deep in themselves to find out what was necessary to survive will be successful or overcome the challenges you know. Hollywood, you know, made a science and an art form out of this. I went to a script writing workshop years ago, got taken through all the character archetypes. And so when I got involved in selling, I realised that the version of it in selling to your point about where does the supply It’s right at the very beginning. If you’re going to be introduced to someone as a potential supplier before somebody will introduce me or introduce you or someone else, they’re going to tell a little story about that person or that character or that that company. And so to get the initial trust, to have people prepared to kind of pull back from should I give you any time, you’ve got to awaken the interest in hearing about you from a story ideally delivered by someone else. But if you’ve got to do it yourself, at least make it relevant to me, the person you’re telling it to. And then those stories evolve with the the evolving of your relationship with the buyer. Later, let’s say they bought. They signed the contract. Your implementation team will tell stories to get across points about how to use the solution well, and and the the oldest version of this or the simplest version to help people get a handle on what it looks like can just be the intro of two simple words that a lot of sales people and processes use. And that’s when there’s a conversation about solving a problem. And then to establish credibility and reassure the other party. People will often say these two words. So you know, we think that can be improved. This is going to happen, for example, down the road at so and so’s place. They had this problem and they fixed it up by doing X, y and Z. And now the problem’s gone away. And so a story can be as simple as a brief example of somebody else with the same problem as your prospect. Overcoming it and getting it fixed. And that might be all the story you need. It might just happen in a quick, short conversation, or you can make it a part of your ongoing process. But everywhere from introduction all the way through the implementation and I’ve seen stories applied well, jewels in customer service where people have problems three years into a contract. Okay, so that’s going wrong. Yeah, Let’s think about that. Okay. Yeah. Let me tell you a story about somebody else who found this problem. And this is what we looked at. Would you be prepared to go and investigate? On that basis, they sorted it out. It wasn’t what you know what they thought. But so it’s It builds credibility, It explains. It educates all the way through that through that cycle, is my experience of it.
#storytellerjewels Fabulous. Jeremy, you know, you and I talk about a lot. You know, the buyers journey in as a process. Um, and it is a fairly world defined process at this point in time, and we’ve often over laid storytelling at different stages of that process. How much do you think? People in general? How much do you think they think about the things that they’re saying through the selling process versus practitioners like you and I, where we sort of really sort of dig deep around the conversation and the and the timing of some of these stories and the types of stories that you tell. Do you think it’s, um, more of an art or a science. Where does that sort of line get drawn for you?
Jeremy Pollard When? When you’re teaching that to get people to understand that these storytelling principles need to take place at certain times through certain parts of the journey. And do some people actually do that a little bit more naturally than others? Couple of couple of great questions and their jewels. I think to your last point about you know, some people doing it more naturally. Sometimes, uh, SARS has got a reputation for attracting people that, you know, I love a good chat. I don’t mind talking to others and yet less probably harnessed. Uh, that can end up be that one way. So some people in sales Oh, yes, so and so they’re big. They’re a great salesperson. They can, and I took the back leg off a donkey or whatever expression you want to use. But that’s not always good storytelling, and it’s not always good customer focus, and I’m being blessed to work with engineers and technicians and scientific folk who use a kind of science, science based method and engineering method. It’s about asking a lot of questions. Why do you think this is happening and what does it mean when that occurs? And what’s your evidence that that’s a problem? And what’s the consequence of that? What numbers would you associated with it so great? Storytelling is not based on being able to talk a lot. It’s actually, I believe, based on being able to listen really well and and ask questions, which in in the answering of them by the other party, they come to kind of better understand their own topic by having to think about it in a guided way. So as a as a somewhat provocative suggestion, I’d posit I’d suggest that the world’s best storytellers are also the best listeners and the best of asking questions because that’s what makes their story actually line up to the the other parties. Consequence