Closing a sale is often presented as a logical set of actions. You say these things in this order, you carry yourself in this way, and people will be persuaded to buy from or hire you.
In reality, though, closing a sale starts with emotional decisions, answering questions like “How do I feel interacting with this person?” and “Could I see myself following the same path as their previous clients or customers?”
That starts with you, but there’s another important ingredient to help you seal the deal: case studies.
To help us outline what makes for a good case study, we’re joined by TEDx speaker and sales expert John Livesay.
Also known as “The Pitch Whisperer,” John’s the author of the best-selling books, “Better Selling Through Storytelling” and “The Sale Is In The Tale” and is the creator of the online course “Revenue Rockstar Mastery.”
John specializes in training sales teams “how to turn mundane case studies into compelling case stories,” and in this episode, he explains how you can do the same.
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Show Notes 📓
✅ Text “Pitch” to 66866 to get the first chapter of John’s new book, “The Sales is in the Tale”.
✅ Check out John’s sales course, “Revenue Rockstar Mastery:” https://gofrominvisibletoirresistible.com/
📷 Watch the video version of this episode and subscribe for updates on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLYAr3nGy6lbXrhbezMxoHTSCS40liusyU
🎤 Thank you to our sponsor, Libsyn Studio (formerly Auxbus)! Want the best podcasting solution out there? Learn more here: https://www.libsynstudio.com/
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Intro: You know those moments when you’re doing what you love in your business, maybe it’s standing onstage or creating content, whatever it is, you’re totally immersed, and time just seems to slip by? This is called the Flow State. At Speaker Flow, we’re obsessed with how to get you there more often. Each week we’re joined by a new expert where we share stories, strategies, and systems to help craft a business you love. Welcome to Technically Speaking.
Austin: All right, boom. We made it. Welcome. John, thank you so much for sharing your time with us today. We’re super excited for this conversation.
John: Thanks for having me, guys.
Austin: Yeah, we always appreciate somebody that’s really taking the time to make their production high quality too. We were talking about E cam a little bit before we just started the recording here and you’ve definitely done a good job with the online production side of things; not everybody does. For those of you that are just listening to this and not watching the video version, this is a call to action for you. Go check out John’s cool setup. Anyway, yeah, so we’re super excited to have you on and I know you’ve been on tons of massive stages and have helped some huge brands get some important things done. We saw that you speak for Coca-Cola. Or spoke at some point for Coca-Cola. And we’re curious, when you speak for Coca-Cola, do they pay you with money or do they pay you with a lifetime supply of product?
John: Well, what was cool about that Coca-Cola event, it was for the CMOs of quick service restaurants, which is the term they use, not fast food. So, the McDonald’s and Olive Gardens of the world and big movie chains that carry Coke instead their competitor. And it was a perk for them, so I thought it was very smart of Coca-Cola to give their clients some added value by inviting the CMOs of their clients to come here. The theme was on storytelling. And they actually had a little robotic machine that you could push a button and a can would come out, which was fun. And the theme was storytelling and they took all of us, there are about a couple of hundred of us in the audience to see Hamilton in-person. So, it was a two day seminar.
Austin: No kidding.
John: And so, for me, I’m a big musical theater fan anyway. And to be able to come back the next day and be one of the closing speakers and we’d all had this shared experience of watching Hamilton together, I could reference that in my talk. And one of the things, for people who may not have seen the show in-person or on video, is there’s a scene where Hamilton has an affair and his wife leaves him and she’s ripping up all of their love letters and says, I’m writing you out of my narrative. And I said to all of these CMOs, how many of your customers are writing you out of their narrative when they have a bad experience at your restaurant or in your movie theater? And what can you do to win them back like he won her back? So, it was really fun to.
Taylorr: Heck, yeah.
John: Bring that to life.
Taylorr: Man, a little bit of improv in there. Love that.
John: Oh, yes. And I was able to ask some of them, what’s your biggest marketing challenge? And, man, was that interesting? I said to the CMO of Domino’s Pizza and he said, getting tech people to come work here. And I said, oh, how interesting. I would’ve assumed everything marketing is getting customers to buy the pizza. So, marketing also is a recruitment tool. And he said, we used to say we’re a pizza company who has this really cool app and uses tech. Whether it’s the app where you can track who’s put your pizza in the oven and who’s delivering it to you. And now we say we’re an e-commerce company who happens to sell pizza.
