It takes a tough guy to get tender with a personal story, and former NFL player Bo Eason is just the man to do it.
What’s the greatest story never told? For most advisors, it’s their own.
Since the beginning of time, stories have been used to lead nations, to move armies and to connect with others. There is nothing more powerful in a sales presentation than a good story. Countless studies have proved that a human’s recollection and comprehension of information increases greatly when associated with a story. For many of your clients, the stories you tell will be what you are remembered for most.
“Story is the connective tissue that bonds people to a leader. Story is what makes people latch on to you, want to follow you and want to do business with you. Your authentic, powerful personal story is what makes people fall in love with you,” says speaker, actor and former NFL standout Bo Eason.
Bo Eason has known glory in his football career culminating in four seasons with the Houston Oilers and a brief stint with the San Francisco 49ers. But when he talks about his career, he doesn’t start with those days. He backs it up to when he was 9 years old.
Why? Because most of us can’t relate to being a pro football player, but all of us can relate to being a 9-year-old. Once Bo hooks you, he takes you on an emotional ride that ends with you running with him onto a field, under the roar of the crowd and ready for battle. You’re there with him because of how he tells the story.
After injuries forced him out of pro football, Bo turned to acting, where he was trained by the best. After starring in a few plays and motion pictures, Bo became frustrated with the roles he was auditioning for, so he decided to write and star in his own play. Runt of the Litter is based on his experience living in the shadow of his more talented and famous brother, Tony Eason, the former quarterback of the New England Patriots.
You might not think a former pro football player would be a guy in touch with his feelings. But he is, and he says everybody who wants to be a sales star needs to do the same and express it in story.
In Part 1 of a two-part series with Publisher Paul Feldman, Bo tells the importance of the story and how to craft and develop your own captivating story.
FELDMAN: You have worked with quite a few insurance and financial advisors. What distinctions have you found in this industry compared with others?
EASON: I have had a lot of experience in the insurance and financial services world. I work with advisors so much because they have an athletic mindset. Even if they’re the top in their field, they’re always trying to get better.
That’s certainly the mindset of all the great athletes I’ve ever played with and great performers that I’ve ever been around. They’re always battling to get to the next place.
FELDMAN: Why are personal stories critical to every salesperson?
EASON: I don’t know who said this, but the minute that you start telling a story is the minute that you stop selling a commodity. When I’m making an offer, it’s all story. I’m never selling anything. When the audience locates themselves inside of that story, they say, “Oh, I know this guy. I trust this guy. He’s not so different from me. We can do business together.” That’s why the story’s so key.
It also differentiates you from every other salesperson on the face of the earth. Out of 7 billion people on this planet, the one thing that differentiates you is your story because nobody in the history of time has seen what you’ve seen and walked the miles that you’ve walked.
That personal story is unique to you. The advice your mom gave you, the person who broke your heart at the prom – that’s what people relate to. That’s what buyers and audiences relate to.
The problem is that most people who are doing sales start off with the sale. But I want to get some connective tissue down first so that they can relate to me and I can relate to them. That’s the structure that’s making an impact with the people I work with in the financial services world and specifically the insurance world.
FELDMAN: What are some of the key elements of a great story?
EASON: The very first element is that a great story has to be personal. What I mean is that most people distance themselves from their own story as if it didn’t happen to them. You’ll see politicians and people who broadcast the news do this. They’ll talk about themselves, but very generally. They won’t be specific.
I’m talking about very specific details of your life. I’ll give you an example. My dad was a cowboy. He roped cattle for a living. Every day as a kid, I watched him rope these cattle. He’s on the back of a horse chasing down a steer and he would rope a steer that weighed a thousand pounds.
Well, the steer runs in the opposite direction and my dad has to jump off the horse to hold that steer back. Then the rope slides through his hands. My dad’s hands were scar tissue from being burnt by this rope.
