14 Rules of persuasive storytelling for pre-sales consultants

Know your audience, Adapt your vocabulary to match your audience, Make client care, Structure your story - Minto’s Pyramid Principle, Demonstrate competence & Establish your credibility Be Specific with a flexible framework in place, Appeal to the head, heart, and hand

How to make your message persuasive and change the way your clients think?


Effective stories speak the language of the audience, are rooted in facts, and take advantage of compelling artifacts.

Having raw data/facts/recommendations is not enough to convince stakeholders of what needs to be done. A narrative makes a connection between our data/facts/recommendations and why other people should care about it.

1. Know your audience

This seems so basic, yet, most of us are mostly insensitive to this fact: it’s not about you, it’s always about the client. The client is the Hero of your story.

The client is the Hero of your story
  • How long is the talk?
  • How many people?
  • How informed are they?
  • Is the talk first thing in the morning (before coffee), or right after lunch?
  • Is it the end of the quarter when people are nervous about hitting sales targets?
  • Who are the opinion leaders in the room? Who will disagree with you? What will be the objections?
  • What is your storytelling range? Can you communicate differently – as needed – to different people and in different situations? If not, you may want to expand your communications toolkit. Do some improv, and listen to other great speakers. Get feedback. Practice.

2. Adapt your vocabulary to match your audience.

Our goal when telling stories is to resonate with our audience, but it’s difficult to do it when we do not speak in their language. Understand the industry and terminology of your audience and incorporate these words into your story so they can put themselves in it. For example, if your audience is a client in the manufacturing industry using an assembly-line process, you should know about the machinery being used, the steps of the assembly line, and any product-specific terminology. Without using vocabulary that applies to your audience members, you risk losing their attention and your credibility.

3. Make client care

Make them care about what you are about to say

Attention spans are short at this age (more than 1/2 of the blog post readers will have abandoned this post already).  Are you more interesting than a TikTok influencer with a funny video? Doubt it. Why should the client pay attention to you? Why is this relevant to his life? why it matters to him?

Every word and every space in your slide should be helping the client in some way or another, if it's not helping your client, remove it.

4. Structure your story - Minto’s Pyramid Principle

You must structure your thinking. This is the only way to present your complex and new ideas clearly to clients. One excellent tool is the pyramid principle by an ex-McKinsey consultant by the name of Barbara Minto.

The presentation logic looks like a pyramid. The main recommendation is on top. It is built on mid-level recommendations, each of which is supported by smaller facts, data, analysis, benchmarks, etc . . .

In the graphic below you can see that the top of the pyramid (executive summary) has 3 recommendations. Each of those recommendations has supporting pages.

Pyramid principle - Structuring Presentations - Consulting blog

Exercise #1: Find the best presentation you did and saw and see how well used the pyramid structure was?

5. Demonstrate competence

Deeply understand and know what you are talking about. Do the work, do the research. Read 2-3 industry analyst reports:

  • What do Mckinsey, Accenture, and Deloitte, say about the issue?
  • what are the industry insiders' arguments for/against this case?
  • What are the economic drivers pushing supply/demand?
  • What does the value chain look like (suppliers, buyers, complements, rivals)? who are the other stakeholders?
  • Do you know this stuff as well as your client/boss/customer?  If not, you are faking it.

6. Be Specific with a flexible framework in place

Executives hate general recommendations that lack specific action plans or opinionated solutions to a problem. Your recommendations need to be directionally right, and in the same order of magnitude, as the “right answer"

  • Any recommendation or solution hinges on several assumptions, and constraints. Make those assumptions very clear and verify to see if they break, change, or betray you.
  • Stick to a comprehensive enough framework, that has an alternative path as underlying information changes, Example frameworks: digital transformation, data transformation, cloud migration, ML use case implementation, etc.  

7. Quantify the benefits and costs

Show the outcome with much clarity as much possible, and the outcome should be aligned with the executive or the department you are talking to. As consultants like to say, “What is the size of the prize?” What are the potential EBITDA benefits? One-time or ongoing? How realistic are the numbers? Vet some of your thinking with experts, and with the client.

8. Appeal to the head, heart, and hand

In the end, you want to use stories to make a difference. Get people to act. This means that it needs to be Understandable (head), inspiring (heart), and doable with an immediate next step(hand).

The goal of your interaction is you want the client to say “Oh, that makes sense, let’s do that“.

9. Establish your objective and call-to-action for this interaction

Your objective is to close the sale of a specific service or a solution but your CTA will establish the immediate action you’d like your client or audience to take after reading. An example objective could be to start working on a modern data platform with the client and CTA could be a data discovery workshop setup after this session.

10. Choose your story medium.

Your chosen story medium should depend on your type of story as well as the audience, some audiences prefer documents while others prefer slides.

11. Help your sponsoring executive to win

Identify who you are talking to. You are helping your champion to win and stand out in a large enterprise without stepping onto other's toes. You are helping him to 1) break understand and down problems 2) make a decision, and 3) create change that has a good outcome. Think which executive you will need to target to get the approvals. And understand their needs and KPIs, Executives could be anyone from the list below:

  • Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and Board
  • Chief Financial Officer (CFO)
  • Chief Operations Officer (COO)
  • Chief Marketing Officer (CMO)
  • Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO)
  • Chief Information Officer (CIO)
  • Chief Technology Officer (CTO)
  • Chief Strategy Officer (CSO)

12.  Establish your credibility

Consultancy and professional services firms operate in asymmetric information space. Clients are newbies while the consultant is an expert. The client will not trust you unless you establish your credibility early on. You can use the following to establish your credibility for the given domain or a solution:

  • Show the premium clients that have trusted you before in the same domain or geographies
  • Show similar case studies that you have done before, if needed, give them insights and lessons learned from these. Walk them through the process.
  • Show expert profiles or bring them in the call, in  case the client has questions, he or she can ask them directly
  • Show your approach with enough technical details that the client should feel that you know what you are talking about and can deliver what you are promising. It could be a framework, technical framework, or technical architecture of the solution you are proposing.

13. Identify the emotional output of your story

Think, not what you said, not what you taught, not what they learned, but rather, how did the audience feel? After hearing thoughtful stories, how do you want the audience to feel?

  • Engaged; provoked to take some action
  • Inspired with more energy than they came
  • Confident in the recommendation, or better informed to make choices
  • With you. . . aligned. . . onboard . . .
  • Curious to hear more; really start the discussion
  • Thinking about their own thinking
  • Feeling accountable

Check here for  more details: https://www.consultantsmind.com/2018/09/22/oh-storytelling/

14. Bucket ideas with MECE

MECE is the abbreviation of, “mutually exclusive” For example, if you roll a six-sided die, the outcomes of a six or a three are mutually exclusive. When applied to information, mutually exclusive ideas would be distinctly separate and not overlapping. and, “collectively exhaustive” means that the set of ideas is inclusive of all possible options. Going back to the six-sided dice example, the set {1,2,3,4,5,6} is mutually exclusive AND collectively exhaustive.

Images a generous gift from DeepuAsok.com
Source: https://strategyu.co/wtf-is-mece-mutually-exclusive-collectively-exhaustive

Combining these two elements will enable you to take a large amount of information and simplify it into multiple groups of separate and distinct ideas.

Read more details here:  https://strategyu.co/wtf-is-mece-mutually-exclusive-collectively-exhaustive/