of situation to question about the degree to which Fats in eight. I think it comes with people who have had a lot of experience and gone down dead ends. You know, I’ve met people who have been selling 2030 years, and by trial and error well, that didn’t work that didn’t work. The school of hard knocks has taught them what to shut up about and what works I One of the things I I get so much satisfaction out of it when it occurs, is getting people to think about the level of maturity of their steps in their buyers. Journey. What I remember that there’s these lovely things Carnegie Mellon developed years ago called Capability maturity models, which for any area of human endeavour is to basically take key steps and grade them on a 1 to 5 scale, one being at hoc. Everyone does something different to means. We’ve agreed on a couple of things, and five being the whole organisation learns and itself optimises. And you can apply CMS to making a cup of tea to human resources to software. There’s one for business development. And if you think about the range of characters in your organisation and my characters and I’m enrols people interacting with your market with your customers, probably the first place to start is to just you have to get them all at once, but go out to your tame your extended team. If you have channels and partners and just have some conversations, ask them. You have to go to a fall surveil pole to start with, although that’s good. Later, as the data builds up, just ask them what role they think. The ability to tell stories effectively has a mayor building of trust. Building a relationship, understanding of needs, explaining how you sold the needs. So self assess for the degree to which people are even conscious of their use of listening and replying with stories and the current process. Because you can’t impose it from above as a cure, unless people are are actually aware that it’s something they either use or if they do use, could do better with. And so my suggestion would be, you’re going to be as an organisation somewhere in your maturity, in use but without actively having worked on it. Probably not very mature. And that means, uh, spasmodic, erratic, inconsistent. So find the pockets, the people, the roles that are doing it well and get their story on how they use stories and make heroes out of them. Make what they do something that others will without being told. Seek to emulate, make it an aspirational quality and the way people work with each other, work with customers, and that that last point I found really important because not everyone thinks of themselves as a sales person. I didn’t I was just some kid 21 who had to manage the park’s counter when everyone, all the sales people, went to lunch. And so people that come in all the stuff talk about what they needed. And I ended up selling more on the lunch hour than the sales people did in a full day. And they’re going well, what are you doing? How are you doing? I just asked them what they want. Why do they want that? Why is that important? And so this idea of you know, listening make your heroes the people that have got this already, whether it’s my trial error doesn’t matter before, but via try and make it a big formal process. Just have your internal relationships a bit driven by a bit more questioning. So if sales and engineering or marketing and finance or engineering and product and finance have to meet to have a conversation, try and think about what role listening and playing back stories and using stories to make points might help internally give out awards, give people going, stars give certificates for it internal internal storytelling. But make sure people understand it’s not blah, blah, blah, talking at its listen playback reflect, use it to illustrate. And when you get a bit of confidence up internally, you’re starting to change the culture a little bit. That becomes a safe platform from which your your teams, your stakeholders, can take the confidence they’ve hopefully built from some internal use and start to use it externally with other stakeholders. I read an interesting statistic recently that suggested that most of the groundwork to a good sale comes from the customer delivery and contract admin. You support staff like if if they’re doing a good job and your your name, you’re a trust of you. As an organisation is good in the marketplace, that’s the platform to go in and sell more on top of. And if you can get better listening, playback, illustrative storytelling in all of the folks that you have dealing with your market and your customers, then that is a really powerful platform to build future sales on. But if you just do it with your sales people, what’s the risk you run is that they looked like they work one day and everyone out the back is not on board, not on the same programme. And it has to start at the top that the executive team have to recognise that this type of relationship is important. And for that reason, this really works with autocratic. Or could you do what I tell you organisations? Because that internal behaviour is normally how they’re seeing it appear out in the market as well. Storytelling to anything about that.