So, every summer my dad would get in the pool with me, my brothers and sisters and he would pick us up by our bare bellies with his hands and throw us in the pool. We would scream every time he touched us because his hands were just full of scar tissue. We would yell, “Dad, don’t touch me.”
That little story takes me 15 seconds to tell, but it’s really specific to Bo. It’s not about anybody else’s dad. It’s about my dad. This is the key. When I speak of my dad’s hands, you don’t think of my dad’s hands. You think of your dad’s hands. The more specific you are about your personal story, the more universal impact that it has.
Your audience, or the buyer in this case, is listening to the story and they’re not thinking about my dad. They’re not thinking about me; they’re thinking about their own lives. They’re thinking about their dad and what his occupation was. They think about their dad’s hands and how they either miss their dad or they wish their dad threw them in the pool.
Now you have your audience exactly where you want them, which is in their own life. The only way to get them into their own life is to talk about your life specifically. I know this sounds like a contradiction.
Most salespeople say, “Well, this isn’t about me.” They’ll start asking the client questions. The client now feels like they’re being interrogated by some lawyer on a witness stand and they’re defensive. They’re not going to share the information that you need because they’re going to put up armor.
When you share with somebody the story of the girl who broke your heart at the prom, everyone understands that pain. They’re not thinking of your pain. They’re thinking of their own pain. They’re thinking of the girl who dumped them at their prom or the heartbreak that they had when they were 14.
That’s where you want your audience because now you have built trust in the first eight seconds of your conversation. You have intimacy that would have taken you five years to build in the old-fashioned way of doing things. And that’s where business is done.
FELDMAN: How do you begin developing your own personal story?
EASON: We all have probably 30 to 40 really defining moments, and they’re usually painful. There’s always a great defining moment in all of our lives that occurred between the ages of 9 and 12. You may have forgotten it.
I think back to Little League. That is a good place for me to start because it was the biggest pain I ever felt, probably to this day, and I’m 53. I was 9 and I wanted to play Little League because my brother was on the team.
But I got cut from Little League, and there was so much pain that I decided at the age of 9 that that was never going to happen to me ever again. No one was ever going to cut me from any team or anything else ever again.
That was more than 40 years ago, and my life is still based on that painful moment. I played professional football. I played college football. I played high school football. I played in grammar school. I would not let them cut me because of the pain I experienced at 9.
All of us have that same moment. It might not be Little League. It could be anything. It could be that a teacher told you that you were stupid or you got up in front of the class and you forgot what to say. It could be that your brother was just better than you at everything. Those are life-defining moments.
I always encourage my audience to start there, with the story you’re a little bit embarrassed about. The more embarrassment that you feel, the more connected you are to your audience because I guarantee your audience has been there.
If I were selling insurance, I could start with that Little League story, except I would go into more detail. I would tell how my mom got the phone call and ran out to me and my brother and gave us the phone to talk to the coach, who was going to tell us whether we made the team. Then I would tell of the pain that I felt not making the team and not being able to play with my brother.
What do you think my clients are going to do? They are going to say, “Oh my gosh, I had something like that happen to me. I tried out for the band and I was the worst musician. I tried to play the trumpet.” They’ll go into their own story, which is where you want them to go.
Now you have kinship. You have a trust that would have taken you years to build, but it’s immediate because they know that pain of being rejected and then saying to themselves, “This is never going to happen to me again.” Then they built a whole company, a whole industry based on that pain.
FELDMAN: That’s a great point. Everyone has gone through some sort of pain in their life. Every great story has a conflict, and that’s what people connect with and relate to.
EASON: It’s true of every elite athlete that you’ve ever heard of. The story that Michael Jordan likes to tell is how he got cut from his high school basketball team twice. That’s what we’re interested in.
We’re not interested that he’s the best basketball player of all time. We’re interested in how he was able to be the best even though he wasn’t good enough to play in high school.
