Stop Telling Stories

What does it feel like to be engaged in genuine dialogue?

I have asked this question in many workshops and speeches lately. Audience members have given very rich answers. “It’s like a flow.” “It’s learning from each other.” “What I say depends on what the other person says.”

In his 1930 essay, “Dialogue,” Martin Buber distinguished between genuine dialogue and “monologue disguised as dialogue,” which he as “characterized … solely by the desire to have one’s own self-reliance confirmed by marking the impression that is made.”

Monologue attempts to confirm, through pronouncement, what the speaker already knows and believes. Like a radio, it speaks but does not listen.

A true conversation, however, does not confirm. It explores. When two people open themselves up to genuine dialogue they do not presuppose the outcome of their conversation. It is as if they fly together into new, exciting, uncharted territory.

Dialogue is not only key to all human relationships, it is at the essence of successful marketing and sales. Advertising, elevator pitches, sales pitches, press releases, billboards, and brochures are, at times, necessary, but we have to recognize them for what they are: Monologues that make for very imperfect ways to connect with customers. If it is possible to be in dialogue with a customer, it’s always preferable to speak with them than to talk at them.

Marketing and sales are not about telling stories. They are about engaging customers in shared stories. The biggest changes in marketing and sales are not about the Internet, expanded database capabilities, or Tivo. Yes, those things count (a lot), but only in the way they help us deal with the biggest change of all. Today’s customers do not want to be told what to think. They are much more likely to become interested in doing business with you if you are able to engage them in dialogues that help you both learn how you can work together.

Stop telling stories. Start co-creating stories with your customers.

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Steve Yastrow posted this on July 28, 2008, in Marketing.
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