#storytellerjewels Jeremy, you talk a lot about listening and then using the information that you’re hearing clearly to reflect back and tell some of those stories I’ve had the pleasure of observing you facilitate more workshops than I can count. Um, and you have this innate ability to be able to gather everyone’s questions, you know, as early as you can in the peace and everyone’s problems. And just here, here, why, why they’re there. You know what? What are the things that they want resolved for them? Um and then you masterfully you know, we’ve those responses into the workshop itself so that throughout the process you you are able to answer each and every one of those questions and concerns and you do it so beautifully that it feels like you’re you know, you’ve tailored the workshop to the individual person without making it feel like you’ve just wedged in these responses sort of willy nilly. So it’s an absolute skill, and it’s beautiful to watch. Congratulations. I know I’ve learned a hell of a lot just observing you do some of these things. Um, when and how did you discover this skill? Um, and what have you learned about that power of actually weaving? Those are their stories into yours so that it feels so much more personal.
Jeremy Pollard Well, thank you for the lovely feedback. That was what you’re describing was not me. In my twenties, I was the wind up sales robot that just went out and unaided. Could just tell people everything about every product and no, no, no, don’t Don’t interrupt with a question. I haven’t finished this yet. It was all one way. And, uh, I’m very grateful that I had patients, sales management and other older, wiser sales people to take me a sign including my dad, saying my my father, uh, Brian Pollard, who was 35 years in sales at IBM, he was one of the first half a dozen of their most senior sales reps globally, Um, to be accorded a new title of consulting sales rep. Uh, 30 30 plus years ago, and and it was in recognition of their giving back to the sales craft of helping newer younger members build their skills and their capabilities. And my father’s story was kind of special, because when he was younger, he had a really bad starter and spent quite a bit of time trying to work beyond that. When he joined IBM, it was as an engineer part of his logic, as I understand it was that he didn’t have to talk much. But what he found was when he was on the subjects he was interested in, which were largely people’s problems, to be solved as an engineer, he could chat away no problem. And he remember, he kind of realised that being interested in other people, uh, was kind of like a prerequisite, because if you if you’ve got that curiosity, if you’re genuinely interested in their problems and their challenges and what it means to them, it just becomes a fascinating conversation, and that was not me in my twenties, and my father Blessing was very patient with me. While I eventually had the stuffing knocked out of me by a bunch of others before he kind of sat me down. I was heading for 30 at this stage and he said, Okay, well, you know, you interested hearing a few things listening, coming, a bit of a chat about all this and what I had to do to get better at doing and to get to the level that you described there was to just get out of my own way. This whole process wasn’t about me and what I knew. I mean, sometimes, you know, the ego gets in the way and wants to, you know, revert back. But But generally those situations you’ve described aware, uh, you just go into a zone where the people that you’re there to serve and what they’re grappling with, I always always take notes. I always you know, sometimes it’s on a flip chart online now, delivering a lot. I have a little note pad and I still go around. I ask everybody, Why are you here? What are you trying to do? And and I keep an eye on that list, so I’ll be I’ll be watching him. And at the right part of the day, I’ll do what you’ve probably observed. And I’ll refer back to the person that brought up that issue of that question and I’ll check with them. Did that material did that part of the story help you with what you said earlier this morning? And half the time they’re surprised, or some have even forgotten what they brought up. But it reminds me of a lovely Ted talk I heard once on communication. That’s in the act of just showing you’ve listened to somebody whether or not you understand whether or not you agree whether or not you can solve the problem. Just the act of saying so you’re worried about X is 80% of the problem done so often in the workshops and the teaching. I know that always had the answers, but you know people will go away from your sales. You’re marketing your technicians diagnostics, feeling heard. If they’ve been able to get their story across and feel it was heard. So there’s there’s where it goes for me, Full Lou, I began and saying the supplies tell me your story and what I discovered decades later is that the secret to the whole best story wins process is the extent of which you can get the customer to share their story and their journey and their trials and tribulations and where they want to get to with you. And our job is to just play that back carefully, thoughtfully with them. And in a lot of instances, as I’ve gotten older and hopefully bit wiser, just playing that back to them often largely particularly in a lot of the coaching I do now helps people solve the problem. Now. Sometimes I don’t actually offer anything except the questions that they have to think about. The answer. Problem solved like Wow, that was amazing. I Yeah, I didn’t do much, really, but be interested. So for people that kind of, there’s also there’s a million books aren’t storytelling structure the theatrics and I The irony is it’s one of those flips. I really think it’s about getting the customer to tell their story now. That’s the journey I’ve been on. That’s where I write that. So do you think there’s any merit in you know, the the emphasis that people talk about when it comes to, you know, quality of content. For example, when you’re telling these stories, you know, a lot of the stuff we’ve talked about is a lot of face to face kind of stuff, um, and presentations and being able to actually, you know, look at somebody in the eye. That’s that’s definitely, um, one way to to tell your story. But more often than not, people are spending more and more time not talking to you, but looking for that same evidence, that same trust, that same empathy in a lot of the stuff that you publish out and present out into the public in order to get those people attracted to you in the form you might be in the form of a website. It might be in the form of video content or blogging or all number of types of content.
