Creating customer stories – how to get them to say “yes”
It’s one thing to appreciate the huge value of customer stories. It’s another thing to have them as an active part of your marketing.
Many businesses fail at the first hurdle: getting your customers to say “yes”.
Let’s have a look at this so you feel more confident about the ask. With the right approach, your customers will be delighted to get involved.
Why customer stories matter
I’ve written about this A LOT, so I’ll keep it brief. Read these two articles should you want more:
When people have a problem, they love to discover how others solved it. They welcome a first-hand account and relate to your customer’s language. It’s like talking to a colleague at the bar.
Sometimes, they can put themselves in the story and understand what it feels like.
Holding their attention with an engaging story, they better understand your product’s benefits. Not from a sales pitch though, from a customer perspective. That story will get them closer to becoming your new customer like no other marketing tool can.
Customer stories inform without selling. They build trust in your business and move prospective customers closer to acting.
I can’t see a downside myself.
“But we don’t have any stories to tell!”
Now, come on, I’ve heard that often. And it’s not true. If you’re in business, you have customers. And every customer has a story worth telling.
What you’re really saying here is “We don’t know how to create customer stories, and we don’t want to offend our customers, or waste their time.”
So, let’s dispel two myths, right now.
Fact: if you have customers, you have stories
Fact: creating their stories DOESN’T offend them. It can actually IMPROVE your relationship
So, let’s cut the excuses that mask the task at hand and look at how to do this properly.
Don’t ask cold
When you ask your customer whether you can create their story, you should be relatively confident they’ll say yes.
Would you ask for a sale cold? No. Nobody likes a bolt out the blue.
So, don’t ask for a customer story cold.
What must you do to feel confident they’ll say yes?
This comes down to preparation, communication, and developing a system.
Open a new spreadsheet – a CRM if you’re feeling fancy. Whose stories would you like to tell? List them here. You could even grade them. Then you appreciate the important ones to focus on.
Who’ll be responsible for asking those customers? This can vary and you must think carefully about your answer. I cover this more in how to ask, below.
And remember, one person will ultimately ask your customer, but getting to that point can be a team effort.
Back to your spreadsheet. Collect information on each customer:
- Key contacts
- Projects you’re working on (or you’ve completed)
- Goals they’re looking to achieve
- Likely milestones your product should meet for them
- Feedback they’re giving you (set-up, first thoughts, early results)
Those key contacts are important. They should understand how their business is working with your product on board, and the impact it’s having. They should have plenty to say about it. That means they’re likely to be relatively senior – in their department or the company.
Gathering information is one step. You must also develop great relationships and ongoing dialogue with customers you have in mind for stories. Which team members are responsible for this? And who’s nurturing the relationship with the person you’d like to interview for the story?
Should you want a longstanding customer to tell their story, you probably have a warm relationship with key contacts already. If you’re focusing on new customers though, this is likely to be work-in-progress.
Have team updates on your story targets. It’s great to reinforce the importance of story creation with other colleagues. It’s also an opportunity to gather information you’re not aware of yet.
This information gathering and nurturing stage looks different for every business. I cannot give you a definitive template.
And that’s ok. Develop a system that works for you and your customers.
When to ask
Asking too early is not a good thing. You know that. And they probably haven’t used your product enough to give meaningful feedback.
Asking too late can also be tricky. Whilst I’m a big fan of working with longstanding clients to create stories, don’t expect them to remember what it was like before they used your product. Or how they decided to involve you.
(When working with longstanding customers, focus on how they’ve benefited and evolved during their time with you on board)
When your customer has just given you good feedback – that’s a good time to ask. It might well form the basis of their story. Maybe it’s something about their performance since using your product, or the impact it’s having on their business.
By keeping close to your target customers, you’ll be first to hear this.
Timing isn’t black and white. You can’t say “we’ll ask them after three months”. And even if they report good feedback early on, you might choose to wait until they have more experience of your product.
It also depends on the type of story you’re looking to create. Do you want to demonstrate the ease of set-up, or is it more about their transformation over time?
Timing matters, but it’s not a science.
How to ask
BIG TIP: have an ‘asking process’.
Know who will ask and know who they’re asking. Let’s dig into both of those first.
Who will ask?
The person who asks your customer…
- Should know the contact well and often be talking to them
- Should be senior in your business to highlight the importance of the ask
Sometimes, the person can be both. It depends on the size and structure of your business.
