Metaphors We Sell By

How you structure your sales pitch depends on how you model your buyer’s mind.

Andy Raskin
5 min readOct 25, 2023


The Arrogant Doctor

In our personal lives, we buy by rounding up alternatives, calculating a “bestness” score for each, and choosing the winner. In his book Tempo, the blogger/philosopher Venkatesh Rao calls this “calculative rationality.”

No accident that traditional pitch structure — what I call the Arrogant Doctor — assumes that buyers are calculative rationalists:

  • You have a problem (pain).
  • I have the solution (treatment)
  • Here’s why my solution is better for your specific needs than others (claims about why you should score my product higher)

When I started out as a founder and marketer in B2B SaaS, that’s how I pitched. After all, rounding up alternatives, ranking them, and choosing a winner seemed to be what B2B buyers did! But I ran into some big problems:

  1. Even if my claims were true and our competitors’ claims weren’t, the products we were selling were sprawling, complex platforms with thousands of features (that evolved constantly), making it difficult for buyers to suss out whose claims truly held water
  2. Unlike in the consumer world, many people were involved in the enterprise buying decision, and trying to address each persona’s bestness criteria got unwieldy — for me as the seller, but also for buyers when championing my product to their internal colleagues, especially their senior leader (c-suite) sponsors
  3. Buyers would often make bestness calculations based on old notions about what mattered

Indeed, Rao argues that when decisions get complex — because ranking gets complicated, or because the world has changed such that old ranking models don’t apply — calculative rationality breaks down, and we switch to an entirely different decision-making mode that Rao calls “Narrative rationality.” As he defines it:

“Narrative rationality is the ability to think, make decisions, and act [based on] the most compelling and elegant story that you can improvise about a developing enactment.”

In plainer language, we observe the world, we tease out a simple story about how people are winning now, and we use that story to guide our actions.

That’s the best description I’ve ever seen of the buyer decision-making model behind the strategic narrative framework I use with CEOs and their teams to craft sales (and other) pitches.

You’re not telling the buyer “old way bad, new way good,” or about a “trend.” Instead, you’re giving them a compelling (high stakes) and elegant (short) story about how their world has changed such that an old mindset is now a road to ruin, and there’s a new mindset for winning — one that defines a new goal state that I call the “buyer mission.” Some examples:


STORY: Successful sales leaders relied on their teams’ opinions => They rely on a view of reality.

NEW BUYER MISSION: Unlock reality.


STORY: People tune into media companies => People follow people

NEW BUYER MISSION: Treat creators as if your brand revolves around them, because now it does. (Note: This is differentiating from most of Grin’s important competitors, who essentially offer arms-length ad marketplaces.)


STORY: Top-down training => Collaborative learning

NEW BUYER MISSION: Upskill from within.


STORY: Winning robotics companies built prototypes in labs => Now they deploy autonomous production fleets of robots around the world

NEW BUYER MISSION: Understand how your (potentially millions of autonomous production) robots sense, think and act.

The Movement Champion

If the Arrogant Doctor was the selling metaphor that arose from calculative rationality, the one that emerges from narrative rationality is what I call the “Movement Champion.” The Movement Champion conveys differentiation not by saying our product is “better,” but by articulating a different goal state, born of a new take (story) about what’s happening in the buyer’s world, and building product to help buyers get there. Here’s my new favorite definition of a strategic narrative: A story that transforms the act of buying into the act of joining a movement.

Of course, even as a Movement Champion, you can (must!) present product features and address competitors. But you get to do it in a totally different, and, in my experience, more powerful, way. Having set context, instead of spouting claims of relative superiority, you can instead, even before saying anything at all about your product, explain why alternatives “weren’t built for this” movement (i.e. for helping you achieve the differentiated buyer mission you’ve laid out).

For sure, relying on product claims without a narrative (Arrogant Doctor) is a reasonable approach if you’re selling a relatively straightforward, static product in a relatively uncrowded market, where the evaluation criteria are well understood and you’re resigned to battling it out in a feature war. But when things get complex, I’ll die on the Movement Champion (narrative) hill. A few other reasons of many:

  • If you structure the narrative (shift from old mindset to new mindset that has life-and-death stakes for buyers) well, when you present it in a first call, buyers open up about how it’s playing out in their companies and the challenges they’re facing. Yes, this is discovery gold (and so much more fruitful than just asking “What are you pain points?”), which is why the sales guru Chris Orlob (who I worked with at Gong) presents this shift as the first slide in his “discovery deck” template. But it’s also trust-building gold, because you’re the one who boiled down for the buyer a simple story about how they can win (a la Chris Voss’s “labeling”)
  • You can make your pitch relevant (urgent) for many different personas (roles, verticals), by quickly (in a single slide) showing how the narrative has life-and-death (winning/losing) consequences for each. In other words, the movement becomes a rallying cry that unites the buying group around a model for choosing a solution (and urgency)
  • In the same way, CEOs consistently tell me the narrative becomes a uniting rallying cry internally, powering success as North Star not only for sales and marketing, but also product, recruiting, fundraising, and HR/culture. The story is, as Ben Horowitz says, quite literally the strategy.

I presented examples of these 3 points, and of using the narrative to disqualify competitors as “not built for this,” from sales decks I worked on with CEOs and leadership teams in my recent Pavilion talk — video coming soon.



Andy Raskin

Helping leaders tell strategic stories. Ex @skype @mashery @timeinc