If I had a story where I climbed Mount Everest, I wouldn’t start that story with, “Hey, I climbed Mount Everest.” I would start at the bottom of the mountain and start with the struggle of having to climb that mountain. Once I can find that story of struggle where I have to climb and it looks impossible, that’s the story to begin with. So that’s how I orchestrate my story.
Once you have taken your audience through this journey together, you have intimacy. Now you can take that audience anywhere you want to go because they love you. They fall in love with you because you have given them the greatest gift that anyone could give another human being. You’ve put them into their own life, into their own dreams as a child, of their pain of trying to achieve those dreams.
FELDMAN: That is certainly a more compelling presentation than what most buyers are used to. How does this strategy help with retention?
EASON: People don’t do business with somebody who gives them statistics and numbers in columns. For one, your client doesn’t even understand those things. If you think back to our nature, millions of years of design, we are designed for story. So anytime you’re giving statistics and numbers, you had better attach a story to it.
There’s a saying that if you teach me something, I’ll forget it in 24 hours. If you tell me a story, I’ll hold you in my heart forever.
FELDMAN: Do you have a formula for crafting a story?
EASON: There are so many ways to skin a cat. But, if I had to say, the No. 1 way is to start with the defining moment story.
The first sentence out of my mouth is not “thank you” and “nice to meet you.” When I greet somebody, it’s always, “When I was 9 years old, I had this dream.” When you say a sentence like that, people have to stop. There are no more fake niceties. You’re in the middle of a story. They have to stop and ask you a question right now.
“Well, what was it? What was the dream?” Now they’re helping you create your story. Within a sentence, you and your audience are now co-creating a story because they’ve asked.
I start a story at a certain age that I am not right now. Or I start it with a family member. “I have a daughter. Her name is Eloise. She’s 10.”
If you include an age and a family member, it’s irresistible because all of us humans have family. “When I was 9, I sat on my grandpa’s lap.” We all have moms, dads, sons, daughters, uncles, grandpas.
My dad woke me up every morning at 5 a.m. and he would rub my back and tell me I was the best. Right then, people aren’t thinking about my dad. They’re thinking about their dad. That’s where you want them.
The connection is made and now it’s the second thing, which is the conversation. They’re overlapping my story with their story. They’re starting to say, “Yeah, my dad said that, too.” Or, “My dad did this.” Or, “When I was 9, I didn’t even have a dream.” They’re interjecting. So, now, you’re having this great conversation.
Next, I shift from story to how can I help their lives. What have I dedicated? At the end of my story, I’m usually saying something like, “On that day, I decided to dedicate my life to being the best.” Or, “I dedicated my life to provide the safety and security to all the families that I work with.” “That day, I decided that nobody was going to feel the pain that I felt at 12. Not on my watch.”
At the end of the story – which might be three minutes, might be eight – I’ve dedicated my life to something so the audience can put themselves in the position of being one of those families that I’m dedicated to helping.
FELDMAN: You work with a lot of insurance and financial advisors. Is there a common theme around their stories or stories that resonate best with you as a consumer?
EASON: Those who are great at managing people’s money all have a similar story. Usually there’s some kind of pain around money as a kid. Like Dad lost all their money or their uncle stole their money or somebody embezzled their money. They were faced with no money.
When you’re 10 or 11, that’s so much pain that you decide you are going to find an occupation and a quest that ensures that no 11-year-old is going to feel the pain that you’re feeling right then. You are going to make sure these families hang on to their money.
Now, if my financial advisor tells me that story, I’m working with him. I know it’s not a job. It’s an emotional quest. I know their life is dedicated to making sure that my kids go to college and that I can sleep well at night.
Once you’re done with that story, then you can move on to your expertise in financial services.
FELDMAN: When I heard you tell your story and speak on stage, you did it with such incredible emotion and passion. You’re certainly not afraid to show your emotions. What would you tell someone who doesn’t feel comfortable sharing their personal emotions with prospects?
