A strong customer success story is a rocket booster for your sales team. It’s powerful for two reasons. First, a customer story allows prospects to see and hear in words other than your own just why your product or service is so valuable. Second, the structure of a story itself works magic in the human brain. Stories have served humans in their quest for survival since the earliest of times — our species has used storytelling to warn of dangers in the world around us and to create meaning out of the chaos of life. Storytelling has always been meant to create action on the part of the hearer. And because storytelling is a part of our primal psyche, we connect with stories much more easily than we do with rote facts.
But crafting compelling customer stories isn’t as easy as it might first appear. You need to tell a good story, yes, but you also need to present persuasive data points to quantify the results customers achieved and include engaging quotes. In this guide, I’ll walk you through a reliable four-step process that will help you learn how to write customer success stories that sell.
1. Identify which stories will help sales
Strategy drives success for all types of content, and customer stories are no exception. Before choosing customers to feature and generating your interview questions, you’ll want to first get clear on what you want each customer story to accomplish.
Customer stories are most effective for prospects in the consideration and decision stages of the buyer’s journey. After a prospect has read a customer story or two, the next step is typically to book a demo or request a consult. With this in mind, you can start to create a “needs list” of customer stories. When you’re putting together this list, consider the following.
- Problem solved — What use cases do you want to promote? While use case studies are generally more detailed than a customer story, you can create hybrid stories that accomplish both. (These stories also have the benefit of being more interesting than a typically-dry use case!)
- Products/services/features — Ideally, your customer story collection will include at least one story dedicated to each of your products or services and each of the features that customers are using to generate meaningful results.
- UVP — Let’s face it: Most products and services aren’t that different from their competitors’. Often, a prospect’s buying decision comes down to the way a company does business or what the company stands for. At least a few of your customer stories should highlight how customers are benefitting from your UVP.
- Industry — Prospects always want to see how their peers are using a product or service. They also want to know that your company has experience in their industry and that you understand their specific needs and requirements. A customer story is a great way to demonstrate your experience.
- Company size — The needs and desires of a 50-person company are quite different from those of a 50,000-person company. If you serve a broad spectrum of company sizes, you’ll want to show that you understand the needs of each category.
Don’t forget to talk with your product team and sales team as you’re making up your list of the stories you want in your collection. These folks will have insights based on their respective proximity to your products and to your customers.
Once you’ve identified the list of stories you need, do an inventory of the stories you have and see what’s missing. This final list will serve as a roadmap for completing your customer story collection.
2. Build an interview guide
The secret to writing a powerful customer story is a strategic interview. You’ll need to quickly size up exactly how the customer has most benefited from working with your company and gather persuasive data points and engaging quotes — all in an interview of 30-minutes. (The shorter you can make the interview, the easier it will be to get customers to agree to participate without putting it off indefinitely. For this reason, it’s important to gather as much information as you can outside the interview to avoid spending time on questions you could answer by looking at the customer’s website.)
Customer story interview questions
While each interview guide will need to be tailored to the individual customer, working from a template will speed up the process. Aim to ask about 20 questions in total.
Questions about the business
- Could you describe your role at the company?
- What are the goals you’re working toward in your role?
- Could you share your company’s annual revenue?
- How many people are on your team, and what are their roles?
Questions about the pre-purchase situation
- What process did you and your team use prior to using [product/service]?
- Could you describe the primary pain points of your process prior to using [product/service]?
- What costs were associated with the process prior to using [product/service]?
- What other challenges were you and your team facing before using [product/service]?
- Could you share an anecdote that illustrates the frustration you were experiencing?
Questions about the buying process
- How did you first hear about [product/service]?
- How long had you been looking for a solution to the problem you wanted to solve with [product/service]?
- What initially triggered the search?
- What were a few of the reasons you decided to buy [product/service]?
- Could you describe the buying process?
Questions about using the product/service
- How long have you been using [product/service]?
- How many different people at your company use [product/service]?
- Are there multiple departments or teams using [product/service]?
- How do you and your team currently use [product/service]?
- What types of goals or tasks are you using [product/service] to accomplish?
- If there are other teams or departments using [product/service], do you know how they’re using it?
- What’s the biggest advantage of [product/service]?
- Did you discover any other advantages after using [product/service] for a while?
Questions about implementation & adoption
- Could you share some details about how your team implemented [product/service]?
- How long did it take the average team member to get up to speed with using [product/service]?
- What have people been saying about [product/service] since they’ve started using it?
- Have you had any particularly stand-out experiences with any of our team members that you’d like to share?
Questions about customer success
- Prior to using [product/service], you were concerned about [x] and trying to solve [y]. Were you able to achieve what you set out to?
- How do you feel about your primary pain points now?
- Could you share an anecdote that describes the shift you experienced?
- Have you been able to measure any reduced costs by using [product/service]?
- Were you able to measure any improvements in productivity or time savings by using [product/service]?
- Have you been able to measure any increases in revenue or growth by using [product/service]?