Austin: Oh, wow.
John: And I said, oh, that’s the rebirth genre, because they’re competing for tech people with Amazon and all of the other e-commerce companies. So, those kinds of conversations really allowed me to customize my talk, because I talk about the different genres of storytelling. I met the CMO of Auntie Anne’s pretzels, most people know what that is, with malls and airports. I said, how did this all start? And they said, oh, she sold pretzels at one farmer’s market and then grew. And I said, oh, that’s the rags to riches storytelling genre. So, it was really fun to customize my talk to the audience as well as our shared experience of seeing Hamilton together.
Taylorr: That’s beautiful.
Taylorr: So, how did you become known as the Pitch Whisperer? How does this all play into the mix?
John: Well, I was being interviewed by Anthem Insurance to be one of their keynote speakers, and one of the questions that I ask, that I encourage everyone to ask when you’re being interviewed for almost anything, is try to zoom out and see the big picture. And in my particular case, I said, if I’m selected as your opening keynote speaker, what else is happening during the two days that follow? And they said, oh, well, we’re going to have an improvisation session. The audience is going to shout out objections and people onstage are going to role-play being doctors and people from Anthem. And I said, well, what if I stayed after my keynote for that and I could whisper in people’s ears if they got stuck? And they said, oh my gosh, that’d be great. We never even thought to ask somebody to do that.
And that’s what made me from just being interesting as a candidate to becoming the irresistible choice. And that’s what I teach people is how to become irresistible and not just, oh, we’re interested in you. And so, during that actual experience, sure enough people got stuck and improvisation, as you probably know, is all about Yes-And, and trying to keep the conversation going. I would whisper something from my talk in their ear and then afterward they said, oh, gosh, I wish you could be in my ear when I’m in the field doing this.
And I told that story to Ink Magazine when they were interviewing me and they said, oh, you’re the pitch whisperer. I said, oh, I love that. And I’ve since trademarked it, and that’s part of my introduction and part of my brand, because a lot of people will say, gosh, I know what a horse whisperer is, I even know what a dog whisperer is. What the heck’s a pitch whisperer? So, that’s how that story came about.
Austin: Wow, I love that. Yeah. You’re combining something that people have an association to already with your subject. And what I love about that too is that some people choose, how do I say this nicely? Maybe kitschy, sort of, names that you kind of have to really dig into to figure out what they actually mean by their label that they’ve called themselves.
Austin: What I like about yours is there’s clarity there in addition to it being memorable and standing out from the rest of the people that talk about, maybe, similar subjects as you. So, it’s a good hybrid of creativity and clarity.
John: Thanks, Austin. Well, sometimes, one person said, you do so many things besides helping people with their pitches, maybe that’s limiting you too much. And I said, no, it’s a good hook, it’s memorable. The goal is to get people in the door and then they can also find out what else I do. And so, you can’t have a hook be everything. So, it’s just enough to be memorable. And now when they introduce me they go, we have the pitch whisperer here to be our speaker today. It’s really worked for me. So, helping people figure out what is your little soundbite that makes you, as you said, memorable and, hopefully, pulls people in.
Austin: Yeah, that’s so great. I love that. Okay, so we found a bunch of awesome content about you out there. Clearly you’re prolific, you’re all over the place, so good on ya. We had a hard time choosing, actually, where we wanted to even get started as we get into some of the details here. But something that really stood out to us was this idea that you proposed of taking, I think you said a mundane case study and turning that into a case story. And I have a million questions about this, but maybe you can just start by giving us some context about why that’s one of the things that you emphasize.
John: Sure. Well, even the word study sounds like homework to me and it’s in the left side of our brain and boring. People buy emotionally and then back it up with logic. And so, taking a case study, which is, usually, just a bunch of facts and figures, we worked with this client, they’ve blah blah blah. And turning it into a story is what allows you to pull and tug at people’s heartstrings to get that emotional connection. So, I’ve worked with a lot of different clients who are in a bake off, a final three, shootout, whatever you want to call it. They make it to the final three and then they have to go in and present, they usually have an hour and that’s what happens to speakers, right?
