Most companies’ narratives revolve around products, features, and value propositions.
And while those are definitely important, there’s a much bigger opportunity to build emotional connections. When you think about category-defining companies, they’re overwhelmingly the ones who engage their customers’ emotions through storytelling.
Throughout my leadership career, I’ve held countless sales kickoffs, all-hands meetings, and keynotes. People tend to retain very little when it comes to wordy decks, bullet points, or numbers. But they remember stories.
When you hear a story, “your brain waves actually start to synchronize with those of the storyteller,” according to NPR. We don’t just like stories; we’re biologically programmed to retain them.
When speaking to a crowd, I often share lessons learned from my own parenting experiences, as these personal stories create a more emotional and human connection with individuals in the audience. People are actively drawn into these stories in a way that makes them easy to follow—and more memorable. Now, even a decade later, I’ll run into someone who will say, “Oh Kelly, I remember that story you told about your son – when he came to your office to get a lesson about sales. How is he doing? I know he was really interested in business.”
Companies should do the same. Yes, nail down your mission, vision, and values—that’s a must. Yes, speak to your company’s product —you have to be able to articulate what you do and explain your features and functions. But when it comes time to communicate, frame it all through a narrative lens that drives emotional connectedness. This narrative should communicate your ‘why’ in a way that connects with people.
And to do that most effectively, there are three categories of stories every company should share:
1. Your company’s origin story.
A founding story really helps to share the essence of who you are and why you exist. That’s what personalizes a brand and allows people to relate and say, “Oh, I understand why this matters.”
So, how did Gong get started? Our CEO, Amit, was the CEO of an enterprise analytics company. All was going well until one day, the team had a bad quarter and missed their number. Amit dug in to try to figure out what had happened. He went to his CRM, but could not figure out the root cause. He listened to some recorded calls, but there wasn’t ample time in the day to listen to enough calls to figure out what had gone wrong. He asked around but got varying opinions from his team on what was happening. Nobody seemed to know.
Amit figured this must be a challenge other companies were having too, so he decided to build his own data-driven autonomous system to provide increased visibility on what was really happening with customer interactions. He teamed up with co-founder Eilon, who had previous experience using artificial intelligence, and that is how Gong got started. This is Gong’s founding story.
Your company’s origin story is extremely valuable. It’s what speaks directly to your internal team, your customers, and the world at large about why you exist. This is the essence of your being. Share it intentionally—and often!
2. Customer stories.
Many customer stories focus on quantitative results. Companies will share use cases like, “this company is using our feature or function, and they got this ROI”. These are fine, and we all want to showcase our actual metric-driven results, but they aren’t memorable. These use cases don’t evoke emotional connections. They are vanilla and quite dry, missing the human element on why the people reading the story should care.
What’s better is to be able to tell a story in a customer’s own voice, highlighting not only how your customer is using your product or service, but why it matters. Gartner research highlights how buyers want customer stories. Think about how your customer stories can be shared more like human interest stories that showcase not only how your solution solved a company challenge, but also how you made a personal impact on your customer.
Back when I was at Tableau, customer stories often highlighted how the solution helped customers save time, be more self-sufficient, and generate valuable insights, etc. These stories, especially when supported by impressive quantitative results, were good and useful, but they alone didn’t distinguish us from other business intelligence companies out there.
The personal customer stories are the ones people remember most. These stories inspire action.
There’s one customer story I recall all these years later. It came from a dad whose son played Little League, and because the games were always at 3:30 or 4:00 in the afternoon, he could never make it. But once he started using Tableau, he could do work and analysis that used to take him two weeks in just two hours. With that extra time, he could finally go to his son’s games.
When I asked him the highest value he got from the product, he didn’t talk about increased productivity or better insights. He said that by giving him time back, Tableau had a profound personal impact, allowing him to strengthen his relationship with his son—and for that, he was deeply grateful. That’s the more emotionally connected story. Share customer stories that are more meaningful, impactful, and memorable.
Remember, companies don’t sell to companies. People sell to people. And people remember stories about other people.
3. Personal stories.
Personal stories connect your individual employees to the purpose of your organization. These allow your team to showcase why they decided to join the company and why the company’s mission is important to them.
These stories are incredibly powerful in customer conversations, discussions with prospective hiring candidates, and with the community more broadly. By encouraging your team to share their own personal stories, a viral network effect can start to take place. The word will organically spread about who you are and why people should care.
For example, I joined Gong after spending my entire career helping build and scale transformative, hyper-growth, category-disrupting tech companies. My passions have always been in sales, data, and culture. In fact, I’m so passionate about sales and how companies engage with customers that I teach a business school course and even launched my own thought-leadership platform on the subject.
When I first learned about Gong, I couldn’t believe how one company could tie all of my passion areas into one. So, I joined the board. After just a few months, it was clear that the opportunity was way more massive than I ever could’ve imagined, so I jumped back into an operating role to become more involved. To me, Gong was not only an amazing company. I had found my personal calling.
That’s my personal story.
And I share it often.