Christiana Jolaoso
5 min readFeb 13, 2023

A Review of Paul Smith’s Sell with a Story — How to Capture Attention, Build Trust and Close the Sale

Sell with a Story is a book that presents a less-than-typical but hugely effective approach to selling/marketing any product or service. Selling can be tedious and frustrating, and convincing prospective buyers is a significant ordeal, often requiring sales pitches and the usual PowerPoint presentation. However, with the power of storytelling, you connect with clients differently and more effectively. When every idea you communicate and data is embedded in a captivating story, you leave a lasting impression on your client, and the value of your product or service increases in the estimation of your listener.

This book answers the following questions: is storytelling a better marketing tool than conventional approaches? What is and what is not a sales story? What are the benefits of sales stories? What are the different sales stories, and what are their practical applications? When should you tell a story? And very importantly, how do you tell your story?

With over 20 years of hands-on experience working at Procter & Gamble, Paul Smith shares in the pages of this book a wealth of knowledge and practical examples on how to draw people in, actively engage them, earn their trust, get them to tell their stories, learn their problems and proffer solutions — all with the power of storytelling.

There are a million things to love about this book. Chief among them is the fluid, relaxing tone, and style the author so effortlessly deploys on every page. Imagine reading a book on how to tell stories, and the book itself is just a bunch of paragraphs and chapters jumbled into one massive paperback (or e-book). Paul Smith not only tells you how to tell stories but expertly displays his storytelling prowess. Every idea is clear, concise, and unambiguous, yet each page exudes sheer detail and a ton of research.

Despite being entertaining and easy to read, none of its other qualities are sacrificed. It was pleasant to notice how the author delves straight into the essential things without dilly-dallying on peripheral fillings and ending up with an unnecessarily more prolonged book. Nothing is here that doesn’t need to be there, and nothing is missing that should be here and isn’t!

Sell with a Story is also a very well-structured book. Every chapter is a precursor for the next. In the introductory chapter, the book opens with a fascinating story about pigs and art that perfectly exemplifies how a great story can change a person’s perception about almost anything. As one of the opening paragraphs states, “Stories sell. And the people who can tell a good sales story sell more than people who can’t.” It explains, in detail, the book’s purpose, taking care to note that this is not a comprehensive book on selling, nor is it asking you to ditch your conventional sales strategy. The book presents a powerful new tool to add to your arsenal. Next, we are intimated by the impressive work that went into creating this masterpiece. Over 2000 personal stories were documented, and over 250 interviews with top sales and procurement officers in over 20 countries contributed to the material for this book.

In the following chapter, Paul Smith gives a concrete definition of a story and highlights six essential features that every story must contain to qualify as one. These include a time, a place, the main character, an obstacle, a goal, and events. In the following 24 chapters, divided conveniently into two parts, Smith delivers gem after gem on the following ideas: What Sales Stories You Need (Part I) and How to Craft Sales Stories (Part II).

The book’s Appendix also contains further resources readers need to craft their own practical sales stories, including a Story Structure Template, a story roadmap, additional books to read on the topic, and more. You’ll probably never come across a more loaded Appendix. You can’t afford to skip it, as it is just as precious as the rest of the book!

Another considerable feature of this book lies in the practicality and originality of the numerous real stories and examples littered across each chapter. Whether it’s from the perspective of a top procurement officer from Costco or a story about a random door-to-door salesperson, you can find something that 100 percent works in real-life situations. Also, at the end of every key segment, practical exercises help you internalize and better understand what you’ve just learned and give you ideas on how to apply them to your peculiar storytelling needs.

The insight from actual real people is something you can hardly find elsewhere. It doesn’t just spew theoretical mantras. It shows you how to tell these stories in the elevator, at a networking event, while having a small talk at a bar, in the backseat of a vehicle, at a random reception or lobby — anywhere. By the time you’re halfway through this book, you are ready to introduce yourself to just about anybody, in any setting, using a short 5–6 sentence story unique to you and what you do.

Furthermore, although this book is targeted toward selling and is more suited to salespersons, marketers, and other related career people, its principles are still beneficial across the board. They can be applied in numerous other corporate and personal settings. For instance, Smith touches on how to use stories to introduce yourself, how to use stories to build rapport, stories to handle any objections, stories to help you present data, and even stories to tell yourself, either to motivate yourself when you’re down or to relax when you’re feeling stressed, nervous or anxious. These storytelling aspects can be applied to everyday activities and other business scenarios.

Paul Smith’s Sell with a Story is a must-read for everybody in business and anybody who wants to improve their daily interactions. After all, don’t we all have something to sell? Every day you encounter circumstances where you need to sell an idea; sell your personality or image; make a new friend; get the football coach to put you on the team; engage your boss at work on something, or even impress your new love interest — not necessarily a product. The knowledge espoused in the pages of this book is instrumental in many of these random circumstances.

Read this book, and read it as often as possible. Keep it handy and reference it every time you need to make some magic with the power of your words! It should also be noted that Sell with a Story is part of a series by the same author. The two other books from Paul Smith, Lead with a Story and Parenting with a Story, are just as critically acclaimed. It’s safe to say that I recommend anything with this author’s name on it!

Christiana Jolaoso

Thoughts on peace and kindness and how our actions can give us the desired future. Summaries of stories with lessons that steer positive actions.