If your scissor reel or whatever it is that has gotten you in the final three, then they usually want to interview you. And what you say in that situation is everything. So, a case story has four parts to it and the first part is the exposition; the who, what, where, when. You need to paint the picture, be a journalist, so we know we’re in the story. And then the second part is the problem. And here is the key; the better you describe someone’s problem and show empathy for it, the more they think you have their solution. And the problem, the stakes have to be fairly high for someone to care about the story. And then the third part’s the solution.
But if you end your story there, it’s not really a great story; it’s just an okay story. The secret to really wonderful stories is the resolution. What is life like after your solution has come in? Imagine if the Wizard of Oz ended when Dorothy got in the balloon to go back to Kansas, the end. But no, there’s this wonderful story of her, the scene where she’s in bed and she’s like, oh, there’s no place like home, I appreciate everything so much. That’s why that’s a classic story. So, if you have a resolution to your stories, you go from just being an okay one to a great one. So, let me give you an example of how I did this for a client in action and then we can go back and say, oh, I see the steps now.
So, I was working with Olympus, the camera company, they have a medical division, they make scopes and things like that. And they said, we have this product that makes surgeries go 30% faster and we’re telling everybody about that and they’re selling some of them but not as much as we thought. And I said, well, that’s a number, it’s a logical reason. It doesn’t really make you feel anything. So, I asked a bunch of questions and here’s the story they now tell; imagine how happy Dr. Higgins was six months ago using our equipment down in Long Beach Memorial, when he could go out to the patient’s family an hour earlier than expected. And if you’ve ever waited for someone you love to come out of surgery, you know every minute feels like an hour.
The doctor comes out and says, good news, the scope shows they don’t have cancer, they’re going to be fine. And then turns to the rep and says, this is why I became a doctor for moments like this. Now, that rep tells that case story to another doctor at another hospital who sees himself in the story and says, that’s why I became a doctor. I want your equipment too. And Olympus said, oh, that gives us chills. Not only are we not telling stories, it never occurred to us to make a patient’s family a character in the story.
So, the stories are clear, they’re concise and they’re compelling; those are my three C’s that I give people. It’s like once you have a story, use that little checklist to make sure that you’re not confusing people with a bunch of acronyms. It’s concise enough that people can remember and repeat it. And finally, is it compelling? Does it make you feel anything? And so you could see how that all comes together.
Austin: I feel like I, literally, just had a paradigm shift about case studies. Because, I’m not going to lie, this is one of the reasons this stood out to me, right? Because I think case study and I think an educational paper with citations and very structured and forthright, and the idea of putting a case study together, it’s like, oh my gosh, kill me. But if you’re talking about, you just told that story in what? 25 seconds or something. It didn’t have to be this long drawn out thing; it was enough context so somebody could connect with it. A story that they can relate to, a positive outcome for everybody, that all doesn’t need to be this formatted structured thing, it almost felt like you were kind of having fun with it as opposed to it being this. Yeah, that’s huge.
John: Should we go back and say, identify the different structure to it?
Taylorr: Let’s do it. Yeah.
Austin: Let’s do it. Yeah.
John: It sounds conversational from work. So, if you look at, we know the doctor’s name, we know how long ago, we know what hospital, that’s the exposition. Then the problem when I was working with him, I said 30% faster. What does that even mean? How long is the normal surgery? Three hours. So, 30% faster. It’s done in two. Okay. So, who does that impact? Well, I guess the doctor could be less tired. The hospital might like it because they could squeeze in another surgery and make more money. But what else? And that’s when I came up with the patient’s family. Because I had to wait with my mom when my sister was in surgery.
And once we had that as the real emotion part of it, as opposed to money or whatever, then that became, and you’ll notice that the hero in the story is the doctor; it’s not the equipment, it’s not the rep. When you’re telling a story of someone you help, you think of yourself like a Sherpa, you’re helping them climb Mount Everest. Because the whole goal of this is that people see themselves in the story. The solution is the doctor coming out and putting them out of their waiting misery and saying their loved one’s going to be okay. And if the story ended there, it would be just okay. But, no, there’s that resolution. And, again, the technique I use is I’m telling this story in present tense, as if you’re eavesdropping in on the conversation.
