I’ve always enjoyed a good story. Sometimes it has an important point. Other times not. But if it’s interesting and entertaining, it’s usually worthwhile.
I also tell a bunch of negotiation stories in my training programs. They not only make my programs more interesting (hopefully), but they help the attendees remember the lessons and increase the likelihood they will implement them in their future negotiations.
Until recently, however, I never really considered the impact of stories within a negotiation. Importantly, stories can either help or hurt you when used in a negotiation.
Some fascinating new research by Northwestern University researchers Rebecca J. Krause and Derek D. Rucker, as reported in the September 2019 issue of the Harvard Negotiation newsletter, illustrates this.
A new experiment by Northwestern University tested whether a powerful story could be as compelling as strong facts and features in price negotiations.
How They Studied the Power of Story:
Here’s what they did, as applied within the sale of a fictitious new cell phone they called the “Moonstone.” They did the following, in written communications to four groups of potential buyers.
- Embedded the sales pitch for the phone within a compelling story where a man and woman in love were rock climbing and the woman falls and gets injured. The man then uses her Moonstone cell phone to call for help, illustrating the fact that the Moonstone can withstand falls of up to 3 feet.
- Just shared the fact that the phone could withstand falls of up to 3 feet (a fact the researchers considered weak).
- Embedded the sales pitch within the same story, only this time changed the facts so the cell phone withstood a fall of 30 feet (a fact the researchers considered strong).
- Just shared the fact that the phone could withstand a fall of up to 30 feet.
Which of these negotiation presentations were most effective in getting the buyers to pony up for the phones? The two most effective presentations were: 1) the compelling story and the weak fact, and 4) no story with the strong fact.
The Negotiation Lesson?
According to the newsletter, “when what you’re offering in a negotiation is not particularly remarkable [you have weak facts or a weak value proposition], you might be able to increase its appeal if you can describe it in the context of a compelling story.” Note that the story almost certainly must be compelling.
On the other hand, “if you’re offering an amazing deal [the facts alone are strong], it may be best to let the facts stand on their own.”
And from the buyers’ perspective, beware of compelling stories that might mask the weak nature of the product, service or value proposition on the table.
Stories, in other words, can have a powerful distorting impact on our perception of facts in the sales negotiation context. This can help you or hurt you.
Remember this the next time you hear a compelling story in a sales environment.
Many of us love to hear interesting and compelling stories. But they may very well alter our perception of the facts. So focus on the facts, not the story.
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Marty Latz is the founder of Latz Negotiation, a national negotiation training and consulting company that helps individuals and organizations achieve better results with best practices based on the experts’ research. He also has two bestselling books Gain the Edge! and The Real Trump Deal: An eye-opening Look at How He Really Negotiates. He can be reached at 480.951.3222 or Marty@LatzNegotiation.com.