In today's competitive enterprise technology marketplace, the customer success story can be the tipping point for turning a prospect into a customer. As an influencer, successful customers can have a major impact.

But what makes a customer story successful? Of course, the success story begins with a happy customer. But are you focusing on the right customers? Are you writing the best stories? Can your sales team and its prospects find the most relevant stories on your Web site?

Focus on sales and marketing needs

To create successful customer reference stories, you must match your customer references to your company's target markets. If you can answer "yes" to the following two key questions, your customer success stories can play a key role in driving sales:

  1. Does your marketing organization have the references needed to support current and future campaigns?

  2. Does your sales staff have success stories that target current prospects?

To answer these questions, measure your customer references against your company's sales and marketing strategies using the following criteria:

  • Industry. Do you have references in those industries that your company is targeting? Do your success stories include a section on those industries' challenges?

  • Business environment. What business issues do you need to represent? Again, do you have the references? Do you reference those issues in the story content?

  • Company size. Do you have references to cover all targeted company sizes: startup, small cap, mid-market, Fortune 1000, Fortune 500 companies? Which are most important? Do your success stories include a customer snapshot with the company size, if relevant?

  • Geography. Do your references represent targeted geographic market segments?

  • Market segment. What other market segment parameters should be included in your success stories?

  • Product line. What product lines need to be covered? Do you have references that demonstrate success using those product lines? Do you include that information in your success stories?

  • Audience. What audience are you targeting: executive, business line management, technical? Are your success stories written to address that audience's need for information? Do all writers use the same interview guide to create consistent copy across all success stories?

Create compelling stories

After you have identified the reference criteria and the appropriate reference customers, the next step is to manage the content development and delivery process to gain the most impact.

The following guidelines will help you create the most value for your program:

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Lucy Sanna is a consultant with The Phelon Group (