So, I didn’t say, the doctor said, that’s why I be. The doctor said, this is why I became. And so, you feel like you’re hearing that in real time and then being able to tell that story to other people that they see themselves in it. So, that is why that is working so well. You do have that checklist of what’s my exposition? Am I describing the problem enough that people feel something and I’m not making sure, I have a solution, but I’m not ending my story there, that I have a resolution,
Taylorr: Man. It’s clear. What I love about this is the meta component to what you just broke down. Because you’re telling people to tell clear and concise stories.
Taylorr: And you’re doing that live on the show explaining this incredibly complex subject for a lot of people and there’s no better measure of an expert in our opinion.
John: No, thanks.
Taylorr: For sure. The thing that I’m thinking about, though; especially as it relates to our audience, I’d be curious how you use these in your own business, but is something like a case story applicable to speakers, coaches, consultants, thought leaders running their own business and selling? Or is this mainly for a large company type of situation and how would you go about using it if so?
John: Well, the example I use of how I became known as the Pitch Whisperer is a classic example. I usually give a little more context. Two years ago Anthem Insurance was interviewing me and then I describe the problem was those people in the audience didn’t want to think of themselves as salespeople. And I said, what if we invite them to become storytellers? And then they go, oh, that’s great, our audience would love that too. And then I talk about the solution of having me speak, and then I tell the story of staying and doing the improvisation and the outcome.
The resolution was people are saying, I wish you could be in my ear all of the time. How long have you worked in healthcare? All of those things. I tell a case story of myself as a speaker to other people who are interested in hiring me as a speaker. And they say, oh, we want that.
Taylorr: Heck, yeah.
Austin: Yeah, I love that. And the thing is too is that I think a lot of people feel like they have to build a story like that around the actual delivery of the thing that you’re doing. But your story that you’re telling isn’t necessarily about you being up onstage, it’s just a demonstration of how that knowledge was applied in a different medium. But that still translates because you’re the same person, right? And so, people don’t have to get so narrow-sighted, I think; about how they’re communicating the story as long as it’s hitting those key components. It doesn’t have to be a story being told about the exact thing that you’re talking to somebody about doing for them. Am I getting that right?
John: A hundred percent. Right. Because at the end of the day, what you’re selling is yourself and your willingness to go above and beyond. And so, instead of saying it, you show it in the story and then people think, oh, this is the kind of thinking we want our people to do. This is the kind of speaker we want. And, of course, what you’re doing when you’re selling yourself as a speaker are two things. You’re mitigating the risk that they’re picking the right person, that you’re not going to freeze onstage, and you have plenty of examples of it. And then the second thing is you’re giving an impact that lasts way after the talk is over. And if you can tell a story that shows both of those things, you go from being interesting to being irresistible.
And so, many of us get stuck at what I call the friendzone at work. Right? We all know, well, you guys are handsome, so you’d never had this happen to you. But many of us mortals, we were stuck in the friendzone in our dating life. So, what is the friendzone at work? It’s when someone goes, oh, I’m interested, send me some information. And then they never really pull the trigger. And the way out of the friendzone at work is to tell a story that makes you the irresistible choice.
Austin: Oh, man, this is such important information. Thank you for breaking all of this down. We’ve been talking about content of story. I’m curious about how you look at the balance between the content of a story and the delivery of the story as it relates to an effective story being told. Can somebody that’s a bad storyteller, in terms of how they communicate it, but communicating clear ideas still get the job done or are both equally important?
John: I believe both are equally important, and when I work with teams, I work on the content first. Because the more confident you are that your content is good, then we can work on your pacing, varying your tone, making sure you’re making eye contact, all of those delivery, the reverse is not true. You can have a really great razzle dazzle, lots of energy, and if your content’s not good, you’re not going to move the needle. But, again, people expect to be entertained, as we were talking about with E cam, I have a story about when I was a lifeguard and I remember standing on the edge of my perch watching this little girl jump off for the first time off of a high dive and I had to jump in and save her.
