Writing Customer Success Stories with the Quest Story Plot in Mind
Of the seven basic plots¹ mentioned in this post on storytelling structure, The Quest lends itself as one of the best for creating customer success stories, or for that matter any business-related success story.
Quest, as defined by Dictionary.com is "a search or pursuit made in order to find or obtain something." In story, The Quest plot is about some important and distant goal that urgently calls the hero or heroine to pursue. Example Quest story plots include Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings and Spielberg's Raiders of the Lost Ark.
If we relate the Quest to business pursuits we may find new and engaging ways to tell stories of:
- how a business went from start-up to going public
- how a customer utilized your solution to achieve measurable growth
- how the people in your organization helped a client achieve something remarkable
The Quest Story Pattern Revealed
There's no end really to the potential story lines and uses of the Quest story plot to engage others in stories that will resonate and move them to action. The key is to recognize and apply certain structural elements, or patterns of a typical Quest story plot. Your audience, already familiar with the pattern from the realm of fiction, will often find the real-life experience and actual events of people, powerfully persuasive.
Let's look at the basic pattern and elements of the Quest story plot. We'll then see how to apply them to telling stories about business-related endeavors.
Quest stories have these stages² in common:
- The Call: The hero or heroine finds them self in an unfulfilling situation and is summoned to a worthy, life-renewing or transformative goal.
- The Journey: The hero embarks across hostile terrain in pursuit of the ultimate destination.
- Arrival and Frustration: The hero comes close to the goal but is thwarted as forces are at work which must be overcome.
- The Final Ordeals: There is a final series of tests that "culminates in a last great battle or ordeal which may be the most threatening of all."
- The Goal: There comes a 'thrilling escape from death' before the life-renewing state, princess and/or kingdom treasure are finally won.
Applying the Quest Story Pattern to Customer Success Stories
1. Begin with the end in mind to create a working title.
To begin framing up your story structured on the Quest plot, start with the end of some endeavor - the outcome. The end becomes your goal. What outstanding measurable business results have you/your customer achieved?
For example, HubSpot has begun publishing customer stories³. Here are some recent titles:
- How to Close Sales 4X Faster with Inbound Marketing
- How to Use Your Data to Boost ROI
- How to Turbocharge Your Website Traffic with Blogging
Granted, not all of your titles need to begin with "How to." But you may find this convention helpful and a good place to start.
What we're looking for here is the outcome or goal achieved. In the above examples: "Sales 4X Faster, Boost ROI, Turbocharged Website Traffic, all indicate realized goal of the endeavor."
Once you have the goal of the story in focus think about the solution that brought it about. What enabled the transformation? In the above examples, Inbound Marketing, Data and blogging were the solutions (secret weapons) used to bring about positive change.
Your title will help serve as the central theme and spark for creating the story line. It's a working title at this point as you may decide to refine it as you work your way into the story - or polish it at the end.
Now that you have a working title focused on a clear goal and subject, you can move into laying out the story pattern.
2. Describe the pre-goal state and the call to rise above it.
This is the stage where the hero or heroine of your story realizes they are stuck in a situation that normally involves some kind of undesirable, even degrading condition. Things are getting progressively worse and if things don't change the business could fail.
What's the challenge? Is the business at a crossroads of making a decision to expand, enter a new market, take on a new opportunity - to go for broke? These are but some of the conditions and circumstances that may precipitate the call to change. What was yours?
Look back at the point in time and ask some probing questions. What changed and why was there a sense of urgency? Had something gone terribly wrong? What were the circumstances and what were your feelings and fears? What was the catalyst that got your juices flowing to seek a new reality?
This is the beginning of your business story. There are 5 key elements to share with your audience: when, who, where, what and a transition (summons or call) that compelled you and your organization to find the answer. Also known as the turning point, it undoubtedly cast you into a phase we'll turn to next: the journey itself.
3. Recount the twists and turns along the journey.
In universal story structure, the middle part is characterized by twists and turns, contrast and tension. It's where the plot thickens as difficulties and obstacles are presented our hero or heroine as they traverse a literal and emotional, up and down landscape.
Nothing of any great value is obtained easily. And chances are you, or the hero of your story (the customer) didn't travel a linear path to the goal achieved for the business. It's the challenging ordeals of hope in a solution followed by disappointment and a potential string of failures that give your story life, meaning and resonance with your audience.
Think of this as the money part of your story. It's where you stand to persuade your audience you're for real, where they'll become emotionally glued to your idea, cause or solution. And as they do, they'll want the same type journey for themselves, too.
When constructing this part of your story, some great questions to ask are:
- What resistance, conflict, complications or obstacles did you experience?
- Were there unexpected surprises, twists and turns along the way?
- How did you and/or your team overcome these travails?
Common to fictional stories is a final ordeal or series of tests that must be passed in order to arrive at the final destination. The same is often true in life and business. Some final obstacle or challenge must be overcome in order to achieve victory. Maybe you had to stick your neck out and convince the CEO to make a risky decision. Whatever it was, it most certainly led to the end state and realization of the goal you fought so hard to realize.
4. Talk about the solution and the transformation.
Classic and modern quest stories always conclude with "a great renewal of life, centered on a new secure base, guaranteed into the future," according to Christopher Booker in The Seven Basic Plots. There's a reuniting with something of tremendous value as in The Odyessey when Odysseus has regained both his kingdom and his Queen.
It is often the case in business stories, too. Utilizing the solution has a transformative effect on business results. As you wrap up your customer success story, talk about the success that was achieved and how it transformed the business. What was gained or regained? What has changed? This is also a good place to reveal details of the adopted solution, and give credit where credit is due - to those who helped make it happen.
The ending of your business story is really just a new call, a call to a new beginning. As T.S. Eliot writes, it's really a new starting point: "What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from."
Using elements of the Quest story plot you can inject life into writing customer success stories. You can turn from the dry and clinical case study speak to human-connected narrative that resonates with and has the ability to persuade others to take action. And isn't that what you're writing for?
¹Seven basic plots. Book by Christopher Booker, The Seven Basic Plots.
²Quest story stages. The Quest: Summing up the common stages, page 83, The Seven Basic Plots.
³HubSpot customer stories are published in the HubSpot Learning Center Blog.