We all know that winning new business is getting harder. Some of this has to do with more competition, and some of it has to do with business buyers being more knowledgeable than us about our offerings.
This means buyers are more interested in our proven capability to implement and support required software and services – which is why testimonials are so important. Unfortunately, we over-state our features and benefits in sales collateral yet provide thin-on-the-ground evidence like customer success stories.
Real World Experience Helps Prove Your Capability
With B2B buyers having to shell out hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars, there is always the fear of risk of failure. That’s money down the drain and even loss of face or loss of their job. Hence buyers and even current customers want a lot of proof that what we’re selling has been successful in similar companies.
It isn’t uncommon for prospective customers to ask for up to 20 customer success stories of similar scope, company, and industry to include in sales proposal responses. Most IT companies struggle to include that amount of success stories. You’d be lucky to include two or three examples. Usually, they cobble together success stories that don’t quite fit the selection criteria.
The Best Evidence is the Customer Success Story
Sales and solution teams constantly moan about the lack of up-to-date customer success stories, and this is fair enough because, in my view, they are the best type of evidence to support your unique promise of value to the prospective customer.
While some IT companies get it and are good at creating engaging and ongoing success stories, most small and large B2B IT organisations don’t put enough focus on this important persuasive tactic. And because of this, I believe they’re losing out on thousands and millions of dollars of revenue.
Why Aren’t B2B IT Companies Producing A Lot More Success Stories?
When I’ve talked to marketing teams in both mid or large IT organisations, they usually have an excuse that they don’t have time to create fresh success stories or that their customers aren’t willing to participate.
The worst excuse is that they don’t want to do success stories because this would expose them to further competition. This is usually the worry of smaller firms. But know this, if you don’t display customer success stories on your website, across marketing collateral or in your sales proposals, you will lose business. In any case, your competitors can do their research to find out who your customers are so there is no point hiding this Intel because it’s not something you can keep a secret today.
I’m being harsh because I know most IT companies do want to produce more customer success stories but don’t have the will to do so. It’s a problem everyone talks about but doesn’t do much to fix.
Here’s How to Produce More Customer Success Stories
To help you produce evidence of past success, here are some things you need to do:
1. Put it in the contract: When new customers sign a contract, include that they will become a reference customer and they will participate in a future success story – if of course they’re satisfied with the service.
2. What to do when a customer says no: You can still ask for testimonials and success stories from customers that don’t have it written as part of their contract. Now some customers, even those happy with your services, may resist participating for a number of reasons, but mostly because it takes time away from their normal job. Remind them that any story that articulates their success also benefits them in attracting more customers to their organisation. Also read my points below, on how you can produce stories that don’t take up your customer’s precious time.
3. Give someone the role of producing stories: Nominate a marketing communications specialist internally to project manage development of stories and testimonials. Even if that person has other responsibilities they should dedicate around one and a half days a week to this important task. Let’s call this person the Customer Success Story Maker, or ‘Story Maker’ for short.
4. Support and promote your story maker: The CEO, sales and marketing directors and senior leadership team of your organisation know who the Story Maker is and they promote the importance of this person’s role to salespeople, implementation teams and the delivery organisation.
5. Create an internal place for success story ideas: If you’re a fairly large company, you should have a separate email for success stories like firstname.lastname@example.org@company.com. Staff memos from the CEO and line managers should direct people to this inbox.
6. Your Story Maker should love what they do: Make sure they are a people person and they are hugely empathetic to your customers and your delivery personnel. Story Makers also have to be highly organised and persistent because it can take a lot of negotiation to deliver a success story from beginning to end.
7. Have a set goal for how many stories you want to produce: Give your Story Maker a goal they have to reach, whether that’s producing 10 written customer success stories, 7 videos or 20 testimonials within a given period. Ask for weekly and bi-weekly updates on progress.
8. Only nominate a story maker that knows how to talk to senior executives: No matter who writes the actual customer success story, the Story Maker is the main customer contact so they must be poised and mature enough to talk to the C-set in your customer base.
9. Customer database access: The Story Maker should have access to a database of all your customers, or all customers in your region (if you’re a multi-national).
10. Reference team and customer story developers should collaborate: The Story Maker should have a good relationship with your reference team so each knows what the other is doing.
11. The Story Maker must be a networker: While the leadership team promotes the Story Maker, this person also actively promotes their role. They do this by being in the loop with new wins, successful go-live projects and they’re aware of progress of implementation projects, 6 to 18 months after initial contract signing. They reach out to sales and delivery teams to find out if customers are willing and able to participate in a story or happy to provide a testimonial about a successful go-live.
12. The aim is to attract a constant flow of story ideas: If the leadership team and Story Maker consistently promote the importance of customer success stories, at some point, people within the organisation will naturally reach out. I project managed customer success stories over a period of nine months for one large IT company and my inbox was overflowing with more suggestions than I could cope with. I owned a spreadsheet of around 60 potential success stories I was managing at different stages of development.
13. Initial request for success story participation should come from the person in your organisation the customer trusts the most: When a salesperson or delivery leader indicates that a customer is a potential success story contender, it’s best that they initially reach out to the customer to ask for permission to do a story or testimonial. If the customer is happy to proceed, this person then introduces the customer to the Story Maker who takes it from there.
14. The aim is to deliver a success story that has depth: To create a well-rounded story, you should ideally interview a number of different people within your customer. For example, interview a senior leader (CEO, CFO or CIO) to talk about the strategic value of your solution, a manager to provide evidence on operational or business benefits and general staff to get insight on user benefits.
15. Let the customer feel they are in control of the story: So that customers feel they are in control of how the story is developed, it’s important to send them an initial briefing document on the types of questions you will be asking, the topics or themes you’ll be covering and the people in their organisation you’ll be interviewing. Your Story Maker can also conduct a lightning fast preliminary interview to obtain basic background information which is inserted into the briefing document.
16. Keep interviews with customers succinct: Completed briefing documents are excellent as they keep the interview on track and ensure you don’t go over time interviewing busy executives in your customer base. If you’re interviewing a senior leader like a CEO or CIO, try to keep it to no more than half an hour and all others 45 minutes to one hour maximum.
17. Think about different ways to deliver success stories other than the traditional brochureware. While the above will help you deliver the traditional one page, 800-1000 word success story, it’s the same process to follow if you decide to create videos and testimonials. Read this article also if you want to create amazing customer success stories that buck the standard story formula, as it will help you differentiate from competitors in a big way.
Hopefully the above will help you deliver success stories that strongly support your sales team to win more business. Of course, development of testimonials and customer stories requires effort, time and dedicated resources but the return on investment in customer loyalty and ongoing new business is well worth it!
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