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17 Jun 2014

BY Pippa Jacks


Problem, promise, proof, proposal: four steps to a great sales story

Time-honoured techniques of storytelling can help you sell more effectively. Pippa Jacks learns about the process from trainer Richard Newman

Richard Newman (sales trainer)

What can travel agents learn from a L’Oreal advert? No, not just the “science bit” - though that can be illuminating.


A typical L’Oreal advert uses one of the most basic forms of storytelling to convince viewers they need this product in their life.


This technique is called the “Pro” system, which has four parts: ascertaining a problem; promising to eliminate it; proving how; and proposing what is needed from the client to make it happen.


At the recent Clia Selling Cruise Conference, sales trainer Richard Newman suggested how agents could use the system to sell cruise to first-timers, but it works for selling any holiday products to any client.


Follow the diagram below clockwise to learn more about the four parts. It also shows how TV adverts by L’Oreal and personal injury lawyers use the technique, and how you might use it to sell a cruise.

1. The problem

Use questioning to understand what they have not liked about previous holiday experiences.


Their negative experiences will normally relate to one of three things: Money, Time or Values (MTV).


Perhaps there were hidden charges (M), or they were rushed (T), or they didn’t get any quiet romantic time together (V).


How to do it


  • L’Oreal: “Girls, aren’t you tired of dull, lifeless hair?”
  • Personal injury adverts: “Have you had an accident at work that wasn’t your fault?”
  • Selling cruise to first-timers: Things which frustrated them about a land-based holiday might be resort activities that cost extra (M), or long drive times on a coach tour (T). Perhaps they wanted to party, but the resort was too quiet (V).

2. The promise

Repeat back to the customer what you know they do not want, to underline the “pain” they experienced last time.


Use questioning to ascertain what is most important to them in this purchase. You might ask “What does your ideal holiday look/sound/feel like?”


Use the positive aspects of Money, Time and Values to demonstrate how things could be different this time, underlining the “pleasure” that is to come.


How to do it


  • L’Oreal: “Now you don’t have to go to the salon every day to have fabulous hair.”
  • Personal injury adverts: “How would you like to receive £20,000?”
  • Selling cruise: Describe how the cruise will eliminate the “pain” experienced previously. “I’m going to tell you about a holiday with 15 different restaurants included in the price.” (M). “How would you like to avoid airports altogether?” (T). “How about a kids’ club that’s open until 1am?” (V).

3. The proof

Give three pieces of evidence to support why this is the perfect product. You might give them statistics or facts, highlight how this meets their criteria, or tell them who else has enjoyed it.


Tell them “The first thing you should know is…”, “here’s the second thing…” and “the last thing you should know is…” Three is the magic number.


How to do it


  • L’Oreal: “Here comes the science bit.” [with graphs demonstrating how the shampoo works]
  • Personal injury adverts: “Bob fell at work and he received £15,000 in compensation.” [using a case study as proof]
  • Selling cruise: Give three reasons why they’ll love it: “Firstly, I’ll tell you the seven destinations you’ll see in eight days.” “Secondly, this cruise ship has been recently voted the best in the world for families.” “Lastly, my colleague has just been on this ship and recommends it.”

4. The proposal

Present the client with something that is easy to achieve and easy to say “yes” to. What is the smallest commitment they can give?


Consider the scene in Friends when Chandler is terrified about his wedding to Monica, and runs away. Ross manages to talk him round by giving him small, manageable steps to achieve, such as “just put on a shirt”.


How to do it


  • L’Oreal: “I know I’m worth it.” [a simple proposition viewers can agree with]
  • Personal injury adverts: “Just call us on this freephone number, or go on our website.”
  • Selling cruise: Tell clients: “All you need to do today is make a small deposit.”
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