The Power Of STORY in the Complex Sale. Not For
Whiners or Losers.
What’s love got to do with it?
Steve Kayser interviews Robert
McKee, legendary guru of Hollywood storytelling
and the best-selling author of
Competitive advantage in the Complex Sale.
Everyone wants it. Challengers need it.
Losers whine about it.
Winners have it.
How do you get it? And what’s love got to do with it? Read on my friends …
What follows is an innovative approach to the Complex Sale following the
Shoot the Donkey format and incorporating the key
Shoot the Donkey principle of:
"Taking decisive action to remove all obstacles to
Robert McKee, the best-selling author of "STORY"
and legendary guru of Hollywood storytelling, is going to concisely explain in
an earthy, easy-to-understand interview, how Story principles can be used to
help you stun, dazzle and communicate effectively in the Complex-Sale process.
What does he know about Story?
His students have garnered:
Then, I’m going to tell you what love’s got to do with it.
But first … what is a Complex Sale?
The Complex Sale typically refers to a high-value purchase of products or
services, $150,000 in value and up. It typically involves a Buyer's Committee,
consisting of anywhere from three to 12 people … or more. To be successful, you
must be able to persuasively communicate to multiple decision-makers, multiple
departments, and multiple organizations.
Even if your product or service is the best
- features, functions, service,
cost, value, etc. - if it’s not effectively communicated to the multiple and
disparate personalities on the buying committee …
Even if you’re good, if your message doesn’t resonate, touch, move, or
persuade your audience to act, it’s just a waste of your time and your money. So
what decisive action can you take to remove those obstacles to your success to
close the Complex Sale?
Make me laugh. Make me cry. Make me move.
Steve, you moron. That’s simplistic. Everyone knows that. The question is
Kiss corporate–acronym, Bin Laden gobbledygook PowerPoints
Story. Tell a story.
Throw your 58-slide, PowerPoint presentations and reverse-flash, creative
swipe/swish, corporate-acronym Bin Laden gobbledygook out the fourth-story
A presentation without PowerPoint slides?
Remember … I said tell a good story. Tell it well. I’m not talking about
disingenuous, contextually sophisticated, unprincipled corporate gobbledygook.
(Say that fast three times.)
Boring. Boring. Boring.
Whatever you’re doing now with your PowerPoints … it’s not communicating,
inspiring, or motivating - it’s not even remotely interesting.
Oh … wait a minute. You’re different. Right? You’re good? You da man? You’re
the Steven Spielberg of the complex-sale presentation?
Dare you take the PowerPoint proof-of-pudding test?
The next sales presentation you give or attend, take note of what occurs
after PowerPoint slide number five is swipe/swished onto the screen. Unless you
really are da man, the Steven Spielberg of the complex-sale presentation, 90
percent of the people in attendance will fall into one of the following
1. The Mighty E-mail Master Multi-tasker (MEMM)
The MEMM reads their e-mail on
desktops, laptops, PDAs, or wireless (or all three at the same time) during your
presentation. Looks up occasionally, feigns interest, may smile on the rare
occasion and spew a few meaningless corporate acronyms to let you know he’s in
the room, then … puts his head down, empties all e-mail folders - including
sent, draft, and trash - and proceeds to the nearest online sports or horoscope
*A special note on the MEMM. Tends to
be the most vociferous critic of the presentation after you leave. Can clearly
and concisely detail the flaws in any presentation to which they don’t pay
2. The Diligent Dutiful Drone (DDD)
The DDD stares, smiles, nods, drinks,
and laughs on rare occasions (keep your distance … could be flatulence) and most
closely resembles a display-case manikin. What’s nice about the DDD is:
a.) They smile and make you feel a
little better about yourself, and
b.) They have ZERO influence.
They don’t want to be there.
• You’re boring.
• You’re lying.
• They know it.
But, they’re masters of the art of
being actively employed while daydreaming.
3. The Game Player (GP)
A real classic. I like him. Type “A”
introverted extrovert. Flips open the laptop, occasionally tries to hide online
game-playing activities but goes to no great effort. Looks up every five to
seven minutes and convincingly nods understanding of complex technology,
processes and people issues. Has canned industry-analyst quotes or research that
is prattled off machine-gun style in the blink of a PowerPoint swish. The GP can
typically play between three to five online games at one time, within
communities ranging from 2,000 to 4,000 users; answer all attacks; defend and
super-power-pack energizing, life-protecting, virtual-shield questions via
Instant Messenger (IM) in less than one second. Very efficient.
