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What if you could say the right things to the right people at the right time?

I started my first business in the sixth grade with a roll of paper towels and a can of window cleaner, and I’ve been starting and running businesses ever since. My day job is leading the sales and marketing efforts for the largest privately held self-storage company in North America, StorageMart, but I’ve also managed a five-gallon bottled water service and created a dog training school.

I have a long story to tell about me, but your stories might be just beginning. It’s our stories that people want to hear. It’s our stories that make our offerings interesting. It’s our stories that people buy when they do business with us.

Now is the time to think about how your business would change if people found your story compelling, if it pushed them to become a part of your story as a supporter or participant. You’re selling something, whether it’s a concept, product or community. Whatever your story is, you have to sell that, too. But how?

Learn to sell. Start by respecting the hard and fast first rule of selling: “You can’t sell anybody anything, but you can help people talk themselves into buying just about anything.”

Think VAST. To help people talk themselves into buying, use well-crafted VAST language.

  • Visual: Your story paints a picture people can see in their mind’s eye.
  • Assumptive: Your story assumes other people’s participation and a successful outcome.
  • Suggestive: You suggest ways people can become more involved as customers or supporters.
  • Transformative: Your story tells how you’ll help change the world for the better.

Think like a big brand. In many ways, you’re building a brand or movement. Look at sales, marketing, advertising, political rhetoric and social movements. How do they build brands around products of ideas?

Right things. Right people. Right time. Saying the right things to the right people will help those people talk themselves into buying. Determining who those right people are can take hours, but first you have to know the right things to say.

Often, big brands know the right things to say, and they’re often VAST and compelling. “Kentucky Fried Chicken is finger lickin’ good.” “Maxwell House coffee is good to the last drop.” “15 minutes can save you 15 percent.” “You are now free to move around the country.” “Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere.” “By any means necessary.” “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”

Slogans, labels and sayings can also help you define your story in a VAST and compelling way and top it off with a “phrase that pays.” A phrase that pays is your closing statement or the ask. Think about how the profits of fast-food chains were impacted when they learned to ask these two simple questions: “Do you want fries with that?” “Can I supersize that for you?” Think how our buying habits changed when a random Web developer added a button on a website that said “Click here.”

You don’t have to look far to find good examples of great stories. The Mizzou Football team talks about “Missouri made,” which has become the slogan for the style of player development and coaching that have made the program and its players successful. When Missouri fans hear this slogan, they know what it means, and they want to go see it in action.

Shakespeare’s Pizza came up with a tagline a long time ago that would make everyone groan and smirk and hungry for pizza. “Have you had a piece today?” This also helps frame the story of the quirky, tongue-in-cheek way the company portrays itself. Just look at how full they are on a Friday night to see how well this sells.

Metro Business College’s slogan is, “A small college can make a big difference,” and they sing it in their television ads. This is another example of VAST language that sticks in your head and makes you curious.

When businesses begin to tell their stories effectively, there isn’t much left to do but ask for the sale. How would your story be transformed if your language was VAST and compelling enough to be able to move right to a phrase that pays, such as: “Let’s get you signed up right now,” “Let’s get your order processed today,” or “I just need your signature on that line.”

If you learn to use VAST and compelling language to tell your story, you have the right things to say. The next step is finding the right people and reaching out at the right time.

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