EASON: You have to think back to anybody you’ve ever connected with in your life – like when you fell in love or met your best friend. Why did you connect with that person? Why do you love that person? Why do you have a partnership with that person? Why do you respect them? Think of what it is that makes you feel that way. It’s usually some kind of shared emotion or experience.
I don’t want people in the financial services world to be afraid of their own emotions. At the same time, I’m not telling you to go in, spill your guts and cry and break down. But I am telling you to share yourself.
If you get emotional, so be it. If they get emotional, better. Emotion is emotion. Emotion is like electricity. If you and I plug something into an outlet, we get electricity. The electricity doesn’t care if it lights a lamp or runs a hair dryer. It’s just providing electricity.
Your emotion is the same way. You’re a human being with all kinds of emotions inside of you. You have rage, love, joy, hate. We’re just filled with this stuff.
Just plug into it and see what happens. In the middle of your story, you might start to choke up and that’s fine. You don’t have to apologize. You just keep telling the story, and if you have to take a second, clear your throat and take a drink. That’s what you do because emotion is connective tissue.
Once you start to share yourself, you’ve got this magical thing called human connection. Now you can do business. Now you could ask them on a date. Now you have something that you just don’t have until you share this thing.
The bottom line is this: we fall in love with people who have emotion. I love people who are protecting families. This is what your audience does. Your audience is in the business of ensuring that people will be secure later in life.
To me that means I get to sleep well at night knowing that I have this person in my corner toiling away making sure that my kids are going to be secure enough to go to college.
FELDMAN: Is it also a matter of perspective for the advisor?
EASON: Sure, your readers might not feel heroic, but to us civilians, what you do is a heroic act. If I get to sleep well based on the work you’re doing and you’re providing security so I can risk it all on a stage and do what I do, I want you to do that job. That is heroic.
It’s no different from a Navy SEAL charging a beachhead. No different from a firefighter charging into a burning building. That is a heroic act.
You have to understand that’s how we civilians see you. You’re responsible for that. I don’t want you to shirk your responsibilities and say, oh, I’m just an insurance man. You can’t do that.
To us you’re everything because we want to sleep well at night. I want to be able to travel and risk it all on stage with my performances knowing that you’re back at the home base making sure the finances are working.
That makes you feel like you’ve got to do this job and you have a lot of responsibility because you have a family’s security on your shoulders. Sometimes, that can get emotional. If it does, let it come. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t matter.
FELDMAN: An advisor once told me “if they cry, they’ll buy.” When clients told their stories, the advisors would equal the emotions or maybe even go deeper because they were set on a path of feeling that emotion. Do you find that to be the case?
EASON: Definitely. Sometimes when I work with advisors and people in financial services, I’ll ask them who gave them the greatest advice they ever received. They’ll often tell me a story of some great mentor that they had. It could be a grandpa. Could have been a golf coach. It could have been a teacher.
I worked with one financial advisor who was moved by Jack Nicklaus. He wanted to golf and be Jack Nicklaus. Well, when he was 18, he caddied for Jack Nicklaus once. He has a picture of it. I asked, “Is that picture up in your office?” He said no. And I said, “Go put that thing up in your office today. Every client who comes in, you point out the picture and tell them who inspired you the most.”
You can relate that inspiration from Jack Nicklaus right to the job that you’re going to do for that client: “Jack Nicklaus told me one thing. He said, ‘Son, if you practice putting more than any other kid in the neighborhood or any other kid in the state or any other kid in the country, guess what you’re going to be? You’re going to be the best putter in the country and you’re going to be on the PGA tour.’ So I took that advice, and I never stopped until I got injured. After that, I turned to the financial services world and applied the same discipline to helping my clients and their families. I putt on that green more than anyone else in the country, and that’s what my clients can depend on because of the advice of that man on the wall.”
I guarantee you that when people ask themselves about the best advice that they ever got, there will be a story attached to it. I guarantee that their company and their job are based on that advice, and they carry that through to their clients. They pass on the same kind of dedication to their clients that that mentor passed on to them. That is great connective tissue.