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A book open on the table containing the secrets to B2B storytelling.

There’s Always a Story in B2B

June 8, 2023

By Ardath Albee

Recently, I had an executive tell me that what the company sells is too technical, complex, and “cutting-edge” to use as the basis for a story.

Then the executive went on to tell me that some solutions they sold could accommodate a business narrative, like efficiency and cost savings. But added that story would never fly for technical teams.

I disagree. Not that stories that serve business roles should also serve tech roles, but with the idea that a solution isn’t fit for a story at all.

If we go back to the beginning for why someone created the solution in the first place, there was a story for that idea, for why it needed to exist in the world. The solution has a “why” or it wouldn’t exist.

The golden circle of b2b storytelling includes “what” the company does “how” they do it and most importantly “why

[Granted that some products are looking for a problem to solve, but that’s a whole other thing. I’d argue that whoever built them told themselves stories about why those products needed to exist.]

Getting to Your Buyer-Driven Story

As I dive into this scenario, I’m starting to see where B2B companies can go off the rails in relation to story. Especially with complex technology solutions. They get themselves wrapped around the axle with the product or service from their “features” perspective, rather than from the buyer’s point of view and they confuse “story” with some fanciful narrative. Business storytelling is outside in and representative of your buyers’ perspective. Nothing fanciful about it when done right.

For example: Solving a problem for a customer can require a combination of things – let’s say Service A + Service B + Service X to get there. As each of those services is highly technical and complex, it’s assumed only those that understand the tech will understand and buy into the solution.

But underlying the need to use those three services to solve the problem is the reason for solving the problem. Why solve it in the first place? What is that problem keeping the customer from achieving?

What will they be able to do with the problem solved?

And if it’s important, why haven’t they solved it already? What’s missing?

There’s always a story. And there are always choices in how buyers solve their problems. Those choices are integral to good storytelling.

For example, in the solution scenario above, if you eliminate Service B, why couldn’t your buyer solve the problem? It must have a reason for being there that the other services depend on to do their jobs… Oh, but this other vendor says they can do this with only two services – why do you need three?

Let’s say, for a very simplified example, that you sell data services. Service A aggregates all your customer’s data. Service B creates data models and a data strategy for how you’ll use that data. Service C provides data analytics and dashboards to make decisions based on data. Obviously, without Service B, you can’t get to actionable data that makes a difference for your business. So, there’s a story there that connects the dots.

And you may think, well duh, but people already know this. If so, then why are so many companies listing data as a top challenge? Perhaps all the content out there isn’t speaking to them in a way that resonates. It’s interesting to note that Gartner finds that business roles make up 73% of those involved in IT purchases.

Because of this shift, we need to break down the story instead of looking at the complexity and specialized expertise of the technology and services provided as a big black box.

In fact, I can’t see selling all three services to the buyer unless the buyer understands why they need all three, what the dependencies are, and how they work together to deliver the outcome the buyer wants. And why — if they choose the vendor saying they can do this with two services — they’ll fail.

That’s a story. How to get from status quo to solution is a story, including all the bumps and detours along the way. It’s also those bumps and detours that make the story memorable — strangely enough. Conflict drives the story.

The beauty is that if you’re telling the story from your buyers’ perspective, it’s naturally buyer-driven.

The Components for Your B2B Buyer-Driven Story

A B2B story has the components of solid storytelling with a bit of modification to suit the use case.

The components include:


  • Hero: The hero is your buyer. It’s their story. This is why a story for the head of HR is different than a story for the CIO. What’s relevant to each of them is different.
  • Villain: In a business story this is usually the problem they’re trying to defeat.
  • Mentor: This is who helps the hero gain the insights and “weapons” they need to defeat the villain and get the goal or outcome they’re striving to attain. (Hint – this is you!)
  • Supporting roles: The others on the buying committee.



