That's why I'm so excited about Casey Hibbard's new book, Stories that Sell, in which she details exactly what you need to do to turn satisfied customers into your most powerful sales and marketing asset.
Over the past decade, she's helped dozens of customers write over 450 case studies, so she knows exactly what it takes to create compelling stories.
I recently interviewed Casey about what it takes to create these powerful sales tools. I think you'll learn a lot from her answers!
What motivated you to write this book?
The use of customer stories isn’t new, but it is growing. A lot has happened in business in the past 10-15 years that has changed the nature of trust. Instead of local, face-to-face interaction, now it’s largely online, via social media, on the phone, and with someone across the country or world. Add to that more global competition, a distrust of business after the Enron and dot.com era, and a more risk-averse business climate.
Despite the fact that more companies are creating and needing stories about actual customers, there was little out there on the topic. I wrote the book to bring together, in one place, all the knowledge I’ve gained in 10 years focused on customer stories and examples of best practices from organizations of all sizes.
What are the various ways that your clients are leveraging these "stories that sell?"
There are a couple dozen different ways someone can use a customer story, but most companies only use them a few ways. The most common uses are on the company web site, handed out or emailed for one-on-one sales opportunities, and trade show handouts.
A tip I picked up from you is referencing a metric from a customer story when leaving a voice mail for a prospect.
How do you determine the best customers for success stories?
There’s a tendency to dub a customer a good candidate if they’re really happy—and willing and able to be featured. But that’s just the first, most basic criteria. You need to pick customers that have used the product or service long enough to be able to show results, but not so long that they’ve forgotten the pain of the way it was done before.
If they are too far removed from that, or the person who brought in the vendor is gone, then you lose some of the passion and details in the story. That “sweet spot” is different for every company; it could be a month or it could be years.
Beyond that, the best customers to feature are the ones that most closely mirror the targets you’re going after at the time. (Get your copy now)
How do you handle it if your best customers won't let you use their names?
That’s a common challenge. The bigger the customer organization, the harder it is to get permission to feature a customer. Do your best to try to get customer permission first by presenting it to the customer as a joint marketing opportunity. Go through the PR department to help get their buy-in because the customer’s legal team wants to say “no.”
If the customer just won’t agree, you have to decide whether an unnamed story is still effective. Many companies feel that they are still valuable, as long as they are very detailed. If the story is unnamed, then the company is likely to share more specific ROI with you than if they were named. It’s not ideal, but sometimes you have to settle for that.
Talk about your questioning strategy. What are good questions to ask? How about sequencing?
My questioning strategy eases the customer into the conversation. You have to remember that the customer is going about their busy day before the interview, and probably not thinking much about it. I start with more general questions about the customer’s organization and gradually get more specific.
Many customers have never quantified the solution, so they need some guidance on what you’re looking for. Before-and-after questioning works well, as in “How long did the process take before? How long does it take now, on average?” Go through each area of potential results with that model of questioning.
What kinds of things can derail a customer story?
It happens, but there are ways to reduce the chances. Most often, stories get killed when the person who ultimately has to sign off on the story at your customer’s organization doesn’t know about it from the beginning, whether that’s legal or an executive. Get all the proper clearances before starting. Then, there shouldn’t be surprises during the approval phase.
Yet, there are some things you can’t control. I’ve seen customer stories die in progress because something happens (product malfunctions) that lessens the customer’s happiness level. Or, the internal champion leaves the company. It’s best to get in there, capture the story quickly, and wrap it up.
How do you convince a customer to say "yes" to sharing their story?
It has to be a win-win situation for the vendor and customer. And that doesn’t mean discounts. In fact, most of the larger companies do not provide financial incentives in exchange for a customer’s story.
Make your customer famous, either on a company level or individual level. Maybe your customer wants to speak at an industry conference or wants to showcase how they’re moving into a new market. Help them accomplish their goals.
Interesting, many are attracted to access and involvement with their vendors. That can mean including the customer on advisory boards, giving them involvement in the product roadmap, or connecting the customer with the vendor’s CEO. Each customer may require a unique approach.
How can salespeople enhance the story-gathering process?
Salespeople often have the closest relationship with the customer. I see the best success in getting stories off on the right foot when the person with the strongest relationship “makes the ask” and perhaps provides a few details about what’s involved. Then, the tactical folks involved in collecting the story take it from there.
In case you haven't guessed it by now, I strongly endorse this book if you want to leverage this powerful tool. Here's the link to get your copy now.