In this episode Josh talks with Bill Gager. This discuss how useful good stories can be in your sales and marketing efforts.

Bill has spent the last 30 years digging deep into the psychology of human nature to understand how best to influence other to buy or buy in.

He has spent the last 20 years helping over 15,000 sales leaders and professionals to use a counter intuitive approach based on this deep understanding of human nature to achieve extraordinary results.

In today’s episode you will learn:

  • What is the story?
  • How to craft a specific story?
  • What is The Hero’s Journey?
  • What’s the impact of naming the stories?
  • What to do if you do not have a great story?


Narrator:          Welcome to The Sustainable Business Radio Show podcast where you’ll learn not only how to create a sustainable business but you’ll also learn the secrets of creating extraordinary value within your business and your life. In The Sustainable Business, we focus on what it’s going to take for you to take your successful business and make it economically and personally successful. Your host, Josh Patrick, is going to help us through finding great thought leaders as well as providing insights he’s learned through his 40 years of owning, running, planning and thinking about what it takes to make a successful business sustainable.

Josh:                  Hey, how are you today? This is Josh Patrick and we’re at The Sustainable Business. Today, my guest is Bill Gager. And Bill spent the last 30 years digging into this psychology of human nature to understand how to best influence others to buy in or get them to do what’s good for them. And one of the things that Bill and I have been talking about a bit before we started recording was how we use stories in the business context. And that’s what we’re going to talk about today. So let’s bring Bill on.

Hey, Bill, how are you today?

Bill:                    Great, Josh. How about yourself?

Josh:                  I’m doing well. Thank you. So let’s go right to stories. What about stories makes sense when it comes to business?

Bill:                    You know, Josh, the funny thing is we all live our lives, not through the actual events that we experience. But through the stories we tell ourselves about those events. So people tend to live their lives through the stories that for lack of a better way of putting it we tell ourselves inside of our heads. And so what you find is if you really want to connect with people in business, in life in general, you got two choices. Either you can let them write the story themselves, just by virtue of how they perceive you and how they react to you. Or you can help them kind of join into a story. That’s going to give them a better message and more useful message, a message that’s going to help them really kind of get out of their own way, and start to do the things that are going to serve themselves better.

Josh:                  So what specifically are we talking about when we’re saying stories, because it sounds like what you’re talking about is different than when I’m thinking about a story, which is I tell you a story about something that may or may not be true in my life.

Bill:                    Right and that’s what I’m saying about we tell stories all the time. Sometimes we do it consciously, like you just gave an example of, but whether we’re intending to tell a story or not, when we deal with other people, we are telling them a story about ourselves, about how we interact with them, about what our intentions are with them. And we have a choice. We can either let that story unfold without conscious awareness on our part to kind of guide that story. Or we can to your point, tell a specific story that’s going to help that person connect to whatever the idea is we’re trying to get across.

Josh:                  So if I want to tell specific stories, which I think is what you’re recommending that we actually do, am I correct with that?

Bill:                    Yes.

Josh:                  How do I go about crafting these stories?

Bill:                    One of the first things, if at all possible is to know your audience. And this can be tricky because very often, whether it’s in business or in other walks of life, to engage somebody, they’ve got to feel that you have a story they want to be a part of. And unfortunately, to find out what story somebody wants to be a part of, you have to be able to engage them. So sometimes you have to take almost this educated leap of faith, to begin to tell a story that you’re pretty sure the person you’re trying to engage wants to be a part of, so that you can then go in and have a conversation to understand what really matters to him or her so that you know how to craft your story to connect with what matters.

Josh:                  I mean there’s a story arc I need to do– there’s a thing, you’re writing a book called The Hero’s Journey.

Bill:                    Exactly.

Josh:                  You need to know about The Hero’s Journey? And if so, could you explain to us what The Hero’s Journey actually is?

