Using Storytelling to Build Trust with Clients

By Rosemary Smyth, MBA, ACC, Author on Tuesday, November 25th, 2014

When meeting with a client, being able to tell a relatable business story can help build an unparalleled level of rapport and trust. It’s easy to learn to tell stories. We tell them every day and don’t even realize it.

A general definition of a story is, “an account of something that happened”. They can be imaginary, traditional, or true and your aim for a good story to tell clients is brevity and clarity. If you are getting feedback that your stories are too long, ask yourself what key message you want to communicate. Stories can be a powerful business tool and will allow clients the freedom to come to their own conclusions.

Business stories are more about a desired outcome rather than entertainment.

For example, if you have a client that is disagreeing with their spouse over their investment strategy, you may tell them a story of how you mediated with a couple in similar circumstances to find common ground and what the outcome was.

The best stories will be ones that are true to life, communicate your message and are visibly enjoyable to tell. Questions from your client often follow powerful stories, so if your client is curious about how the main character handled the conflict, you are on the right track. Choose business stories for clients that are true as oppose to hypothetical. For example, the time that you passed on the Google IPO that would have made you a millionaire is a better story than the time your long lost relative survived the very first stock market crash.

The three main ingredients for a great story are context, action and results.

For business stories, context is the background information- the who, what, where, when and why questions that set the stage. The action sequence is the steps the main character takes to overcome the obstacle. There are usually setbacks and conflicts that occur during the action sequence. The results are the lessons learned, and for business stories, those lessons reveal something about who you are and why you do what you do.

Sharing a story about a personal failure may feel uneasy or seem embarrassing at the moment, but don’t worry as every successful person has a failure story. These types of “rookie mistake” stories resonate with clients as they can tell by your tone of voice, how you felt about dropping the ball, and how hard you strive to prevent that from happening again.

One story may only be meaningful to a select few clients so, keep a few stories in your pocket that you can use in case you miss that mark. Consider keeping a story inventory of a time that: you shined, learned a valuable lesson about the markets, missed a great opportunity, made the best of a bad situation, mediated a couple’s argument, supported your community, and one that showed how you over delivered in terms of customer service.

Practice telling your stories so that you can get the nuances down on your pauses, timing and body language. Once you have that mastered, develop vivid descriptions for each of the five senses to build context. This helps your brain to re-experience the story and allow your tone, gestures and body movements to flow effortlessly.

Remember all your life experiences are the best basis for compelling business stories, so start thinking of some valuable lessons learned that would resonate with your clients.

Rosemary Smyth, MBA, CIM, ACC, is an author and an international business coach for financial advisors. She spent her career working at leading investment firms before pursuing her passion for coaching. She lives in Victoria, BC. Visit her website at You can email Rosemary at: and follow her on Twitter @rosemarysmyth

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