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My Product's Invention or Discovery Story

This lesson is a part of an audio course 15 Sales Stories That Work by Paul Andrew Smith

When you get to the point in the sales process where you’re actually making a sales pitch, there are several stories you should consider telling. And one of them is the story of how the product or service you’re selling was invented or discovered in the first place.

Now, if your company only makes one product, this story is probably the same as your founding story. But most companies have more than one product. So, here’s an example of what that looks like.

Leah Jewell worked for the publishing company Prentice Hall back in the mid-1990s. She managed a team of people in charge of creating books for the English departments at colleges and universities. So, part of her job was selling the idea for new books, first to her own internal management, but then to the sales reps, and finally to the teachers in the college English departments who were the target audience. The main component of one particular sales pitch was the following story.

She started by simply asking, “Do you know Mickey Harris or the Purdue Online Writing Lab?” Since her audience was made up of English professors, they nearly always did. Muriel “Mickey” Harris was fairly well known as the Purdue English professor who created the school’s first writing lab to help students with their writing. She eventually expanded access to the lab and its resources online, establishing one of the world’s earliest online writing labs.

Then she explains that Mickey and her team had personally helped thousands of students with their writing in the past two decades. And with over half a million words in the English language and more than a thousand grammar rules, you might think that Mickey was helping students with an enormous number of different issues. But, she was surprised to realize that most of the students coming to her lab were showing up with a remarkably similar set of questions and problems.

They were so consistent, in fact, that her team developed handouts to address the most common problems. She ultimately concluded that the majority of issues were represented by only 20 unique topics.

So, Mickey had the data and experience to narrow down the most common writing errors, and Leah and her team figured out a way to organize a book around that information to make it easier for students to find what they were looking for.

None of the handbooks on the market at the time were organized that way. And Mickey already had a good head start on the material with the reference handouts she’d been writing.

That story helped everyone understand the value of Mickey Harris and her ideas. That made it easy to get approval to move forward with the project inside Prentice-Hall. The same story helped the sales reps make a compelling case to English professors because they saw that the approach solved a problem for them—how to get students to use a handbook effectively. As a result, The Prentice-Hall Reference Guide to Grammar and Usage by Muriel Harris was born. Prentice-Hall named Leah’s team the “product team of the year.” And today, the book is in its ninth edition and is still one of the bestsellers on the market.

So, if you don’t already know the story behind the discovery or invention of all of the products you sell, find someone who does, and ask them to tell you. You might need to go to more than one person. And be prepared to do some research. Go to the company archives. Visit some of the old-timers and retirees if you have to. This story is every bit as important as the price lists and spec sheets you have already. Treat it that way.

Okay, the next lesson is about a story to illustrate the problem your product or service solves.

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Written by

Paul Andrew Smith