Bill:                    Absolutely, and this is really comes down to stories cover a whole wide gamut. But if you really want to focus in on being able to tell a story that will help the other person understand why they would want to buy into something or be a part of something– formula I find works as you start the story about somebody very similar to the individual, or a group of individuals you’re talking about. And you explain kind of the unhappy beginning or where they were in the beginning where they didn’t want to be. And then you describe the actions that they took and that can evolve. If you’re a salesperson, you’re buying into your solution if you’re a leader, buying into your mission, your vision, whatever it is, and then telling the happy outcome.

And the cool thing about those kinds of stories is our subconscious mind only really learns through experience. And unfortunately, somebody can’t experience what you’re trying to get them to buy into until they buy into it. But they’re not going to buy into it until they experience and there’s research out of Princeton University that shows our brains actually react to a story.

In other words, our brains fire the same way when we hear a story that they do when we actually experience the experience being told in the story. So that three part story starting off with, “Hey, I was working with so and so she was here.” And then she took these steps and this is the great outcome. The good news about that is as the other person hears that story it’s as if they’re experiencing that transformation themselves.

Josh:                  I mean, how many stories do you need and do you memorize the stories? Do you make them up as you go along or I  mean?

Bill:                    Yeah, I think it really comes down to what kind of realm we’re talking about. If you’re a business person, a leader, a salesperson, you have certain messages that you want to be able to get across that you want to connect with other people. And I recommend having stories appropriate to those messages. And it really depends on how many different types of people you’re dealing with, and how many different messages you’re trying to convey. I have certain stories that I use over and over and over again, in my workshops, whether it’s with leaders or with sales professionals that I use to illustrate certain core points. And the beauty about stories is, even if the person has heard this story before, it’s still connects, and it still reconnects them to the message.

So it really depends on how many points you’re trying to make and how many different people you’re trying to.

Josh:                  I was just about to ask you about telling the same story over and over to the same people. I’ve been in workshops where the leaders told the same story, and these had at least half the people in the room have been there for three or four times with them is the exact same story and my question always is, why are you telling me the same exact story? I’ve already heard it. I really don’t need to hear it again. In fact, it wasn’t all that good the first time you told it.

Bill:                    [Laughs] Josh, I think you bring up a really good point and that the story’s got to be good to begin with. Otherwise, you tell it once, it doesn’t work. You tell it 50 times it doesn’t work. The other thing I find, and this is a common issue, anytime you’re communicating with people, especially if you’re communicating with the same group over and over again, one of the traps that we fall into because our minds are actually engineered, biologically created, however you want to put it to kind of keep us in our comfort zone, but big part of our brain tries to keep us from changing and one of the ways that it does that is any information, a story or anything else that it hears, that if it bought into it would mean it would have to change. It does as many things as possible to discount that information.

And one of the most common ways we discount or reject information is to say, “You know what I’ve heard that before.” And one of the things I found in my own life is I’ve often heard things not only once before, twice before, but sometimes many, many times before. And each time I hear it, if I connect with it as opposed to reject it, I get it in a different way in at a deeper level. So one of the things that I do, and I was in a workshop all last week, and I was working with a group that I worked with three years ago, and I retold a lot of my same stories, but I set it up like kind of putting out there with my own personal experience of how, you know if I hear something, and my immediate reaction is, “I’ve heard that before. I don’t need to hear it again.” I need to pay attention because in all probability, that’s my subconscious mind. Rejecting an idea that even though I’ve heard it before, I didn’t take it in and use it the way I should have.

Josh:                  So if I’m dealing with the same person over a long period of time, I am going to run out of stores.

Bill:                    Right.

Josh:                  And what I tend to do and I don’t know if this is the right thing to do or not, I asked you what your opinion is or is I named my stories.

Bill:                    Okay.

Josh:                  So you know, I have a long story, which is a 10 minute story about this woman named Tanya. Tanya ended up being my commissary manager in my food service company. Her story is actually around personal responsibility. And I will often go to somebody say, “Remember the Tanya’s story we talked about?”