And then when I tell that story virtually, I go, she was underwater two seconds too long. And so, I pull people into that story with this visual of me being underwater and speaking in real-time. And so, that paints a picture. So, the story in itself has some inherent drama, but when I add some visuals to it, it makes it come across much stronger than just me talking about saving somebody when I was a lifeguard. But, again, that lifeguard story has a resolution to it, that the lesson I learned has helped me my entire career during stressful times, which is to not panic and stay calm.
And so, we all had that experience during the pandemic. We either freaked out, start watching our Amazon boxes, or we stay calm and say, this too shall pass. I’ll figure it out. I’ll figure out how to make money as a virtual speaker since live events are canceled. All of those kinds of stories where you show your resilience and your creativity versus just telling it, are what pull people in.
Taylorr: Right. So, we’ve had a lot of conversations about storytelling on the show, it’s the nature of our business, right? Sometimes in the context of sales as well. This is by far, I think; the most distilled type of process I think somebody can follow, so I’ll add to that. But one question that I think people are hesitant to address is this notion that stories can’t be about you. So, if you talk to diehard public speakers, right? They’ll say stories can’t be about you, they need to be about your audience. No one cares about your story. You hear this. In my own professional experience, I have not found that to be true, as long as it’s relatable and they can see themselves in that position.
Taylorr: So, I’m curious to hear what your take is on this whole, it really feels like a black and white position people are in, it’s like you don’t talk about yourself, it’s all about them or the other end of that spectrum where it’s like, no, it’s okay to talk about yourself. So, where’s the balance in all of that.
John: The feedback I’ve gotten from audiences, event planners, bureaus, is we need you to show some vulnerability when you’re onstage.
Taylorr: Right. Yeah.
John: And the best way to do that.
Taylorr: How do you do without your own story?
John: Yeah. So, I believe there are three key stories. This is what I teach; there’s your own story of origin, which we talked about, how did you get to be The Pitch Whisperer? Then there’s the company story that in a sales situation, you need to talk, even if it’s you’re a one person company. What’s the name of your company? What are your values? Do you have a story of your values in action? And then it’s the case story. So, in my keynotes, it’s a combination of my own personal stories, but then takeaways for the audience based on that.
It’s not just, let’s hear about what life was like for me when I got laid-off from Condé Nast and how I had it felt like a kick to the gut and I had to reinvent myself. Or I talk about painting over masterpieces like Picasso did in the 1940s when there was a shortage of canvases, and I show how AI has discovered some of those paintings underneath paintings. And I say, we’re all going to have to paint over our masterpieces. And for myself when I got divorced, that was not the story I had planned for my life. And then the same thing business-wise, when the pandemic hit.
So, you can tell a story about yourself if it has a takeaway for the audience. And so many people come up to me and they’ll say, God, I really relate to being laid-off, or the fear of being laid-off, or I relate to getting divorced and having to reinvent myself and tell new stories. So, as you said, when people see themselves in those stories and you give them the takeaway that allows them to be part of the story. Also, my favorite is when you can combine a famous person with your story. So, it’s one thing to just talk about a famous person’s story, but if you have any connection to that, it really comes true.
So, I tell the story of when I was selling advertising in LA and Speedo was in my territory, and I got to meet Michael Phelps. And as a former lifeguard, that was a big thrill. And I went up to him and I said, Michael, everyone says you’re so successful as a swimmer because your feet are like fins and you got a bigger lung capacity than most people, I’m guessing there’s something else. And he goes, oh, yeah, John. When I was younger, my coach said to me, Michael, are you willing to work out on Sundays? Yes, coach. Great, we just got 52 more workouts than everybody else. And I thought, the question for everybody is now, okay, what are you willing to do to become the Olympic medalist in your industry?
Sometimes it’s doing something that other people aren’t willing to do and sometimes it’s doing something that people haven’t thought to do. And then I give another example of that. So, that’s not just me talking about Michael Phelps, but my experience meeting him. And so, there’s a little bit of me in that story, but it’s a takeaway of, and the people remember that of, oh, if I want to be an Olympic-level gold medal winner in whatever my field is, let me look at what an athlete is doing. And that it’s not, sometimes we see somebody like, well, it’s easy for them and that’s never the case. Everyone has to work hard and go on their own hero’s journey to get to where they are.