This person should also know what they’re asking for.
Who are they asking?
The best person to ask is the person you want to interview. Ideally, not even their PA. The actual person.
That person should have enough knowledge and insight to form the story. They should know how your product fits into their business and have feedback about its impact.
Most stories come from people in senior roles. But you can also create stories by interviewing someone ‘at the rock face’ so to speak. Know what type of story you’re looking to create.
Asking via email has many advantages over a phone call:
- They have time to reflect on what you’ve asked
- You can be consistent with how you ask (and explain what you need clearly)
- It’s quick to do
You can also cc people into that email, should you want to keep others in the loop (their PA, your colleagues, for example).
If necessary, follow up with a phone call after a few days. Again, think carefully about who makes the call. In an ideal world it’s the email sender.
Have a win-win mindset
This bit is important. To get that “yes” your customer must appreciate what’s in it for them. And it’s your job to tell them.
You’re not asking to create a success story for your business. It’s about them and their achievements. They’re the hero and you’re the guide that helped them get there.
A story about their success is valuable for their marketing too – internally and externally. It can boost team morale, reassure their own customers, and enhance their reputation.
So, when you ask, do so from this perspective. It’s a collaborative piece of marketing to help both of you.
You should also be aware of the objections you might have to overcome before getting your “yes”.
- Fear of giving away secrets – reassure them that you’ll only use information they’re comfortable sharing. And offer to anonymise any (business or contact) names they don’t wish to publish
- Fear of how they’ll come across – reassure them they get to review and approve the final story
- Fear it’ll take too much of their time – be specific about what you need from them (and highlight how you’ll handle most of it)
- Fear of where the story will appear – tell them how you’ll use it (and highlight the benefits to them)
What to put in your ‘ask’ email
This is where people get ‘blank page’ fright or inconsistency creeps in. So create a template to use.
Don’t “ask a favour” and be clear about the mutual opportunity (remember your mindset).
Here’s a quick example to show you what I mean:
Subject line: Shall we tell your story?
Hi [first name],
It was great to hear how well you’re getting on with [product name]. [the specific feedback customer gave you] must be making a huge difference to your business.
We’d love to create a story around your recent success. Would you be up for it?
Others will value reading about how you overcame your challenges. It’ll shine a light on your achievement.
In fact, you could use this story in your own marketing too. For example, some of our clients have used their story to showcase developments to customers or boost internal team morale.
Here’s an example of a previous customer story we’ve written.
To create your story, we’d arrange a convenient time for you to have an informal chat with [person who writes your stories]. This is usually no more than 45 minutes. Prompted by questions, you’d explain the situation before you came to us and what you’ve managed to achieve since.
Confidentiality is important to us too, so we’d only publish metrics you were comfortable sharing.
We want you to love your story, so you’d review it before completion. No risk of you being misquoted. Once you’ve approved it we can both publicise it.
Shall we get started on this [first name]?
Just let me know.
You’ll notice there’s no incentive aside from the mutual benefit. In most cases, that suffices. And you’re more likely to get a better story from them if they’re committed without an incentive.
(I do know some SaaS companies who make creating a customer story part of their contract. It can also be a useful negotiating tactic, should you need to reduce your project fee.)
One big tip is to show them a story you’ve created about another customer. Give them confidence you’ll showcase them at their best.
Pitfalls to avoid
- Are you interviewing the right person? They must have the insight you’re looking for.
- Does their business policy allow collaborations like this?
- Are they happy to be named in the story? Otherwise, you’ll have to anonymise it.
- Do you know what their sign-off procedure looks like? Sometimes it’s complex!
- Is something not going well for the customer, or has your relationship deteriorated? Don’t ask.
Once you’ve got your “yes”
Getting “yes” is just the start.
To make the most of this opportunity, and create an amazing customer story, you must have a proven process that covers:
- How you carry out the customer call
- How you draft the story
- Your feedback and approvals process
- How you publish the story
- How you repurpose it
That looks like another article to me. So, keep an eye and I’ll write it soon.
Meanwhile, should you have any queries about creating customer stories, please get in touch.
(We all get a “no” occasionally. If that’s you, don’t be downhearted. Find out if there’s a better time to ask in the future, then move on. You’ll find it so much easier when you have a process in place.)