Bill:                    Exactly.

Josh:                  And they’ll say yes. And then I go to my, what I would like them to learn from that story again, instead of spending another 10 minutes telling the exact same story.

Bill:                    Right.

Josh:                  Is that a good way to deal with stories when you’re dealing with the same people over and over again?

Bill:                    Absolutely. Again, because stories are experiential, they’re not like other verbal communication. They connected an emotional level, that once a person connects with that story, all you have to do is say, “Remember the Tanya’s story?” And that whole emotional connection re establishes, but the interesting thing and I really had this brought home to me last week because I was concerned that I was going into a group I dealt with over a course of a year dealing with them on a regular basis and using my stories. And it’s amazing how much even though people have heard it connected with it, that they really don’t remember a lot. So I would only do that once I’m sure they do remember the story.

Josh:                  Yeah, we would go through the main point of what the story would be instead of me telling the whole story. I’d condense it down to two minutes instead of 10 minutes.

Bill:                    You got it. Yeah. And it just triggers the emotional connection you establish the last time you told the story.

Josh:                  Now, I’m going to bet there are some people who are listening to your story and listening to this podcast today say, “Okay, Bill, and Josh, you guys are experienced storytellers. So for you it’s not very hard. I don’t tell stories.” What do you say to somebody like that?

Bill:                    I say to them, “You do.” Whether you realize it or not, you tell stories. And the best way to start to begin to tell stories is just share your experience. One of the things that I learned the hard way as a business person when I first got into business, especially when I got into training and workshops and coaching and all that, I thought I had to be this very professional, insulated person. And what I found is when I began to tell of my experiences, and opened up myself to be vulnerable to my audience, it was amazing the connection. So you don’t really have to make up stories, you can simply begin by sharing experiences you’ve had around the point you’re trying to make.

And because you’ve experienced it, it will automatically communicate the emotional connection that you want to have communicated through this story. As opposed to putting a lot of time and effort into crafting this perfect story, well written follows the flow. Everybody has a built in detector and that subconscious detector can really figure out, if they being real with me? Or is it some kind of contrived way of communicating?

So to me, authenticity is critical. So whatever story you tell, it’s got to be real. And the simplest way to get into that is just share your own experience.

Josh:                  So that’s my experience also, by the way, is that if you’re not sharing your own experiences, it’s not going to be as impactful as if you do.

Bill:                    Exactly.

Josh:                  In other words, the famous Tom Watson’s story about firing, this guy made a huge mistake and cost the company– the numbers are all over the place, but usually in millions of dollars. Nobody knows that story’s actually true. It just might be urban legend that exists. Somebody told the same story recently was with Bill Gates as the protagonist versus Tom Watson Jr. I’ve heard [inaudible 00:12:53] Warren Buffett stories.

Bill:                    Right.

Josh:                  I actually think it is a Tom Watson’s story. It is a good story, but the truth is it’s about somebody that made a mistake at IBM, not somebody that made a mistake in my company. And what did I do about right? And how did I come about learning that mistakes were a good thing and not a bad thing?

Bill:                    Right.

Josh:                  So when I tell people that my mistakes or learning opportunities or you don’t learn less, which were two Buckminster Fuller quotes I’d love.

Bill:                    Right.

Josh:                  I have to make that story to be impactful about my journey of blaming people all the time, to understanding that if I’m going to be responsible, I have to take responsibility for the mistakes that happen around me.

Bill:                    Right.

Josh:                  And that’s essentially as people are listening to this, realize that we all have great stories that teach all the important things we need in our lives.

Bill:                    Right.

Josh:                  You just need to think about it for a minute or two.

Bill:                    Exactly. All you have to do is pay attention to your experiences.

Josh:                  Yes.

