The value using storytelling developing a sale is widely recognized as a powerful tool to gain a competitive edge. Cleverly structured and delivered to build trust, stories give customers the confidence in our abilities and help them decide whether to work with us.

My interest is to consider how some of the world’s best screenwriters create their stories. To explore the challenges they face and whether we can adapt some of their approaches to strengthening our own skills managing and developing high-value solution sales opportunities.

The challenges a screenwriter faces are surprisingly similar to those I have experienced firsthand, also observed sales executive and sales leaders face managing complex enterprise solution sales.

One of my ‘hero’ screenwriters is Aaron Sorkin, I value his work and especially his passion for sharing knowledge and skills. Aaron wrote A Few Good Men, The West Wing, Social Network, Steve Jobs, to name just a few. He said “Rules are what makes art beautiful”, and “… if there is something wrong with your script, there is a good chance you have broken one of these rules, so understanding them is super important.”

If we take a moment to recall a deal that has either been lost or slipped in the forecast. Why did that deal slip, or worse was lost?

Aaron provides us with a valuable insight that may go some way to helping answer this question. He says “you cannot rely on the accidental discovery or telling well-crafted stories by accident that build confidence and trust, it does not work like that in the real world, you need rules.”

Screenwriters’ rules and guidance

Screenwriters use a variety of rules and guidance, and I am not suggesting you go out and buy a copy of Aristotle’s Poetics for screenwriters. My point is to consider what the term “rules” from a business perspective mean. According to Wikipedia, “Business rules are intended to assert business structure or to control or influence the behaviour of the business”. These “rules” typically focus on discipline guiding us on how to be safe or effective performing a given task, role or function. If well-defined for solution selling they will incorporate the use of reason to determine the best course of action. They may also include process, the important point is that we are encouraging reasoning within a structure to make the right decisions rather than blindly following a sales process. I believe it is structure, reasoning and discipline that Aaron is referring to when he mentioned the need for rules.

Finding a formidable obstacle and conflict

A valuable discipline screenwriters use, is how they develop their idea into a draft script. Their approach shares many similarities with developing an opportunity into a high-value solution sale.

Many of us will relate to this situation. Our intuition is telling us there is an opportunity here but we need to dig deeper before we can confidently include it in our sales forecast. To develop an idea, screenwriters look for conflict, they want to know if there is drama in here somewhere. This is what Tony Kushner did when writing his impressive script for the film Lincoln directed by Steven Spielberg. He could have written about President Lincoln’s many achievements. Instead, he focused on one of Lincoln’s major political conflicts, his unwavering and moral commitment to abolishing slavery. The obstacles, the conflicts were formidable, and the stakes were high because he was placing his political career at risk.

When developing our solution sale I would recommend we approach the sale this same way, searching out conflicts that our solution is ideally suited to address and are associated with high stakes and risk. When a screenwriter finds a formidable obstacle and conflict, they can have us on the edge of our seats in the theatre. We need to do the same developing our solution sale so our customer contacts, our champions and the decision makers are on the edge of their seats, fully engaged, committed and asking “tell me more…”.

Focus on a strong and clear intent

Good screenwriters acknowledge they cannot write a story without a clear intent and obstacle. Someone really wants something and something is standing in their way of getting it that is formidable.

A script without a strong and clear intent and a formidable obstacle is not a drama, it is closer to journalism reporting facts. Solution selling is similar to drama, we are doing much more than reporting facts, we are presenting creative solutions that address formidable obstacles and conflicts standing in the way of our customers achieving their business goals.

Tony Kushner is a highly skilled screenwriter, he and his team pressed hard, chipped away and perfected his Lincoln script. Spielberg, one of the most influential personalities in the history of film, had the trust and confidence in Kushner’s work. Collider,, a movie news site posted an article ranking it as the 4th best film out of 30 he had directed. The review said, “Rather than try to tackle Lincoln’s whole life, Lincoln wisely attempts to encapsulate the legendary President’s essence through one of his singular achievements…”

The point for us is, selling solutions to an enterprise is complex. Rather than trying to solve all conflicts with a ‘one size fixes all’ solution, we need focus, positioning ourselves to solve a high stakes conflict standing in the way of the customer achieving a critical goal. And we need to do it better than anyone else. This requires skill, good leadership and coaching, which takes us back to Aaron Sorkin, “you cannot rely on the accidental discovery, or telling well-crafted stories by accident that build confidence and trust, it does not work like that in the real world, you need rules.”

Bringing it all together

When writing a script it is not until the screenwriter introduces the intention that they have really begun a story. And it is not until they introduce the obstacle that the conflict has begun. Solution selling is similar until we find the intent, obstacle, conflict it is unlikely we will have an opportunity. And until we find the compelling event we cannot confidently forecast our opportunity.

To conclude, without clear intent, a formidable obstacle creating high stakes, risk and conflict, it is unlikely we have a high-value solution sales opportunity.

In this article, I have focused mainly on screenwriters discipline to find the intent, obstacle and conflict. In Part 2, I will consider the importance of research for screenwriters, how they know whether the intent is strong enough, and the obstacle formidable enough. The importance of raising the stakes and the value of building a network of trusted advisors and contacts to deliver a world class script. I consider we can adapt many of these disciplines used by screenwriters to strengthening our own skills managing and developing high-value solution sales opportunities.

Please share your feedback and experiences, do these or other disciplines used by screenwriters help you or your teams sharpen their solution sales skills?

About the Author

Treve Wearne is the founder of Nazca Services Limited. Treve supports businesses and sales teams positioning themselves and increasing sales revenues. Improving sales forecasts, talent development and retention in the most challenging business environments.

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