#storytellerjewels How do you do you have any advice around? How do you you know, firstly, how do you achieve that same amount of sort of feeling that there that you’re responding to their question, That’s what question number one. But is there too much importance placed on the quality of the video, the quality of the lighting, the quality of the audio, the frequency at which you post. You know all of those things that get talked about quite a lot, Which is more important? Is that the content itself, the raw content? Or is it a combination of the two? Where do you think that’s going?
Jeremy Pollard It’s a really good question, because I I have always had an interest in filmmaking and storytelling and video and production. You know, to the extent that my family are laughing at me because sitting on the desk here behind me, I’ve got an anamorphic lens to my iPhone, and a lot of people possibly won’t even know what an animal for cleanses. But it’s designed to give the even narrower and flatter picture than 16 by nine, which is what you get when you go to the movies. So production quality on a bit of a bit of a tragic over it myself, Like you. I’ve got a good microphone here on the desk, and so it’s important you don’t want poor quality to be a barrier between you and your storytelling and your content by any means. But I I do believe that there’s a bit of a a temptation to focus on that to the detriment of actually having anything to say. And you know, it’s like me when I was years ago, when I do, you know, like a lot of people wanted to be in a band, decided to learn to play guitar. And then in the end, I had more books on how to play guitar than I actually spent hours practising. Um, and I think a lot of content and podcasts, video stuff, you know, it can can, for some drift into that. But But here’s here’s the really interesting thing if my suggestion, if you if you if you wanted to kind of build content by the way I’m not. I’m not saying this as a master of it, because I’m at a stage of my career now. We’re having worked with thousands of people over the years. I’m not trying to build my career doing what you’re suggesting you’re talking about. It’s happened to me very slowly and very organically, but I understand giving advice to my own kids, for example, uh, is how to accelerate it. How do you how do you not wait 20 years to get known and a couple of couple of things that I I suggest to people, um, one just you go back and watch Simon. Cynics talk on Ted about why? And ask yourself the question. What are you doing this for? Like what? To what end? Is the content being produced? Oh, I want to be seen as ex good. Why? Think about what it is you’re hoping to do. Who are you hoping to serve? What? What problem that they’ve got and you’re gonna hold yourself out as being an expert. What if you were to be part of a community of people interested in solving that problem? What would the problem be? What sort of community would you want to build? Who would the sort of people that you would actually want to learn from look like? Yeah, and what are their stories? And are you the curator of the community and a contributor, or do you just want to contribute? Maybe you go off and find someone else’s and just be a helpful voice there. But if you if you’re going to go from being a contributor to other communities to carving out your own niche. I think it’s really important to just look at your motivations. Look at your reasons. Are there other people already in that space? What are they saying? How do you be? How can you be different? There’s What is it? How many 101,000 online video every hour. So if we want to stand down, you gotta You gotta pick a real niche but that you feel strongly about and having some authority and credibility in, or figure out a plan to go at growing it. Building it. Um, I’m lucky I’ve arrived at a place where people seem to fear lives. I’ve got a modest amount of creditability on what I spend my time helping it. But if you’re going to go out and put effort and energy into becoming a recognised figure, a character that people come to and trust on a topic, look at why and look at what that topic and the problem that people can solve by your stewardship of expertise around it. You don’t have to be the number of everything, But if you’re going to