Telling your story

By Jeff Thorsteinson | April 28, 2006 | Last updated on April 28, 2006
6 min read

(May 2006) Every interaction you have in a day — every conversation you have with a friend, business associate, client, prospect or even a stranger — is an opportunity to articulate your value. It’s an opportunity to encourage your contacts to take immediate action to improve and enrich their lives.

Of course, the dynamic of each encounter is unique. You wouldn’t articulate value the same way with a professional colleague, for example, as you would with your next-door neighbour. What’s effective in one scenario simply wouldn’t work in another.

There are times, for example, when you need to step outside the corporate world, and connect with a prospect in a more emotional way. When you need to demonstrate your knowledge and your expertise without confusing the prospect with technical terms or industry-specific language. When you need to inspire, motivate, or energize a prospect rather than simply communicate with them. In these situations, what you need is a professional story — an engaging, persuasive narrative that demonstrates how you’re different from the competition.

"A story is word-of-mouth marketing at its most powerful," says Jim Randall. As the founder of, Randall is a big believer in the power of a professional story to market a business. "People are finding out that vision statements, mission statements, corporate charters — they just don’t inspire people. A story, on the other hand, helps create a community or family."

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As Randall explains, a professional story is different from other marketing communications because of its use of emotion and detail. Other ways of communicating appeal to the head of your prospect — that is, their logic or intellect. A professional story appeals to the heart. "Ultimately, that’s where most people make their business decisions," Randall says.

Stories can do a number of things that a brochure or other marketing communications simply can’t. For example, stories can:

  • create a sense of shared experience or community;
  • strengthen a personal connection between the storyteller and the listener;
  • encourage active listening and make it easier for listeners to remember key concepts;
  • take an abstract or technical concept and make it compelling, persuasive, and "human";
  • inspire the listener to take action or become emotionally attached to an issue; and
  • communicate the personality, outlook and disposition of the storyteller.

A professional story can be about any number of important marketing topics: how you entered the business, why you created your unique business process or why you subscribe to a particular investment philosophy or approach, for example.

But the most common example of a professional story is the case study — a detailed description of a particular problem a real-life client faced, along with the solution you came up with for the client. This can take many forms, and cover a wide range of client issues and challenges.

In fact, I know some advisors who have a few stories in their repertoire. They use one with casual acquaintances, another with prospects, and another with centres-of-influence.

Learn how to structure and deliver your story on page 2

Story structure: dragons, heroes, and princesses More important than the content of the story is your role in the story. Effective stories have three important characters:

  • The dragon — the problem or challenge that must be overcome.
  • The princess — the one being threatened by the dragon.
  • The hero — the one doing the rescuing; the advisor.

Note these are the same basic characters you’ll find in a fairy tale. To maximize the marketing power of your story, you need to cast yourself as the "dragonslayer" – the hero who used his or her specialized knowledge and expertise to solve a complex problem (the dragon) for the client (the princess). The bigger the dragon – the more complex and baffling the problem – the more impressive the hero becomes.

No matter what the content of your story is, its structure will always be the same:

(a) Client faces a seemingly insurmountable financial problem. (b) Client is unable to solve the problem without help. (c) Just when client thinks the problem would never be solved, client is referred to a trusted advisor who applies a systematic, disciplined approach and solves the problem. (d) With the problem solved, client is able to enjoy a life free of financial worry.

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The implicit message of this type of story is that you played a central role: you made life easier for someone by taking care of complex problems that couldn’t be solved without your help. And you could do the same for the listener if asked.

How to deliver your story With stories, delivery counts. When I say "deliver," I’m not talking about what medium you use — stories work best when they’re told face-to-face, but you could easily tell a story in a brochure, on the radio, in a book, your newsletter, or on your website. What I’m talking about is the way in which you express the narrative. That is, the language, the vocabulary, and the emotions you use to make the story real for the listener.

The more your story appeals to the heart rather than the head, the more powerful it will be. To do that, you need to include details and personal touches that draw a "picture" for the listener. You need to identify a significant problem — a big "dragon" — that touches an insecurity or fear of the listener. And you’ll need to frame the solution to the problem in emotional, rather than technical terms. For example, don’t tell people how you created a testimonial trust for a wealthy client. Instead, tell them how you made sure Bill and Mary’s seven grandkids would have the chance to water ski at the family’s cottage on Lake Overthere for the next 25 years. The former is self-promotion; the latter is a story.

If you’re telling your story face-to-face, pay particular attention to the language you’re using to relate your story. Stay away from dry, financial terms — a story needs to be spoken in the language of the listener, not the teller. Be animated: use your body language to communicate important points. Use voice inflection. This kind of drama makes the story more real, and forges a stronger connection with the listener.

Telling stories as part of your client relationship process, in my opinion, is not an option. It must be implemented. The skill comes naturally to some advisors. To others, however, it’s an art they must practise. Whichever group you fall into, take some time to consider what aspects of your practice would make a compelling story. Practise telling your story to your consultant or coach, an associate or close personal friend. The more you focus on telling a good story, rather than making a marketing pitch, the more persuasive you will be.

Jeff Thorsteinson is the creator of the YouFoundation, an organization that helps investment advisors advisors build world-class practices through innovative concepts, tools, and systems since 1993. With over 3,000 investment advisor marketing projects and business cases behind him, Jeff has become a well respected speaker in the industry and over the last 3 years, delivered his practice-building programs to thousands of financial advisors throughout Canada. Contact or 1 800-223-9332, ext. 1, for more information about YouFoundation, or visit the website at


Jeff Thorsteinson