  • Stories start with trouble. What’s the problem impacting your hero? What’s their current situation in dealing with the problem… or not? If there’s no “trouble” there’s no story.
    • What triggers them to action? What’s finally made staying in the status quo untenable?
  • Goal or outcome. Where does your hero need to go? What outcome do they want to achieve that they can no longer get in their current situation?
    • Your hero has run out of workarounds to achieve an outcome, there’s no choice but to change to get to their goal.
    • Or your hero receives a mandate to do something that’s not doable currently – either through lack of knowledge, resources, or systems.
  • Conflict and tension. All stories have conflicts and tension. These are the bumps and detours your hero encounters. If the hero just went out and solved the problem, there wouldn’t be a need for a story — or likely for your solution. Conflict and tension are what pull the story forward. And anyone who’s ever bought or sold complex tech knows there’s always conflict and tension to deal with.
    • Obstacles, setbacks, crises of confidence, indecision, risk, lack of consensus, disruption, managing change, user resistance – all of these and more are sources of conflict and tension. How do they impact your hero?
      • Note that all those obstacles have emotion attached to them – something B2B content is often lacking.
    • Often this is where your supporting roles come in. Who’s pushing back or asking questions your hero can’t answer? How can you help them to get buy-in?
  • What happens that has your hero committing to solving the problem? How has the risk of not solving it grown?
    • In a story, the urgency for the hero to get the outcome continues to grow – this is what creates anticipation for the audience and motivation to see the story through as the hero perseveres.
    • This is the point of no return. Your hero is determined to get the goal.
    • It’s also the point where they’re invested with your sales team in pursuit of solving the problem with your company’s help and building and justifying the business case.
  • In a fictional story this is the black moment when all seems lost, and we wonder if our hero will get their “happily ever after.”
    • From the sales side, this could be the buyer ghosting the rep, suddenly pushing back on the price, or giving a reason to delay the purchase.
    • From the buyer side, perhaps they lost consensus temporarily or it looks like the deal stalled because priorities may be shifting, or the CFO says the value doesn’t justify the cost, or they fear they won’t be able to implement the solution well… to name just a few.
    • What will get them back on track?
  • In a marketing business story, this is the hero choosing to buy your solution to get to the goal. Examples of achieving resolution in B2B stories include your case studies.
    • In a lifecycle story, you’d start over again with a new hero to continue the story after the initial sale. This may mean a focus on your end users who must implement and use the solution to realize the goal the solution provides. In most complex tech purchases, the role responsible for renewal is different from the original buyer, so you have a new hero’s story to tell for adoption, retention, and expansion.

How You Tell the Story is Critical

I think one of the holdups with storytelling in B2B marketing is we want it to be neat and tidy. Tell it in one content asset, wrap it up with a bow and pass the buyer over to sales.

It’s not that simple. Your buyer is the one driving and deciding the next steps — hopefully with the help of the story you’re sharing.

For many complex tech solutions, there’s a big investment that requires tons of knowledge transfer, consideration, and evaluation. The time lag for this process can range from 6 months to several years.

Therefore, telling the story over time is a skill set we need to acquire. We need to learn to think in scenes and chapters that – when rolled up together – constitute the full story. Think of it as a nurturing framework.

For a short example, think about your buyers’ story as a series of questions and answers. Design the answers to move them forward. Otherwise, the conversation doesn’t go anywhere satisfying.

  • “Why should I care,” asks your buyer?
  • Because if you don’t change, you’ll never reach your goals – here’s why…” says your content.
  • “Oh, that’s interesting,” says your buyer. “Why else should I know about his new trend?” And they click on the “what’s next” content you’ve set up and shared at the end.

Your answers provide information that enlightens your buyer and motivates the next question. And so, the story moves forward, hopefully with your buyer anticipating what’s next…

A B2B buyer-driven story is about enabling context shifts over time that help your hero advance and make progress toward their desired goal. As they make this progress, their context and mindset shift. They learn more as they go and that changes their perspective.

What was relevant to them at the beginning of the story is no longer relevant now. They’ve learned that and moved forward. This is why 62% of B2B marketers cite a top challenge with content marketing is developing content for buying stages. Publishing the same type of content on the same topics loses effectiveness as it’s not shifting along with the context shifts of your hero. The story has stalled.

This is also the problem with one-off or random content unconnected to building the story. Except in this case the story never gains momentum because it’s a dead end. There’s nowhere for your hero to go.

Tackle this challenge with solid buyer understanding and having laid the path — through story — that’s pulling the hero forward because they’re learning something new that builds on what they’ve already learned. They can see their progress reflected in their experiences with your brand.

Movement is key. Your buyers abandon stories without momentum due to a lack of new insights, anticipation, and boredom — the hero (your buyer) isn’t making progress.

And it’s also in the way we choose to talk to our buyers/heroes in the content we create. Many times, our content talks about a role. “CMOs must do this or that.” Instead of talking at them, talk to them. “You must do this if you want X because…”

Do you see the distance difference? The closer we can get to our hero, the better our story will resonate.

Using storytelling is a natural vehicle for creating buyer-driven experiences. Your buyers choose which parts of the story to engage in. Their participation in the story shows you where their interests are and — if you’ve laid out the story well — you’ll know exactly where they are in their buying process.

Learn how to create stories for complex solutions in our B2B Storytelling Workshop for the Institute for the Study of Business Markets over four sessions in June 2023.

About the author:  Ardath Albee is a storyteller, die-hard writer, marketing geek, and a strategy nut with 36 years of business management and marketing leadership experience.  She was named Top 50 Marketing & Sales Influencer 2011 – 2022.   She is the author of: eMarketing Strategies for the Complex Sale and Digital Relevance.  Ardath is obsessed with helping B2B companies create buyer personas and story-driven content marketing and buyer enablement strategies to turn prospects into buyers and convince customers to stay.

Looking for more expert advice on how to improve your B2B marketing performance? Ask about how an ISBM Membership can help your company grow now, or visit ISBM today to learn more!

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