Selling Through Storytelling

As a CSM, I am constantly selling to my customers. I sell them on the value of our product, the customer experience that my company creates, and I sell myself as a partner they can lean on to achieve their goals. I get to be the magician who solves their problems, delights them with good news and helps them maximize their investment without having to ask them for much in return. Due to my relationship building style, I don’t come across as though I’m trying to sell my clients during these moments, so they generally trust me and my expertise without hesitation. 

However, it’s also my responsibility to renew, expand and upsell these clients; this type of sale is not something I felt nearly as comfortable doing earlier in my career. I work in education technology and all of our client contracts expire and renew annually on the same date, so I focus on renewing all of my clients during one quarter near the start of the school year. This means I have to hit my most of my renewal and expansion goals for the year in one quarter as well, and I sometimes have to sell a client who hasn’t fully bought in or discovered the value of our product yet to achieve my sales targets. 

It was always difficult for me to pitch a client that wasn’t quite ready because it seemed like my sales goals came before the clients’ needs and my recommendations didn’t feel authentic, which in turn made me feel like I was losing their trust. I disliked the idea of a client thinking I had ulterior motives outside of their success. I never felt genuine in these moments because it didn’t align with my style as a CSM. Thus, I dreaded renewal season. This all changed for me when I started selling by storytelling. 

Every time I needed to pitch a client on an upsell or expansion that didn’t feel authentic to me, instead of pitching them, I told them a story. As a CSM, I know about how other customers use our product and the value they derive from it. So, I told my clients about the success stories that I had seen with my other clients. I told teachers about how other teachers at nearby schools had saved time grading, improved student outcomes and impressed their administrators through the use of our product. I told principals about administrators who had similar instructional goals and achieved those goals while also saving their schools money. I brought it up organically in conversation and painted a vision that my clients could get excited about without making them feel as though I expected anything from them. 

Clients would ask me how I could make something like this work for them and was then able to provide an authentic recommendation for them. I didn’t have to upsell them because they would ask me instead. If my story didn’t convince them on an upsell in that moment, it was okay because my client still got value out of that interaction. They learned about how other people used our product and saw success so they could get creative with their own implementation and their trust in me grew because they still saw me as a superhero who was there to support them. Often, they would circle back to that story later in their customer journey when they were ready to take that step. 

I was able to continue to build trust in my relationships, support my clients’ needs make the sale more authentic for myself by using this technique. I no longer dread upselling and expanding clients because I can achieve my goals and my clients can achieve theirs too; I don’t have to pick one or the other. A great client/CSM partnership is one where everybody wins.

Priya Devineni is a data-driven management professional with over 12 years of experience in customer service.  She is currently the VP of School Success at Albert, an education technology company.


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