Austin: Yeah. Yeah, I think that’s awesome. I love the association aspect of what you just said because I think that’s really how we learn, right? Is we create associations between things we already understand, the things that can connect to that, the context is really useful, so the celebrity analogy is great there. And I especially love your whole point about vulnerability as it relates to telling personal stories. Because we live in a world for better or for worse, that is just consumed by content, right? And so, I think all of us have learned to put a, sort of, filter over the top of how we engage with content, because if we took it all in all of the time, we’d probably just be in a constant state of overwhelm and chaos.
And so, we need a reason to latch onto an idea and not just have it pass in one ear and right out of the other, and it seems like that sense of vulnerability and connecting to the audience in that personal way, unlocks that deeper level of attention that somebody needs to have to really take the information in and do something with it. To some degree, right? It can’t just be about the content, because even if it’s great content, if you’re not connecting with the person, they’re not really going to absorb it the way that they need to see the impact.
John: Right? Well, I have another example; I think that’ll bring this home. I talk about the need to be resilient. And I created something called the 5, 5, 5 Method. And it’s easy to remember and easy to use, which is what audiences and event planners want. They want to have a takeaway they can start using right away. And so, I say, when you get cut off in traffic, some people lose their mind on that, right? They go crazy and angry and they hold-on to it. And I said, so if you think of yourself like the movie director of your own life, and you zoom out and you say, will this matter in five minutes? How about five hours? How about five days from now? And I joke and I say, if you’re still worried about somebody cutting you off days from now, there’s a problem.
And so, the faster we get up after we’ve been knocked down or betrayed or hurt, the more resilient we become. And so, I start having that concept of everybody in a company emailing each other, we worked so hard on that, we didn’t win it, or I can’t believe somebody said that to me. I’m going to 5, 5, 5 it. We can complain about this for five hours and then we’re never going to bring it up again. Having an endpoint to that. And I said, again, so that’s the career aspect of it. The personal aspect of it was when my dad died 10 years ago; I wish I had this tool. Because I could go back to my younger self and say, listen, five days from now, you’re still going to be pretty devastated. So, let’s do it again, let’s go out 5, 5, 5; 5 weeks, 5 months, 5 years from now, you’ll still miss him, but I promise you, you won’t be this sad.
Austin: Yeah. Have to base it in reality, right? If we let the little things consume us, that can be, I don’t know, just a detriment to wellbeing, right?
John: So, see how I’m toggling back and forth on those examples between here’s a personal use of it and a career use of it. And that’s how you make the audience feel connected and go, this didn’t just help me in my career, it helped me in my personal life.
Taylorr: How do you feel that message of resiliency ties into this concept of selling more effectively?
Taylorr: Your storytelling.
John: Well, I talk about when you come to a red light, nobody gets angry or takes it personally, right? Nobody goes; I can’t believe that red light turned when I was coming up to the intersection, right?
Taylorr: Unless you’re me. I’m just kidding.
John: Unless you’re the president of the United States and you don’t have to go through, they go through all of the red lights in a motorcade. Most of us have to stop at a red light, and we don’t take it personally, that’s just part of the rules of the road. But when we get a red light in our career; we get a no, we get a rejection. A lot of us take it personally. And so, my goal is to get people to toggle back and forth on let’s not take rejection personally; let’s never reject ourselves, let’s not reject what we’re selling as it’s just not a fit right now. No now doesn’t mean no forever. And when I spoke to Jaguar and Land Rover’s sales team, I said, you know when you go to a fancy restaurant and they bring you a Sorbet to cleanse your palate between courses?
The first time that happened to me, I was in my twenties, I think; and I said, what’s going on? I said, dessert, what’s happening? I was a little unsophisticated, I’m a simple guy from the Midwest suburbs. I never got exposed to that in my childhood. They go, no, this is cleansing your palate. I’m like, oh, okay. I didn’t know I needed that. Where’s the food? So, when you get a no and you get a rejection, you can hold-on to that or you can 5, 5, 5 it and the people who let it go faster are the ones that are more successful, the ones that keep talking about the sale that got away or how bad they feel, they bring that negative energy and their mindset.
I tell people, call a client that you sold something to and hear firsthand how happy they are with the new car, whatever it is you sold, and that cleanses your palate so that the next person that calls or walks in the door, you’re not holding-on to the negative, ugh, this day sucks.