Bill:                    It seems like I’ll be traveling to an event whether I’m going to do a workshop or whether I’ve been doing a keynote. And I’m always worried, “Am I going to be able to come up with a story that’s relevant to this group in the moment?” I was headed towards Denver International Airport, a little bit worried that this time, it’s not going to happen. And all I have to do is pay attention to what’s going on around me on my trip. When I get to the hotel, as I start to mingle with the group and something– if you pay attention, something always pops up, that you can use and it’s just a matter of being aware. It’s that simple.

Josh:                  I love that what you just said, which is take a look around you and observe what’s going on about whatever it is you want to teach.

Bill:                    Exactly.

Josh:                  You know, like sometimes a negative story is what needs to happen. If I’m happy traveling through Denver International Airport, there’s a good chance I’m going to have an interaction with the United employee. And I do have to say that it’s gotten better over the last two years.

Bill:                    Exactly. It has tremendously.

Josh:                  I still have a lot of really horrible United stories.

Bill:                    Oh, absolutely. You cannot flown over the last several years and not have those stories.

Josh:                  Right. In fact, one of them happened at DIA.

Bill:                    Sir, I don’t doubt it for a second.

Josh:                  I got locked out of a flight from Durango back to Vermont by one minute. And the best he could do is get me back home six days later.

Bill:                    Oh my gosh don’t you hate the lack of connection?

Josh:                  I know enough about air travel. I was able to get myself to Boston, rent a car and drive home, but that’s a different– again, it’s one of those long stories about–

Bill:                    Yeah.

Josh:                  It could be a story about flexibility. It could be a story about responsibility. It could be a story about customer service, or could be a story about all those things, but you get to use these stories over and over. So here’s another question I have for you.

Bill:                    Sure.

Josh:                  I’m well over 50. And I’m assuming you’re over 50 by looking at you.

Bill:                    Yeah, eight, nine years it. [Laughs]

Josh:                  We have a lot of life experience. And from that life experience, it’s easy for us to really sit around and say, “Here are stories are applicable the x, y and z.” At 24, I didn’t have that life experience, nor did I have the wisdom to be thinking about this at 24. So what do you say is somebody that’s 24, 25, 30, the age of my kids and they may not have great stories yet what they do?

Bill:                    And that’s a really good question, because I think we– for me, wisdom is simply making the same mistake over and over and over long enough to realize it’s a mistake and not make it.

Josh:                  Right.

Bill:                    And I wish I had some tools and tricks when I was younger to avoid a lot of the wisdom I’ve gained over the years. But,  one of the interesting things is, our minds will answer whatever question we ask and if we go into a situation, I don’t care if you’re 20, 30, 40, 50, 60 70, 80. And if you’re looking for stories, if you simply ask yourself, “What story can I tell?” If I’m trying to make this point, from what I observe each day from my life walking around, how does this relate to the point I’m trying to make? And if I ask myself the question, “How does this relate?”– to your point, I can encounter United employee have a certain situation happen. And I could use that story to illustrate countless points. And the way to make that connection in my experience is simply ask myself the question, “How can I make this story fit what I’m trying to get across?” And if I ask myself that question enough, two things will happen. One, I’ll get an answer.

But I’ll also begin to retrain my brain to look at things differently. And I think that’s– when you bring up wisdom, I think that’s what ended up happening for me is all that wisdom kind of reprogram my brain to now as I go through my daily life. I’m constantly looking for stories that fit the points I’m trying to make in my professional life. And I try– most of my stories now or within the last six months, they’re not from my life experience. Although I do have some, I do a whole thing around change and how you need to have enough of an emotional connection to really change. And I tell a story that began back in my 20s, all the way up into my 50s. But for the most part, most of them are current, and it simply comes from asking myself, “What can I find today? What out of what I experienced today? Can I use to illustrate my points?” And if I ask that question enough, I start to find those answers.

Josh:                  You said something really key. I think, unfortunately, we’re going to have to almost leave it at this point.

Bill:                    Sure.