foster or create an environment, ask yourself why people who are already experts and it might want to work with you. What are you going to offer, then? Maybe it’s a platform. Maybe it’s a for the distribution. Um, the building, a building, a tribe building, a community of interest can’t be a cold, calculated formula. I has to You have to look right in here at yourself and be doing it for the right reason. My driver, My motivator is so simple. It’s that I just hate working and really stupid, frustrating time wasting sales processes. Yeah, I love I love selling. I love representing great products that interested people. But I hate with a passion, wasting time and doing dumb stuff to get there. So that’s that’s been my mission. That’s why you know, storytelling is part of doing that better. But I think until people find their their why their motivations for doing it what What sort of microphone? Dubai becomes a bit academic. So now my anamorphic lenses, just because I just want to shoot beautiful stuff in the garden, Uh, you know, you pick, you pick your tools, but pick your wife first to be my paraphrasing of all that Jerry Me.
#storytellerjewels My final question is something I’m not even going to ask you because you just beautifully articulated it. Which was going to be if somebody paid you a million dollars to pick your brain and you only had a few minutes to tell them. Give them some really good advice. What would that sound like? And I think you’ve already responded to that in the last few minutes. But is there anything you want to add to that response, or are you happy with what you’ve just told him? Because it was beautifully articulated.
Jeremy Pollard Thank you. I had bashed into me at a young age two. He is one mouth. If you’re going to be in the storytelling business for yourself for others, remember the ratio and have a look at how much time you spend in a day or a week or a month and try and spend about two thirds of it listening, learning, asking questions and maybe a third of it. Testing all of that and playing that back. And, you know, here at Shipley Associates, when we’re working with customers, one of our fun little measures, yeah, is to take people get people to look at a proposal or a written document and I jokingly say, Oh, Microsoft and put a Shipley command in the in the word like, What’s that? What’s that? My side. It’s, uh it’s control F for focus, and it brings up a little box and you put in your company name and hit. Enter and it will tell you how many times your company name is in your proposal. And then you do control F again and you put their company name in and you see how many times that appears. And if that ratio is different to the magic two thirds, one third we talked about before, then you’ve got a customer focus problem. So you know there’s there’s the Peredo principal 80 20. There’s all sorts of rules and guidelines. If there’s just one thing, then just remember two years, one mouth and keep the ratio going in your own time and in all of your connection communication with your stakeholders, even down to the level of the number of words in a proposal or a tender response, which is something we do a ship with. It’s kind of fun. So that would be my parting thought.
#storytellerjewels Yeah, magic stuff, Jeremy. It’s been an absolute pleasure and delight. I know you and I could talk for hours and hours, if not days, on this topic, and we’ve done so many times in front of a white board. Uh, it’s been a lot of fun, and I thank you for it. You’ve imparted some brilliant words of advice. Where can the listener find out a little bit more about you or Shipley, if they’re interested?
Jeremy Pollard LinkedIn is probably the easiest place to get started. Happy to kind of hook up and connect to anybody there.
#storytellerjewels Thanks, Jeremy Chat Soon
#storytellerjewels I hope you enjoyed that conversation as much as I did with Jeremy. I’ve learned a lot with him over the years, and I’m truly grateful. And it was a great reminder that if you understand your why and are able to listen to the problems your customers have and play it back within your response, you will build trust, empathy and resolve, and that will go a long way to being super attractive and will ultimately gain customers and keep them for a long time. Much love chat soon