4. The D*mn Data Destroyer (3-D)
The 3-D may smile occasionally and has
insidiously iridescent eyes and a serial-killer smile that yells, “What lie
are you telling?” The 3-D exuberantly researches each fact you use in your
presentation and typically has between 800 to 1,000 search engines at his
disposal intelligently configured to automate the process of destroying your
credibility. He success rate is over 90 percent. Keys to look for: Sometime
after PowerPoint slide #10 of your presentation, if he has failed to find a
factual misstatement, his eyes turn a glowing red and some
spittle or drool visibly emanate. Steer clear … 3-D is extremely dangerous.
5. The “ME-ME,” or the “I’m Much
Too Important to Be Here”
The most irritating of the
complex-sales presentation attendees, ME-ME answers all e-mails, never looks up,
never pays attention, and takes all cell-phone calls while in the meeting. The
only courtesy extended to you is turning around backwards to bend over while
talking to the auto repair shop on the cell phone. Sometimes ME-ME even stoops
to feigning a cell-phone call by testing the ringer … “Sorry, I have to take
this very important, business-critical call.”
WARNING! ME-ME is just as
dangerous as 3-D. To be able to pull off this offensively rude behavior, ME-ME
actually has some power and/or authority. Me-Me is predisposed to not liking
your presentation most probably because it wasn’t a ME-ME idea.
Therefore it stinks.
And so do you.
You recognized the categories didn’t
You know it. Admit it.
Each of these people categories and
activities is an obstacle to your success. Let’s try an innovative approach
(unless you’re a Me-Me) to move people out of categories 1-5 into, as Jim Carey
in the movie “MASK” puts it, a
They Love Me!
They Really Love Me! category.
Enter Robert McKee
“Universally Acclaimed” – The
New York Times
“Near Legendary” – The
Robert McKee is the most widely known
and respected screenwriting lecturer in the world today.
His former students' accomplishments
are unparalleled. Some recent, notable, former students to win or be nominated
for Oscars include: Akiva Goldsman (Winner - Best Writing: Adapted Screenplay)
for his screenplay "A Beautiful Mind," Peter Jackson (writer/director of "Lord
of the Rings I and II," Nominated - Best Picture), and many others.
Stories written, directed, or produced
by students of Robert McKee include:
“Air Force One,” “Cheers,” “Shrek,”
“The Color Purple,” “Crimson Tide,” “The Deer Hunter,” “The Elephant Man,” “ER,”
“Forrest Gump” (my all-time favorite – an idiot triumphs!), “Gandhi,” “M*A*S*H,”
“On Golden Pond,” “Saving Private Ryan,” “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves,”
“Sleepless in Seattle,” “The X-Files,” “A Time to Kill,” “Toy Story I and II,”
Quincy Jones, Kirk Douglas, Dominick
Dunne, and William Goldman write glowing testimonials not only to the book,
STORY, but the man as well.
Robert McKee Knows Story.
McKee was also recently portrayed by
Emmy Award-winning actor Brian Cox in Columbia Pictures' four-time
Oscar-nominated, "Adaptation." The film follows the life of screenwriter Charlie
Kaufman (played by Oscar-winning actor Nicolas Cage) who is trying to adapt the
novel The Orchid Thief into a screenplay. Under a deadline from the film
company to hand in his script, Cage turns to Robert McKee and the Story Seminar
for inspiration to complete his screenplay. The film also stars Oscar-winning
actress Meryl Streep and Chris Cooper, who won an Oscar for Best Supporting
Actor for "Adaptation."
Charlie Kaufman (Nicolas Cage)
seeks advice from Robert McKee (Brian Cox)
Steve (S): Thanks for taking the
time to be with us today.
Robert (R): Sure.
S: How can the principles of
Story work in the Complex-Sales presentation? How can it be used to resonate and
touch disparate groups with different agendas, goals, and prejudices, while at
the same time, connecting the intellect - making good economic business sense?
R: First, why is it so complex?
S: Good question … the
complexity of the products and services, and the buying committees have forced
salespeople to communicate with a lot of different types and groups of people -
users, business types, programmers, etc. To accomplish this, it usually turns
into a 58-slide PowerPoint presentation laden with meaningless corporate
acronyms to address every aspect of the individual’s wants/needs on the buyer’s
committee … too much info.
