Storytelling 101: Why It's Better to Be a Tour Guide Than a Salesman

Kirsten Johnson


Kirsten Johnson


January 20, 2022

Storytelling 101: Why It's Better to Be a Tour Guide Than a Salesman

Take a second and picture a stereotypical car salesman in your mind.

He’s smooth, knowledgeable, and seems to have an answer for everything. He is overly friendly and may even act like your new best friend. He fits the typical M.O. for a salesman – crafty, smart, and convincing.

Although this is a generalization of salesmen, we all know a salesman when we see one. We know that although they are kind, they have one end goal in mind: make the sale.

As a culture, we have evolved pretty far away from this cheap salesman model. However, we are still figuring out exactly how to balance making a profit and caring for the customer. 

Some people have even suggested we rule out the usage of the word “customer” altogether to eliminate the dehumanizing stigma associated with the term.

When it comes down to it, so much has changed in the way we do business, run nonprofits, and sustain organizations. Although we are fully aware that we need revenue to survive as organizations, how we acquire that money has to change. 

We can no longer mindlessly advertise and expect to sell. Instead, we must become acquainted with our audience, learn their needs/wants, and develop relationships with them. This is what effective marketing is all about.

One of the best strategies we have in marketing is getting personal with our audience through story, connection, and relationship. Brand transparency and excellent customer service are just two of many excellent ways to build relationships and prove your reliability to your client. 

But we want to focus on another aspect of marketing: being a tour guide.

Just as you envisioned the stereotypical salesman before, take a second and picture a tour guide in your mind. The difference between the two is quite palpable. While the tour guide utilizes many of the same strategies as the salesman, there are a few key differences between tour guides and salesmen. Let’s learn what being a tour guide is all about!

1. Tour guides know the lay of the land

One thing about tour guides across the board is they know their area well. Think of how awkward it would be a tourist to be on a tour where the guide hadn’t ever visited or lived in the area they were guiding you!

When you are showing people the landscape of your particular industry, you must have spent a great deal of time in that area. Not only does this make you more credible in the eyes of your consumers, but it also makes you more confident overall. 

Sharing your experience with your clients and audience will help them to trust you and trust that you have explored this territory for many years. 

The best tour guides (in a literal sense) are the ones that have lived for a while in the area they are guiding you. The best tour guides (in a brand sense) are the ones who have had plentiful experience in the area of their business. Not only does the ideal tour guide know the area well, but she wants everyone to get everything they possibly can out of it too!

2. Tour guides invite questions and encourage feedback

The sales industry can err on the side of one-sidedness. Information is shared, sales pitches are completed, and oftentimes there isn’t much room for dialogue. Just selling your product/service without expecting reciprocation won’t bode well for long-term growth.

Tour guides are quite relational, and relationships require reciprocation. An excellent tour guide won’t just spout off information and call it a day – they invite questions from their guests! A tour isn’t supposed to be an informational seminar. It should be a two-way relationship where questions are asked, insight is given, and feedback is encouraged.

The best way for you, the tour guide, to learn about how to improve your business is to have these types of dialogues where you can receive feedback from your audience. This is where customer satisfaction surveys, ratings, and other forms of feedback come in. This takes much more work than just disseminating information, but it is worth it for overall organizational growth.

3. Tour guides are driven by passion

If you have the picture of a typical tour guide in your mind, you may picture a bubbly, charismatic young man or woman who has consumed way too much caffeine. We’re not saying you need to chug a triple shot Americano when you promote your brand well, but we are saying that charisma can be a great catalyst for growth.

Let’s note that organizations cannot survive on passion alone. There must be systems put in place; you can’t just coast on your dream and expect growth and innovation. However, passion is essential for any business or organization to sustain itself. If the passion is lost, the purpose gets forgotten, and you may even end up burning out. Keeping the “why” at the forefront of your mind as a leader is of the utmost importance.

If you aren’t passionate about what you do, it’s pretty unlikely your audience will get excited about what you do. It is as simple as that! An effective tour guide will be highly knowledgeable about their area of expertise yet filled with passion for it.

4. Tour guides are storytellers

Oftentimes in our marketing efforts, brands and organizations tend to talk all about themselves. (We do this, we do that, we promote those.) The problem with this “me, me, me” approach is that customers don’t go for it. The truth is, they don’t want to hear about how great you are. They want more than that – they want to know how they fit in the story of your brand.

The StoryBrand Framework is a system developed by Donald Miller which takes a much different approach to the ways organizations operate in their marketing efforts. This model puts the customer at the center of everything – in essence, the customer becomes the “hero” of the story. 

“When we position our customer as the hero and ourselves as their guide, we will be recognized as a sought-after character to help them along their journey.” - Donald Miller.

This model goes even further away from a typical sales model where there is little to no reciprocation. This framework invites the customer into the thick of the organization and makes them an essential part of it. In short, this type of storytelling method shifts the language from “we” to “you.” 

A great tour guide won’t just talk about how great the brand and organization are, but they set out to make the customer a part of the brand’s anatomy. They get to know the needs, desires, and wants of the client. Then, they set out to serve them the best way possible and strive to meet their needs well. Ingrained in all of this is a grand story that makes the customer the hero and the organization the guide. 

The days of cheap suits and sales pitches are long gone. Selling our products and services is about diving deep into the grit of building relationships, crafting a story, and being a guide. 

The ideal tour guide is experienced yet not overconfident. He shares his expertise, yet invites feedback and questions. He is knowledgeable yet passionate. He tells a story yet invites you to be the hero of it. 

Taking this approach is a gigantic endeavor, but the payoff is well worth the time and effort!

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