- How would you say [product/service] has impacted your success? Your team’s success?
- What is your advice to others who might be considering [product/service]?
- Do you think the investment in [product/service] was worthwhile? Why?
- How would you describe our companies’ alignment in mission, strategy, and/or culture?
[Adapted from HubSpot]
3. Create a pitch kit to encourage participation
Several roadblocks can prevent a customer success story from moving forward. Most obvious is the fact that everyone is overscheduled, and there’s never enough time to get the work done. Your task is to convince customers that their participation should be a priority. To do this, you have to show them what’s in it for them.
Another common roadblock is that many customers simply don’t want to share the inner workings of their business. They don’t want competitors to know what they’re doing, and they’re uncomfortable showing the public how they were struggling before implementing your solution. You must also address this issue.
To persuade customers to participate in a story, you’ll need to demonstrate that the benefits of being featured outweigh any negatives. One of the best ways to do this is to create a “pitch kit,” which will include reasons why the customer would want to participate, the list of questions you plan to ask, and a sample of a case study you’ve already produced.
Reasons for customers to say “yes”
Depending on the customer’s goals and values, you may be able to come up with several reasons to participate, but here are four benefits to feature in your pitch.
- Position the customer as an industry leader
- Showcase the customer’s commitment to excellence
- Promote the decision-maker’s leadership in choosing a solution that resulted in success
- Provide the team using the tool with ammunition for budget renewal
In the email where you send the pitch kit, you’ll want to be sure to mention the benefits in body copy and include a target publication date. This will help prevent the customer from putting off a reply.
Tip: Ask who in the customer’s company will need to approve the customer story and assure the customer that you’ll route the story through all the necessary approvals before publishing.
What to do if the customer is hesitant
If a key customer is hesitating to participate, ask a few questions to find out why. It’s possible that you can adapt to solve the objection. Here’s how to address two common objections.
- No time — Ask if there’s someone else in the company with knowledge of the implementation and the results who you could talk to instead
- Not willing to go public — If the customer doesn’t want to be named, you could ask if they’re willing to share via an unnamed story (“a large telecommunications company in the Southeast). You could also ask if they’re willing to participate if you agree not to publish the story on your website and use it only for the sales team to send to target prospects.
If the customer has additional objections, get creative and brainstorm ways to turn the situation into a win-win. You may be able to alleviate concerns and still get the story you want.
The structure of a customer story that sells
While every customer story is unique, and effective formats vary widely, the best customer stories follow a proven template — the narrative arc. The hero of the story confronts a challenge (your customer encounters a pain point), fights to overcome it (struggles with the pain and searches for a solution), and finally wins (implements your company’s solution). The denouement is the “happily ever after” (the results the customer experiences using your solution).
Introduce the hero — No matter what format you choose, you’ll start your story by introducing the hero. What company are you featuring, and who in the company spearheaded the search and implementation of the solution?
Set up the problem — The problem begins with an “inciting incident” — a trigger that sets the story into motion. In a customer success story, this trigger is whatever caused the customer to begin feeling enough pain to set out to solve it.
Dig into the pain — For the reader to emotionally connect with the story, you’ll want to dig into the pain. What exactly were the effects of the problem? Why was it so frustrating? What issues were exacerbated? Include details like costs, time lost, and other quantifiable metrics.
Show the discovery of the solution — It’s important for readers to see the hero as taking action to solve the problem, rather than simply experiencing a solution. For this reason (and to show off your customer as driven to succeed), you’ll want to show how the customer came to find and choose your solution.
Present the outcome — Finally, it’s time to showcase the results your customer achieved using your solution. Be sure to tie the results back to the pain points you initially explored, and share the numbers that describe the improvements and back up your claims.
Tip: Throughout your customer success story, share anecdotes and quotes from the customer that will bring the story to life and add credibility.
Examples of effective customer stories
One of the best ways to learn how to write better customer success stories is to look at examples of successful stories. Here are three customer success stories using different formats, all of which have worked to persuade prospects to buy a solution.
Front’s story featuring HubHaus — This story shares the chaos the customer was experiencing prior to Front’s team email inbox solution and the benefits they gained, quantified by the customer’s KPIs.
FloQast’s story featuring Teamworks — This story shows how Teamworks uses FloQast to enable a single accounting manager to complete monthly close in just four days.
Designli’s story featuring Goodwill — This story presents the pain caused by the bug-ridden website of Goodwill Industries of Upstate/Midlands and the results Designli achieved with their new GoodTwice app.
There’s no need for customer stories to follow a rigid problem-solution-results format, but you’ll notice that all successful stories include the elements of the narrative arc.
Customer success stories do a lot of work for you, and they have an incredibly long shelf life. For these reasons, customer stories are one of the best content marketing investments you can make.
Need ideas for promoting your customer stories? Check out the Ultimate Guide to Using Case Studies to Attract New Clients!
Schedule a call to share what’s holding you back from better marketing content, and I’ll let you know if I can help and how. If I can’t help, I’ll recommend someone who can.