I think the first time I noticed the power of stories in sales was when I was managing a sales team in Russia for Schlumberger in 2000.
Schlumberger was formed in 1926 when Conrad and Marcel Schlumberger invented a technique to measure the variation of resistivity in oil wells and hence locate the oil. The invention was an instant success and within a few years, Schlumberger deployed their technique all over the world. They revolutionised the Russian oil industry to the extent that a portrait of Conrad Schlumberger was hung in the Oil and Gas Gubkin Institute as a pioneer of Soviet industry.
But the company suffered a huge setback in the 1930s, when Stalin nationalised Schlumberger's assets in Russia.
In the mid-1990s, when Russia was opening up again to western companies after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Schlumberger needed to make a decision whether to re-enter the market. The CEO, was asked how much money he was willing to risk on a Russian re-entry; His answer was “$200 million”.
With that, Schlumberger set about placing senior experts and investing in two of the top six Russian oil companies. The results were startling; using western techniques, the two Russian oil companies doubled production while their competitor’s production fell.
I've told this story many times and heard it re-told by my customers. The story’s effect was remarkable and unmistakable.
The power of stories to capture our attention lies in the narrative journey: the complications, trials and mistakes that expose the hero's vulnerabilities. Without the setback of Stalin's nationalisation, the story would not have the same power.
Today, Schlumberger is a company with revenues of $35 billion, dominating the oil and gas services business - and generating nearly $2 billion per year from Russia alone.
Source: Mike Adams experience and conversations with Schlumberger people in Russia at the time
Reference: "The Schlumberger Adventure", Anne Gruner Schlumberger
Story Type: Company
For Story Students:
The Setting: Schlumberger in Russia 1930 to present day
The Complications: The company's assets were nationalised by the Russian state
The Turning Point: Schlumberger's successful re-entry into Russia in the 1990s
The Resolution: A massive successful business
The Point of the Story: How an interesting story says more about a company than marketing claims
How to use this Story: We tell this story as an example company Creation story and to illustrate the persuasive power of stories.