I hear it all the time…"We have an amazing customer story, but just can’t get them to agree to be a case study…"
Many companies name customer participation as the toughest challenge of managing case studies. They just can’t get their happiest customers on board.
There’s no magic answer for this because there are numerous reasons why customers won’t tell their stories publicly–they don’t have time, their company doesn’t allow it, they don’t want to reveal competitive secrets, and so on.
But chances are, most customers don’t see the positives of success story participation. Customers have their noses down, buried deep in their day-to-day business activities. Sometimes you need to do some of the thinking for them.
It’s our jobs to help customers see the benefits. A customer story is effectively a positive feature story, created at no cost to the featured customer, ideally showing the customer contacts and their organizations as innovative and progressive. It’s rich content that goes online, out into the media, into blogs, into e-newsletters and more–all positive exposure!
If the prospect of free PR isn’t so attractive to your customer contacts or their organizations, talk with them and find out what’s attractive. Maybe they want to be on your tech council, have input in your product roadmap, or speak at a major industry conference. Help a customer achieve its own goals in the course of featuring it in a story.
You may need to baby-step customers toward a full public story, but that persistence and collaboration pays off for many.
I recently followed a string on a MarketingProfs forum regarding the value of unnamed customer success stories--those where you don't actually name the featured customer. The original post asked whether nameless stories lose all their power.
The answer depends on your goals for your customer stories. If credibility in your market is your top goal, then an unnamed story does lack the punch of a named story. The same goes for PR. If you're trying to get the media to cover your solutions, reporters want to hear real customer stories with actual customer names.
But case studies and success stories also educate prospects and validate solutions. For most types of sales uses, an unnamed story is often just as valuable as a named one. Prospects want to see results with similar customers. Show them a customer story in their industry with strong proof points that support your value proposition. Be specific in your story and it will go a long way toward validating your solutions.
Right now I'm working on two customer case studies for technology companies where the featured customers are still implementing the solutions. Neither customer has had any time to really benefit from the products they purchased. I call this the "expected results" case study.
Normally, you wouldn't initiate a story on a customer until they have had the solution long enough to actually see results - preferably of the measurable kind. But for both of these companies, creating stories now makes sense for their marketing efforts.
One is a software company with an established customer base in Europe. To build its U.S. presence, it needs any kind of documentation it can get to show credibility to U.S. prospects. A story that talks about the trust a major American company put in the vendor goes a long way, even without actual results. Quoting the customer on anticipated results further supports the strength of the vendor's solutions.
The other company needs a story on a customer in the utility industry, and is moving forward to create one even though the company hasn't even started using the solution. This also gives the vendor company content for a press release it wants to send out about the new relationship.
It's a good reminder that the best time to create a customer story is not always when there are measurable benefits and results, but rather whenever the story will accomplish a sales or marketing goal.
Patience is a necessary part of the customer story process, especially when you're waiting for a customer to approve a written draft.
Today, one of my clients needed a freshly created story for a sales conversation with a prospect, but the customer hasn't approved it yet. If a story names the customer, you just can't use it unless it's approved for public use.
You may have a trade show coming up, a hot sales opportunity, or a reporter waiting for the story, but customers have their own hoops to go through. Unfortunately, you can only do so much to encourage them to hurry.
While waiting for official approval, you can leverage the highlights of a story. Pull out the key messages and benefits‚ without mentioning the customer's name‚ and drop them anecdotally in emails or in conversations with prospects. So, you still benefit from using a real customer example while you wait patiently for formal approval.
Happy New Year!
So finally I venture into the "blogosphere." Though I write technology customer stories every day, I haven't delved much into the many social media/technology opportunities out there. As is typical, "the cobbler's children have no shoes"--my own marketing and networking efforts suffer.
So this is part of a New Year's resolution. I'm learning and exploring the many ways to contribute, share and learn online. This post introduces my Stories That Sell blog, dedicated to all things related to customer stories--creating and using them, and working with your best customers in the process.
I'd like to create an interactive venue to share best practices, ideas and examples of some of the best uses of stories out there today. So, please share your links, thoughts, ideas and examples.
If you're also looking to increase your social media involvement, check out a helpful article I found online about ways to make social media a daily practice.
I hope you'll see this site as a resource in all your customer story efforts.
All the best,