Josh:                  Because we’re at our 22 minute mark, believe it or not.

Bill:                    Wow it went by fast.

Josh:                  That lets you really come across which I love, which is asking yourself questions. So let’s talk about that for just a couple more minutes and then we’re going to find out how we contact you because—

Bill:                    Absolutely.

Josh:                  the knowledge and wisdom that you’ve brought really is quite impressive.

Bill:                    Oh, thank you.

Josh:                  For me, I run my life what I call a Socratic Method of Management, which is I want to never say anything but ask you a question.

Bill:                    Right.

Josh:                  Too many of us are trying to prove to the world how smart we are.

Bill:                    Right.

Josh:                  Can you just make a couple of comments about why questions are so much more important? Asking the right question and giving the right answer?

Bill:                    Absolutely. Because I’m a big believer in whatever you want to call it. Law of Attraction manifestation, whatever and when I think I know everything, or I’m trying to show people how much I know I limit myself, and I miss out on opportunities that are there for my ticket. The beauty of asking questions is it opens me wide open to the opportunities around me. And one of the big things is you got to be careful the type of question you ask and quite simply people either asks can or can’t question. And the can question is, “How can I make this work? How can I do this? What can I do versus Why won’t this work? Why can’t I?” And we need to ask the questions that open ourselves to those opportunities.

Josh:                  My favorite question of all times is what would happen if?

Bill:                    Bingo, beautiful. I love that question.

Josh:                  It’s my absolute favorite question. I probably asked at five or six times a day.

Bill:                    Love it.

Josh:                  And I asked myself that question, probably 15 times a day.

Bill:                    Sure.

Josh:                  It helps me making wise decisions.

Bill:                    Absolutely. And it opens you to possibility that’s the beauty.

Josh:                  It does. I mean, what would happen if I did this? What would happen if I don’t do this and by the way, but what would happen if I don’t is probably more important to ask, and what would happen if I do, do it?

Bill:                    Exactly.

Josh:                  Because we tend to be yes oriented, not no oriented in the world, and learning to say no appropriately at least in my opinion.

Bill:                    I agree.

Josh:                  I had to do it this morning and I felt terrible about it. But frankly, I just say it doesn’t fit.

Bill:                    Right, absolutely. And you know, what you do is when you say no appropriately, you open yourself to a new and better “Yes”.

Josh:                  Absolutely, absolutely. So, Bill, unfortunately, we are out of time. I really enjoyed this conversation.

Bill:                    Me, too.

Josh:                  How do folks find you?

Bill:                    Yeah, very easy. You can find me a  And I have some videos on there where I talk about a lot of this stuff in a more practical sense. It’s free, please log in, poke around, watch some videos and if you’re ever interested, reach out. I’d be happy to talk with you.

Josh:                  Cool, I actually did poke around your website and I liked it a lot. It’s a good site.

Bill:                    Thanks.

Josh:                  I also have an offer for you. We have a program called Cracking the Cash Flow Code which is designed to help you as a private business owner, create enough cash to fund the four critical areas your business which are lifestyle, emergency fund, fully funded growth programs, and fully funded retirement program. We have a success path along that I made an info graphic it’s really easy to get you just go to that’s Give us your name will send you the info graphic and you’ll learn with the success path is for people who crack the cash flow code.

This is Josh Patrick. You’re at The Sustainable Business. Thanks a lot for stopping by. I hope to see you back here really soon.

Narrator:          You’ve been listening to The Sustainable Business podcast where we ask the question, “What would it take for your business to still be around a hundred years from now?” If you like what you’ve heard and want more information, please contact Josh Patrick at 802-846-1264 ext 2, or visit us on our website at, or you can send Josh an email at

Thanks for listening. We hope to see you at The Sustainable Business in the near future.


Topics: financial freedom, engagement, influence, stories, storytelling, bill gager, sustainable business podcast, hero's journey, Sustainable Business, cracking the cash flow code, story, making the impact

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