We’ve hit the extra-busy and challenging holiday/budgeting/year-end season. At once, customers are juggling vacation schedules while trying to wrap up ’09 budget planning and meet their end-of-year goals.
Where does being featured in a customer story fall on the customer’s to-do list? Way down there.
Meanwhile, companies initiating success stories on their happiest customers are trying to meet their own objectives such as hitting ’08 promises to deliver a certain number of stories or to have them ready for trade shows early in the New Year.
You can still pursue customer stories with happy customers right now, but it just requires more sensitivity and patience.
Here are five ways you can annoy customers participating in success stories, and the antidotes:
Pitfall: Not respecting customers’ other priorities.
Solution: When beginning a customer story, and seeing it through to approval, be sure to ask customers if they’ll be out or tied up during the process. They’ll appreciate that you asked and you can plan your project and follow-ups around that.
Pitfall: Failing to remember holiday schedules.
Solution: Write down the dates that customers will be out and don’t contact them during that timeframe.
Pitfall: Expecting the same turnaround time you normally would.
Solution: Whatever amount of time it usually takes to finish a case study or success story, double it. It might not require that much, but it’s better to be prepared.
Pitfall: Contacting customers too often.
Solution: Give customers more space than usual. If you usually call customers every day or two about scheduling an interview, or every four days about approval, give them an extra day or two.
Pitfall: Being whiney
Solution: Don’t send/leave impatient emails and voice mails. Customers generally try to do the best they can, so stay courteous.
I know it’s hard to be patient when you have your own deadlines. I am managing several customer stories right now that I would love to wrap up, but know there’s only so much I can do. Respecting happy customers trumps your deadlines any time of year.
Of course, there are exceptions to the pitfalls above. Some customers are super excited about being featured and you may have no trouble at all with your usual timeframes and process. I’ve actually conducted some great interviews around the holidays because the contacts I interviewed had fewer distractions.
How about you? Do you have your own tips or stories to share about working on customer stories at year’s end?
With all the bad economic news, I'm interested in how case study budgets will change in 2009. Some say budgets will decrease while others believe customer stories will be even more essential as sellers need to make strong cases for their products and services.
If you're a business owner or marketing manager, tell me your plans for 2009 in my "20-Second Survey." It's just one question, and one bonus question if you have another 5 seconds.
It's anonymous, so don't worry about being identified!
Thanks in advance!
I've got extra advance copies of my book. Maybe you can help!
In just six weeks, in early January, the first book on customer case studies will be available: Stories That Sell: Turn Satisfied Customers into Your Most Powerful Sales & Marketing Asset.
As part of this long book process, I printed advance copies to send to various industry folks for testimonials to go inside. Now, that's behind me but I still have some extra books.
Why not give several away to people on the ground working on customer stories in some way, or learning the business?
I'm looking for a mix of people with different experience levels, writers, marketing and sales managers, consultants and business owners, interested in reading an advance copy and answering four questions afterward:
- Why did you read this book?
- What did you learn that you didn't know before?
- What information in Stories That Sell is the most valuable to you right now?
- What would you tell a friend about Stories That Sell?
Those answers will go on the Stories That Sell web site, with your name, to help others understand the book better.
Bear in mind that the advance copies are not fully complete and are lower print quality, but it's 95% the same as the final version.
Send your name and mailing address to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, with the subject line "Stories That Sell," and I'll get a book out to you this week. Act fast to be one of the first to be considered!
(Don't post your address here, unless you want everyone else to know it too.)
When you read magazines or newspapers, you're naturally drawn to the stories with an attractive design and engaging writing. Customer stories are no different.
In case studies and success stories, I often encourage companies to move from a flat format to something that resembles a feature story.
USA.NET, a hosted business email company, does this beautifully. In the example here, the company features its customer, MTM Luxury Lodging.
USA.NET takes the opportunity to showcase a stunning photo of one of the customer's hotels. It also pulls the highlights into a sidebar and includes a featured quote.
The story includes a descriptive headline and subheads, rather than just "Problem-Solution-Results" headings. And it dives right into an interesting story from the start, rather than just using the lodging company's boilerplate description.
Everything comes together to make a case study that prospects and potential media outlets will want to read. See the full case here.
These days, potential buyers believe other satisfied customers more than anything else. If that happy customer happens to be a friend or other contact, that's best. But customer stories are a close second.
As managers and creators of customer stories, it's our job to help keep customer success stories and case studies high up on that list of trusted sources. That means keeping them real and believable.
I occasionally see companies taking shortcuts for one reason or another. They're too busy to reach out and engage the customer, and pretty sure they know what the customer would say, so the customer isn't interviewed. Or, the customer is too busy at the time.
It's hard to fake customer stories based on real customer interviews and insight. Stories lack the customer's real voice and authenticity, and all start to sound the same. The quotes I create to put words in customers' mouths are never as colorful as what the actual customer might say.
Keeping customer stories believable depends on making the effort to get actual customer information as often as possible.
Here are tips for keeping customer stories real.
- Get the customer's buy-in, The first step in creating authentic customer stories is getting the customer on board. Sometimes organizations tip-toe around happy customers, not wanting to upset the delicate balance. If you find reasons and angles for the story that interest the customer, it's a much easier sell.
- Interview the customer, You might think that all the information you need can come from internal account and sales reps, but you never know. In interviews, I often find rich information from customers that no one else knew. Maybe it's the first time the customer has been asked a certain question.
- Interview the customer LIVE – I've seen companies ask customers to fill out written questionnaires about their experience. The approach lacks an interactive element that drives better information. Try to get the customer on the phone.
- Get real customer quotes, If at all possible, collect quotes directly from the customer. Even if the rest of the story was pieced together from internal contacts, reach out to the customer, even by email, for a few comments.
It takes some extra time and effort to make stories authentic, but it's worth it to get firsthand information and preserve the integrity of case studies and success stories.