Nobody likes to go first. That’s why most companies go through an exhaustive evaluation process when they are looking at new vendors or services.
They like to see the vendor covered by the press and written about by leading analyst firms such as Gartner, Forrester, and IDC. And they like to read customer success stories so that they can see real-world examples of the vendor’s product or service in action.
Success stories can be a tricky thing. How do you line them up? What do you ask them? Who’s going to write the story? And what are you going to do with the success story once you have it in hand? Here’s a brief checklist that should help you to make that call:
Hire a professional writer and interviewer. Success stories are hard to come by. So make sure you take full advantage of the opportunity by hiring a senior person who’s appropriate for the job. If you have an exceptional writer on staff, they could potentially do it. Your PR or creative agency might be able to provide someone. Or you could deal direct by hiring an outside writer and consultant like Jim Panagas. Be sure to vet the person you’re considering for the job by reviewing their writing samples. Make sure that you like the way this person thinks and writes.
Make sure the customer is properly vetted. How did you find out about this customer in the first place? Did you meet them face to face at a trade show or other corporate event? Were they recommended by someone in your sales organization? Or perhaps they were brought to your attention via one of your company’s business partners. Whatever the source, do some initial probing. How long have they been using your company’s product or services? Can they get the approval from management to go on the record and do an interview? And how many people from the customer side should be a part of the interview? Perhaps it’s just a director or VP. Or perhaps they want to involve one or two of the people who were “hands on” in implementing your product or technology.
Capture the interview on video. Whether you use Skype or another technology, make certain to capture the entire interview on video, if the customer is willing. This ensures accuracy, and it gives you the option to create a video success story or at the very least to insert some video clips into the published article. This is key. The more video content your company acquires over time, the more that it has to work with and the better position it’s going to be in from a marketing standpoint. The appetite for video on the internet is growing with each passing year. If the current workforce learns best by watching video, then why not give them what they are asking for?
Ask a broad range of questions. Why did the customer choose your company in the first place? What tangible business benefits have they derived since applying your technology? What kind of business problem were they trying to solve in the first place? And what advice might they have for other companies that find themselves in a similar situation? The list of potential questions is endless. Use your judgment as to how many you ask and how you ask them. Gauge the customer’s body language. And don’t be afraid to ask follow-up questions if you want the customer to go into greater detail. What you will likely find is that the customer is willing to make some incredibly complementary statements about your company - statements that will be invaluable to your company over time.
Think about every conceivable way to showcase the story. The goal is to have as many people as possible become aware of this success story. Maybe not the full text of the article, but a headline, callout, or video clip. Consider writing some catchy announcements on LinkedIn, Twitter, and other social media outlets. Link to the full article. Link to a video clip. Or maybe both. Post the success story on your company’s website. Share a link or a PDF of the article with your sales force and partner channel. Showcase the story in your trade show booth, at a seminar, or another corporate event.
Invite the customer to join you on a live webcast. There is an endless appetite to hear from people who have successfully implemented a product, service, or technology. So see if the customer would be willing to join you in a live webcast where the audience gets to hear from your customer in his or her own words. Better yet, get three customers on the webcast so that you can get a true panel discussion going, and your customers can be bouncing thoughts and ideas off of one another. Not only is this type of webcast likely to draw a large audience, but also you have the webcast recording on the shelf for the next 12-15 months. So you’re likely to pick up a bonus audience of people who weren’t able to watch the live event.
Invite several customers to speak at a trade show or conference. Live customers are a huge draw. See if several of the customers whom you interview might be willing to do a live event such as speaking in a panel discussion at a trade show or perhaps at a user conference. People love panel discussions because they are unfiltered and spontaneous. And again, you could capture this panel on video and it becomes yet another resource in your marketing arsenal.
Jim Panagas has conducted dozens of interviews and written countless customer success stories over the course of his career. So consider engaging Jim to either begin or kick start your customer success program.