How to Craft a Compelling B2B Customer Success Story
What works best for B2B content marketing?
According to a recent survey, the B2B Content Marketing Report, respondents reported customer testimonials (89%) and case studies (88%) are the most effective content marketing tactics. The survey (snapshot shown below) was conducted by Holger Schulz in the B2B Technology Marketing Community group on LinkedIn, with results posted here on Slideshare.
Why are customer success stories effective?
Have you wondered how to create a really great customer success story, or how you might use it in your marketing?
Customer success stories (AKA case studies) can be powerful tools for B2B Marketers. Their primary purpose is to help introduce a prospect to a product or service in the context of a successful implementation of it by another company.
They work particularly well towards the middle and bottom of the sales funnel when potential customers are looking for some real-world examples with a touch of radical transparency (You may recall from my podcast interview with Jay Baer on creating massively useful marketing with Youtility: prospects are looking for robust, detailed information about how your products/services work in the real world.) Customer success stories can be effective to illustrate just how inherently helpful your solution can be.
The most effective and compelling B2B marketing case studies are those where the focus is clearly on the business implementing the solution, not on the company who sold it.
They work even better when the buyer is positioned as the "hero" of the story, with the seller offering guidance, and of course the solution at the opportune time. Think of the customer as being on a quest (more on the quest story plot later) to solve an important business problem in much the same way Indiana Jones set out to find the Ark of the Covenant, and unlock its power.
Moreover, a well-crafted case study is essentially a story of the buyeys' journey. As such, to resonate with other potential buyers, it should contain elements of effective storytelling. Otherwise, it may simply come across as bland, unbelievable, or worse still, a self-promotional advertisement. And no one finds those helpful or compelling enough to warrant taking the next step.
Here's how to go about crafting a compelling B2B customer success story:
Engage with your customer as a willing participant
It should go without saying, but I will anyways: a customer success story is as much, if not more, about the customer as it is about your company. (Duh - this might be why they're called "customer success stories!") So for goodness sakes, first discuss it with your customer! What's in it for them? Position it as a tool they will be proud of and can use perhaps in their own marketing and client relations. After all, your customer is the true hero of the story. So collaborate with them from the very beginning and all the way through to make it truly shine.
Begin by answering some key questions
The most important part of constructing a compelling story is taking the time to ask good questions. For starters...
- What’s the purpose of your case study?
- Who is the audience/buyer persona you are targeting?
- What do you want them to do upon reading the case study? What’s the call-to-action?
- How will you publish and promote your case study?
- How can your customer use it to their competitive advantage?
Think about the customer situation, the experience and situation around the sales and delivery process. Be curious. Don't be satisfied until you uncover the "real" story. Be like Peter Falk in the T.V. Series Columbo, "Excuse me, but there's one more question I'd like to ask before I go." Keep asking questions like:
- When did this take place?
- What were the circumstances at the time?
- Who was involved (people from client and company side, roles)?
- What was the main problem, goal, project or opportunity?
- What did the customer stand to gain or lose - what was at stake?
- Were there people who were especially helpful or difficult?
- What information and/or rationale supported the direction to seek your solution?
- How did this involve a change in what was, with what they were moving to?
- What resistance, conflict, complications, and tension did they experience?
- How did you or the team overcome these obstacles?
- What emotions of fear, pain or pleasure were present?
- Were there any surprises, twists or turns or unexpected outcomes.
- What is the one thing you'll always remember about it? Nancy Duarte in Resonate calls this a S.T.A.R moment: Something They'll Always Remember. These are powerful insights to include!
- What was the solution (your products/services)? And briefly explain how your technology/solution/service/product works.
- What was the final resolution or outcome?
- What did they/you learn, or what was the moral of the story?
- What key takeaway or core value came to light at the end of this story?
- What are the key benefits the customer realized as a result of adopting your product or service?
- Get the cooperation of your customer and some quotes. Share how this will benefit them and how they can use the success story to their advantage. What’s in it for them? Can you combine this with a news release to get them more exposure? Remember to make them the hero, not you, your company or your solution. It should be about them.
Use the quest story plot to give it structure
The quest story plot is a well-recognized format used in literature, musical theater, novels and the movies. It also plays out in real life and people will identify with the structure and elements of it as you tell the story. It’s an excellent format with which to tell a customer success story: a journey which pulls the hero to some distant, all-important goal.
A Suggested Format & Structural Flow:
- Create a working title.
- Describe the situation prior to implementing the solution.
- Make a transition. This is short, but should indicate the key driver that led to making a change and what prompted the customer to go on the quest for a better solution. "Blue Sky Inc. knew their self-managed and hosted IT infrastructure was no longer sustainable...so they turned to the cloud."
- Recount the challenge and the turning point (and any final ordeals) to adopting the solution. These are things that may have been encountered just before or while finding and adopting the solution. Quests don’t normally go smoothly, be honest about the journey. Others will identify and find interest in the twists and turns. Also, you might describe alternative solutions or options tried or considered, and why they weren’t the right fit.
- Describe the solution to the problem.
- Convey how things are different now – the results – lessons learned.
4 Main Structural Sections to Include in Your Completed Case Study:
Now take everything you've probed, gathered and thought of thus far and begin to write out your B2B customer success story in these four parts:
Section 1: The Pre-Solution State
Section 2: The Challenge
Section 3: The Solution
Section 4: The Results
Additional Tips & Resources:
Formula for writing an effective title for your success story:
Client name plus verb plus benefit plus solution equals your headline.
B2B Example: Blue Sky Inc. Sees 30% IT Cost Reduction with Cloud Computing
Think of these as mini-headlines to help identify the sub-sections of your case study and engage the reader’s interest.
The Challenge section example: Achieve Greater IT Cost Predictability, Speed Application Deployment
The Solution section example: SaaS Implementation Model Lowers Human, Infrastructure Costs
The Result Section: Blue Sky Inc. Speeds Deployment of New Applications, Sees 30% Reduction in Asset Cost
But wait, there's more…
- The title is everything, make it compelling and indicative of what the customer gained by adopting the solution.
- Compelling case studies are stories about people. We need to understand the human side of the problem.
- Think about it as an adventure and use elements of good storytelling in a conversational way to describe what took place. And remember, facts are important, but people make decisions based on emotional appeal. The best way to unite your ideas with emotion is by telling authentic stories.
- Position your customer as the hero of the story, not you or the solution. As the solution provider, you are in the role of the guide helping your customer through the ups and downs, twists and turns along the path.
What's your next customer success story going to be?
I'd love to hear how you may use this info to craft your next customer success story. Please drop a line in the comments below about that, or share how you've used success stories in the past.