And, the fact of the matter is, there
are a lot of products and services that can solve their problems. There’s really
not a lot of difference. The key should be the sales presentation ...
effectively communicating simply the economic business value and connecting on
an emotional level with the people.
R: You know, I’ve been in
situations where writers are pitching their stories, right? They’re trying to
sell their screenplay. Most executives are so busy that they would rather have
the writer come in and pitch the story in 10 minutes before they decide whether
they want to spend two or three hours reading it. So the pitch has to go well.
I’ve seen writers come in and they’re charming, they’re funny, they do this
brilliant song and dance about their story that they have obviously rehearsed
and polished and then tell their story virtually tap dancing on your desk. And I
have also had writers come in that were not very good. Not good! They were
scared to death. They were very shy. They weren’t comfortable around people.
They couch and choke their story out and … you know it’s brilliant.
S: But, how, or why, do you know
the story is brilliant?
R: Because you listen to the
story and no matter how badly the guy performs it, you go “that’s a great
story.” You’re fascinated by the sudden story surprises and revelations –
although the delivery may not be there.
S: What about the charming funny
R: Mr. Charm? You listen to his
story and you know he’d better be charming because his story is a piece of crap
if you actually listen to what’s being said. In the great play and the film
Death of a Salesman, Willy Loman talked about always having a shine on your
shoes and a smile on you face … but he’s a terrible salesman and his family is
If you’re out to describe the truth, leave
elegance to the tailor.
- Albert Einstein
R: But I do know, presuming that
the people you’re trying to persuade are intelligent and are actually listening
and not being influenced by the charm of the speaker, that there’s a powerful,
compelling way to present effectively. Story.
S: Story? Can you explain what
you mean when you say that? How would you incorporate Story principles into the
R: There are two choices or
methods of presentation. Rhetoric or Story. It’s all about persuasion, right?
You’re trying to persuade someone to buy something. Or in the Complex-Sales
setting, you’re trying to persuade a number of people at various levels involved
in hierarchy of some organization. Rhetoric is the PowerPoint method where you
present evidence in a certain order ... or what is known as an inductive
S: The difference?
R: Rhetoric is statistics,
facts, quotes from authorities, etc. Rhetoric recites this point, this fact,
this industry-analyst quote, and then another point, ad infinitum, so therefore,
mine is the best, the greatest, the one, the only, product and service that can
do what you need.
S: Yes … so what’s wrong with
R: They know you’re lying! You
lie in a rhetorical PowerPoint presentation by presenting the information in the
most favorable light possible. The buyer knows you’re lying, because the buyer
is a businessperson who knows that nothing is that rosy. You quote your industry
analysts – they’ll refute your industry analysts with theirs.
fib! I made a fable, like Aesop and those other guys.
- Dennis the
R: Why expose your weaknesses?
Why not conceal it? Because if you only give the positive side, they
instinctively know you’re lying. Because why? Again, nothing is that good. The
deep difference between presenting something rhetorically and creating it in a
story ... is that in a story, it is a dynamic of positive and negative charges.
R: You start up a business and
immediately you’ve got problems. You overcome those problems and take a step
forward but new problems arise. You find ingenious ways to solve those problems
only to discover that you have a competitor who’s got another product that does
it better. You improve your product to be better than your competitor. It goes
on. So when you tell a story, you can’t just hit positive, positive, positive.
you cannot hide the negative. In fact, it’s overcoming the negative that makes
you powerful. It makes the positive even more positive in the eyes of the person
whose hearing the story. Therefore, when you tell a story, admit problems and
then dramatize the solution of those problems. Then cause new problems to arise.
Dramatize the solution of those problems until you finally get to that positive
climax. Because you’re admitting your negatives in front of them, it takes a lot
negative. Overcome. Give yourself the power.
R: They sit there saying:
“That’s right. That’s true. That’s what
it’s like to be in a business environment. It’s not all positive. But this
person is showing me how his product or his service will overcome those problems
and how I will benefit.”
As a result, they feel that they’re
being told the truth.
S: But couldn’t you be lying
R: Yes, you can lie in a story
just as well. But when you tell stories, if you lie, the lies become evident
quickly because of the interweaving of story and fact. When you tell it in
PowerPoint, they know you’re lying. They just don’t know where. There’s a
more important lesson here. You realize, well, that’s a lie! That’s crap. I
wouldn’t buy that.
is rarely pure, and never simple.
