Most enterprises understand the value of effective corporate and product brochures and a compelling website, but many enterprises underestimate the value of success stories—also known as case studies.
"Few things are harder to put up with than the annoyance of a good example," Mark Twain once quipped. In a business context, managers and technical professionals alike respond to the power of example, which is the essence of a business success story.
Today, business customers are demanding; they require that vendors deliver success stories tailored to the customer's particular industry. To justify their investment in the solution, they need real-world proof that your company's solution has been successfully implemented at another company.
Accordingly, enterprises face a critical challenge: They must produce case studies in each of their core target verticals.
Success Story Value: Seven Points to Consider
The following are the top reasons that success stories are such a crucial part of the marketing process, especially when complex business issues and solutions are involved:
- Examples aid understanding. Complex business issues and solutions can be better understood through examples. Most people have struggled with a difficult concept, only to grasp it when someone explains it by saying "for example..."
- Success stories generate empathy. Properly written success stories enable the reader to empathize with the problem or challenge that the customer in the success story faced—in many cases, because they face a similar problem.
- Success stories are credible. Marketing success stories seem more credible to readers than marketing brochures—because success stories relate a factual situation rather than marketing claims.
- Success stories tell a tale. People love a story. The success story writer weaves a tale that can help readers take the first step toward solving a complex, and potentially expensive, business challenge.
- Success stories address a specific audience. Your potential customers want to feel that their specific needs are being addressed. If the customer is in the healthcare industry and the success story describes an application at a telecom, it's hard for the customer to identify with the story. That's why most enterprises that adopt success stories as a key marketing vehicle tailor at least one success story to each main audience they target.
- Success stories can demonstrate ROI. In some success stories, the benefits of the solution can be quantified. A return on investment that can be documented can help form a compelling case for the adoption of the solution.
- Success stories promote client satisfaction. As a form of closure to a successful client project, success stories can increase client satisfaction. Some enterprises provide a PDF file, printed copies, or even a framed hard copy of the final success story to their clients as a form of thanks. A framed copy that hangs on the wall of the customer's office is a symbol of the successful relationship between the customer and the solution provider.
For many enterprises, expanding the role of success stories in their marketing and sales strategy can provide the missing piece to the puzzle. Effective success stories can be posted on the website, handed out at conferences, packaged and tailored to particular audiences for client meetings, and sent in direct mail packages.
In highly competitive businesses, success stories can provide the competitive advantage that enterprises need.
However, writing success stories without a careful plan can lead to suboptimal results—duplication of target audiences and omission of others, for example. At the same time, poorly written or disorganized success stories reflect badly on the organization—causing more harm than good. And an improper approach to success story writing—failing to involve the customer at the right times, for example—may alienate the customer.
For those reasons, many businesses retain the services of those that specialize in writing success stories—agencies or freelancers. If, however, members of your marketing team or your product managers are up to the task themselves, they should keep in mind the following best-practices for writing successful case studies and success stories.
How to Write Success Stories That Succeed
Here are seven proven steps for writing success stories.
1. Convince the customer
In many enterprises, the customer is the number one factor that limits development of success stories.
To help convince customers to agree to sign their name to a success story, you must explain the benefits they will derive. For example, remind them that they can show the completed success story to senior management or board—demonstrating that they are innovative, solution-oriented, and focused on business benefits.
Another way to help convince customers is to tell them they will receive a framed copy of the final success story as a form of thanks. That framed copy, hanging on the wall of the customer's office, will become a symbol of the successful relationship between the customer and the solution provider. Over the years, colleagues, co-workers, visitors, and others will see that physical reminder of their achievement.
2. Work with customers to ensure success
Customer involvement is much more than just the initial "OK" to proceed. The following tips will help ensure a positive customer experience and successful completion:
- Obtain customer permission before writing the document, solicit input during the development, and secure approval after drafting it.
- Rather than asking the customer to draft quotes, write them for their review; doing so usually results in more compelling material.
- Use "homegrown" customer photos to personalize the story and help connect with readers.
3. Agree on a common organization
The time-tested, most effective organization for a success story follows the problem-solution-benefit flow:
- First describe the business or technical problem or issue.
- Then describe the solution to this problem or resolution of the issue.
- Finally, describe how the customer benefited from the solution.
That natural storytelling sequence resonates with readers.
4. Get started with a bang
The most prominent parts of a success story (title, subtitle, and benefits bullets) are typically the most difficult parts to get right. My best advice is to start with a bang. Use action verbs and emphasize benefits in the title and subtitle. Include a short customer quote in larger text. Then, summarize the key points in 2-3 succinct bullet points. The goal is to tease the reader into wanting to read more.
5. Try to quantify benefits
No single element in a success story is more compelling than the ability to tie quantitative benefits to the solution. For example, "Using Solution X saved Customer Y more than $Z after just six months of use."
Quantifying benefits can be challenging, but it's not impossible. The key is to present imaginative ideas to the customer for ways to quantify the benefits, and remain flexible during this discussion. If benefits cannot be quantified, attempt to develop a range of qualitative benefits, which can be compelling as well.
6. Address highly tailored solutions
Even highly tailored solutions and services can be described in an effective success story—by writing first about a more general problem in the industry, then transitioning to the specific problem that the customer faced.
In the solution section, use the opposite sequence: Describe how the solution solved the specific problem, then indicate how it can also help resolve the issue more broadly within the industry.
Beginning more generally draws readers into the story. Concluding more generally allows them to understand how the solution can address their problem.
7. Find the right writer
Finding adequate staff time to make the success stories happen is a common logistical limitation. And even with the best plan, a success story is doomed to failure if the writer doesn't know how to write success stories.
A talented writer can make the difference between an effective success story and one that falls flat. When marketing staff time is limited, many enterprises outsource success story writing.
Enterprises usually can't afford not to develop success stories, because chances are their competitors are using the power of example effectively and so gaining an advantage. In most instances, a set of effective success stories can pay for themselves in increased sales.
Many prospects need verification that a vendor's solution can successfully address the types of business challenges they face in their industry. Success stories can provide proof.
What do you think of these tips on how to write success stories? What tips would you add? I'd love to hear your thoughts.