Success breeds success stories, and vice versa

We live in a world of sound-bites, tweets, news headlines, short sharp messages, elevator pitches and who has time to read lengthy case studies? When we’re selling, reference stories are essential but so much of what the well-meaning gnomes in the marketing mines laboriously produce, doesn’t get read, why? Because it’s in the wrong format, it says the wrong things, it’s used the wrong way.

Real impact comes from a relevant, well-summarised and well-delivered customer success story, introduced (not shoe-horned) into the conversation at an appropriate moment, to reinforce or demonstrate a point.

It’s hard work to get meetings with top management, when you do, make sure you can bring the meeting to life with relevant, powerful stories that contribute to the conversation and your relationship.

It only takes a little effort for a greater reward.

We’ve all seen them, lurking in the literature cupboard or in a mysterious corner of the company intranet, the four-page, five-page, maybe even six-page case studies that are so full of gems if only we could make time to read them.

But are they full of gems and is it worth wading through to find something meaningful? Even the name “case study” is an invitation for the writer to overproduce and too much of what is written is inevitably about the technology, the approach, the methodology.

That’s not what interests your customers and prospects,because it’s all about you. They’re interested in themselves, and people like themselves, It’s always what other customers say that gets the audience; it’s invariably more relevant, interesting and believable.

A well produced success story can fit comfortably on a single page with some attractive graphics and should take moments to read. It should include quotes and benefits, it should be succinct, sharp and structured. It should be an an aide memoir to support a conversation, not an alternative to a conversation.

Just reflect for a moment on how top CEO’s behave in exploratory meetings with prospects and customers. Do they get immersed in detail? Not if they can help it. They stay at a high level, listen more than they talk, ask questions about business issues and challenges; occasionally interject with a succinct explanation of how their company helped someone with a similar problem.

It is simple and effective, it doesn’t happen by accident, it’s the polished result of conscious effort and practice.

In contrast how do many conversations held by people lower down in their silo’s work out? They may have a detailed understanding of the way to make things happen in their own domain but outside that? When a prospect mentions a challenge is it better to say, “Company Y had a similar situation, we did this for them and saved them £3m” or “let me get back to you on that”

It only takes a bit of effort to do much better; once established as a habit, it takes very little time at all.

To get started you’ve got to build up a library of stories so you’ll always have one that’s relevant to a particular need. Next you’ve got to hone the story down to as few a words as possible but still convey the essentials of a customer success story; who they are, what their challenge was, what you did (briefly!) and what the benefits were. It’s then down to memorising them so you can pop them out on cue, without hesitation.

It’s such a powerful technique; it’s about being helpful, interesting and authoritative to customers and prospects. It’s far too useful to be limited to a few top flight CEO’s; we all sell, we should all use it. All customer-facing people hear about challenges or needs at some time or other, being helpful with a success story cements relationships and identifies new business opportunities.

“Those who tell the stories rule society.” Plato