- Oscar Wilde
R: Preparing to tell your
business case in a story forces you to confront the lie and search for the
truth. You will catch yourself as you prepare for the presentation sloughing
over certain problematic things. If you’ve really got guts, you won’t slough
over them. You will admit them.
R: Because then you will show
how even these very difficult problems are overcome. When you tell your story
honestly and you don’t hide the negative, you tell it well. People sit there
with their mouths open going, “my God, what guts.” Put them in the position to
see how the negative is overcome. You’ll gain their trust. And, you will have
also impressed the heck out of them because you’re an honest human being who
knows the reality. A person who deals in reality, but has honestly dramatized
the way in which these problems, that we all, as business people, know exist.
them with your honesty. Expose the negatives. Gain their trust.
S: In STORY, you say
Paddy Chayefsky told you once that when he’d discovered his story’s meaning he’d
scratch it out on a scrap of paper and tape it to his typewriter so that nothing
going through his typewriter would in one way or another express his central
theme. A clear statement of Value and Cause. That seems like a logical first
step in any story.
your story’s meaning.
your clear statement of Value and Cause
R: Yes. From there you’d take
that same rhetorical presentation and dramatize it. Within the story there is
rhetoric, there is information. The actual facts get woven into the story. Weave
the information dramatically within a story. Leave them hanging. If you tell
them a story that’s predictable, they’ll get ahead of you and lose interest.
Tell a story that pits expectations vs. realities, and the struggles to overcome
them. I believe great salesmen are by instinct, storytellers.
expectations vs. realities.
struggle to overcome.
S: And the foundation of a good
storytelling Complex-Sales presentation is?
R: Research. The key to winning
the war is research, taking time and effort to acquire knowledge. Understanding
their problems …
S: Is that what you mean when
you describe it as “storytelling from the inside out?”
R: Yes. You want them
empathizing, you want them saying, “my God he’s telling my story. That’s me.”
It’s got to be very personal for them.
S: Could you talk a little about
“The Principle of Creative Limitation?”
R: It’s exactly the subject
we’re talking about. The PowerPoint presentation is easy, that’s why people do
it. Creative limitation means instead of doing something the easy way, you do it
the hard way. You take a method that is much more difficult to accomplish. As a
result in your struggle as a salesman to accomplish the presentation in the form
of a story, you are forcing yourself to be creative. The more difficult you make
it for yourself, the more brilliant the solutions you will have to come up with
or you fail. And when you come up with brilliant creative solutions to the
presentation, the results for the people, for the audience, are stunning.
yourself to be creative. It will stun your audience.
R: The principle of creative
limitation forces you to do it the hard way. Story is more difficult than
PowerPoint there is no question. You have to have a real talent for this and you
have to do it really well or you will look like a fool. That is why people avoid
it, because they don’t have the talent, they don’t do the research. They really
don’t have the knowledge, they don’t know how to present it in a living way it’s
Why is whistling not a Beethoven
symphony? Because whistling is easy. A Beethoven symphony is hard. But when you
take on the challenge of writing a symphony, the creative solutions are amazing,
overwhelming. Whistling is something you can do on the street. The more
difficult the technique, the more brilliant the solution. Another analogy ...
golf is more difficult than ping-pong. It’s not that ping-pong isn’t good, it’s
a lot of fun and at the highest levels, it’s wonderful. But ping-pongers are not
Tiger Woods, why? Because the golf swing is infinitely more difficult than
hitting a ping-pong ball. Touch football is not tackle.
When you make things easy, the results
are boring. When you make things difficult the creative solutions, the
concentration, the practice, and the work that has to go into it, forces you to
be creative. The results are all the more stunning. PowerPoints, of course, are
the natural choice because people do not want to work and they don’t want to
fail. And so they take what is easy and they think it will be successful. And
then, they don’t get the sales.
Are you a
whistler or a Beethoven?
R: And so, when they fail, they
blame the product, they blame the buyer for whatever reasons they rationalize
S: In your book, you talk about
the “GAP” … what is it, and could this be an effective tool in a Complex-Sales
R: The world does not react the
way you thought it would react. The GAP is between expectation and reality. What
do you do? You’ve got to gather yourself and find another solution. When the gap
opens up in life, it’s because the negative side of life that you could not
anticipate suddenly erupted in the face of your action. Every day you walk into
an office expecting cooperation and then one day you get antagonism. The deep
difference between Story and PowerPoint is that Story admits to the negative.
