Success at Success Stories

Writing and marketing customer success stories is a frequently used PR tactic and has many applications: Sales people use them to show competency and offer third-party endorsement to potential clients; reporters love the real-world story of how your product or service is used; the content is great online and in marketing slicks, and is easily edited to apply for awards or for other publicity purposes. In short, customer success stories bring credibility.

Sounds easy, right? Well, don’t forget the old adage, “If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.” The dark side to this wonder-tactic is that it can be really difficult to get customers to agree to be the subject of your success story, especially when the customer is bigger than you, has fierce competitors or is an industry where confidentiality is critical.

Here are a few ideas to help you persuade your customers to allow you to market their success:

1.    Partner with sales

The sales team generally has the best relationship with the customer and the greatest insights into what the customers use and how your offering has improved their business. Make sure that your sales leaders are on board with the need to generate customer success stories for marketing and sales efforts. Sometimes this can be a tough sell because the sales rep will not want to rock the boat of that relationship by asking favors. However, when your sales team begins to understand the importance of using success stories to help close future sales, they may begin to change their tune. Convince them to talk about success stories early and often to set the expectation with their clients.

2.    Offer an incentive

Once the sales team is on board with your efforts, you’ll have an ally in convincing customers that they should enter into a co-marketing effort with you. From the customer’s point of view, they need to know what is in it for them. Especially if the customer is bigger and targets a different audience, they may not see much benefit. Make it simple for them – offer a discount or other incentives that do benefit them and build it right into the contract.

3.    Go blind

Some companies will flat-out refuse to allow their brands to be used in your marketing. Sometimes there are regulatory issues, other times the reasons have to do with their competition or your competition. While a case study that references well-known brands is always stronger, there is the option of creating a success story that only references a company’s industry or size or need. Select the factors that are most important to your marketing efforts and see if you can get agreement on sharing the story in a way that keeps the customer anonymous. This is always preferable to no story.

4.    Zoom in

Perhaps your customer is not interested in revealing how many less mistakes they are making, but doesn’t mind talking about the cost savings they are seeing. Be flexible enough to zero in on sections of the overall story, rather than having to tell all the details of the story. Perhaps the success has to do with your customer service rather than any ROI. This story still has a place, and might even help you win you some awards in that category.

5.    Focus on the positive

Most customers will never agree to a success story that highlights how you saved the day and rectified their past mistakes. Even sharing improvements and ROI can sometimes infer that things weren’t run well in the past and you’ll find cultures, industries, departments or individuals that can be very sensitive to this type of reporting. Try using language that attributes the need to change to external factors and created the opportunity to develop new processes or seek new vendors. Quantify results in a way that builds on a pattern of success or shows more rapid success, rather than in a way that shows success for the first time. Another approach is to show how you partnered with a customer to help them meet their internal goals, rather than how you suddenly made them more successful.

6.    Get approvals early and often

Customer success stories are not a project where you want to ask forgiveness instead of getting permission. Work closely with the marketing and corporate communications contacts that your sales rep introduced you to, and always keep the larger team in the loop. Understanding concerns early on will help move your project in the right direction and save wasted efforts. Be sure to get approvals not only on the copy, but also for any images, as well as the final design. Now that you’ve come this far, you don’t want to have any detail foil your efforts.

Customer successes allow your best customers to tell your story in a compelling way. How are you leveraging these stories in your marketing efforts?