Admits to the fact that life does not react the way you expect and that is a
fundamental difference. The gap is the essence of overcoming the chasm between
expectations and reality. PowerPoints pretend that gaps don’t exist. PowerPoints
pretend that the world will react exactly the way you predict.
But what guides you, of course, is that
you’re ultimately trying to leave with the buyer one, clear, simple idea you
want them to all understand. Not just understand intellectually, but also
understand emotionally by the time you’re done.
story connects one simple idea - intellectually and emotionally.
S: Okay, close to wrapping it up
here. In your book, you said from the ’20s to the ’50s storytelling was common
knowledge. Now it’s a lost art. Is Story really a lost art or is it just not
being taught anymore?
R: We went through a terrible
cycle of very, very bad education of the writer. Education of the
writer/storyteller was turned inside out from the ’60s on, but now finally, the
light is dawning on people and they see that there’s a difference. The
fundamental difference is between criticism and creativity. What’s been taught
to writers for the last 40 years was not creativity but criticism. The methods
of speech and literature and writing at universities may have been extremely
valuable to people who want to be critics, but useless to the
writer/storyteller, and in fact, detrimental to the writer.
S: Thank you for your time
END OF INTERVIEW
Now Steve, you ask, what’s love got to
do with it? The Complex Sale?
If you ever talk to
Robert McKee, you’ll know.
If you ever read
STORY, you’ll know.
But if you don’t get the chance to do
either … it’s most perfectly described in his book this way (used by
It’s All About Love
The love of story – The
fascination with sudden surprises and revelations that bring sea changes in
The love of truth – The belief
that lies cripple, that every truth in life must be questioned.
The love of humanity – A
willingness to empathize with suffering souls, to crawl inside their skins and
see the world through their eyes.
The love of humor – A joy in
the saving grace that restores the balance of life.
The love of language – The
delight in sound and sense, syntax, and semantics.
The love of duality – A feel
for life’s hidden contradictions, a healthy suspicion that things are not what
The love of perfection – The
passion to write and rewrite in search of the perfect moment.
The love of uniqueness – The
thrill of audacity and a stone-faced calm when it is met by ridicule.
The love of beauty – An innate
sense that treasures good, hates bad, and knows the difference.
OOPS – wait a minute. I have to
vent a little. When writing this interview, some publication I never heard of
(The New Yorker) published an in-depth interview with Robert McKee (click
here to read) as well.
I don’t mind a little competition.
Especially from a magazine I’ve never heard of. And, no I’m not jealous. Nope.
Not one scintilla of jealousy under this kilt.
I am sure
the grapes are sour.
- Aesop, “The
Fox and the Grapes”
Well, maybe a little jealous.
Okay … maybe it’s a well-done piece.
Professional. Concise. In-depth. I guess a little prestigious if you’re in New
York, L.A., or Chicago … but here in the heartland of America?
No … don’t think so. I mean the
interviewer didn’t even put his picture on the article. What kind of journalism
Hey New Yorker! Prove you’re not
just another pretty face …
Many people have e-mailed compliments
on the wonderful donkey illustrations. They’re created by Chris Wood
(email@example.com). His insight and
creative adaptability all give one the sense that Chris is really in touch with
his inner donkey that he truly understands donkeys. Almost like he sees donkeys
from the inside out. If James Brown is the Godfather of Soul, l crown Chris the
Godfather of Donkeys.
A recent, personal photo of Chris is
About Robert McKee:
For over 20 years, Robert McKee's Story
Seminar has been the world's ultimate writing class for over 40,000
screenwriters, filmmakers, TV writers, novelists, industry executives, actors,
producers, directors, and playwrights.
McKee graduates have earned:
And have written such recent
Upcoming Robert McKee Story
Robert McKee's Genre Seminars:
About Steve Kayser: Steve is
currently Cincom's Expert Access Editor and PR Manager. In his spare
time, Steve models kilts for Un-Vanity, Non-GQ and The Manly Kilt
monthly magazines. Steve also headlines fundraising events for his run at an
Olympic Gold Medal in the kilt-wearing mechanical bull riding competition to be
held in Cincinnati, Ohio in 2050. For more info you can contact Steve at
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