Facts tell, but stories sell. That statement has never been more relevant than in the realm of inbound marketing.
Stories have the power to draw us into the lives of others, cause us to feel empathy, and can motivate us to act. When we see ourselves in the struggles, conflicts, and dilemmas of the heroes of stories, we can then also see ourselves making the same decision they made to overcome the problems.
HubSpot explains that today’s consumers make about 60% of their buying decision before speaking to a sales rep. They are searching the internet, browsing your website, and gathering intel prior to buying. In addition to product features and benefits, demo videos, and blog articles, what are they looking for? Testimonials and customer success stories. They are looking for proof. They want to know, directly from real product users, “Is this product worth my investment? Will it do what is promised? How did it help someone like me?”
The terms case study and customer story are often used interchangeably. However, they’re not the same. Both have their place in inbound marketing and are useful at different points in the sales funnel. This article focuses on writing customer stories, but it’s helpful to examine the difference between the two first.
A case study is typically technical and includes details about the problem and the solution that the business provided to their customer. It ends with data and reports of ROI, revenue growth, and cost savings. Think of a case study as a scientific report. You’ll often see case studies used in technical businesses such as manufacturing and software.
Case studies are excellent for the decision stage of the funnel. At this stage, decision-makers want to see the data on relevant use cases. They need to know exactly how the product or service can be implemented, solve their specific problem, and have a positive impact on their bottom line.
Whereas case studies tell the facts, customer stories sell the experience.
A customer story has an emotional undertone which highlights the customer’s problem and the change which occurred as a result of using a product or working with a business. Emotional impact wins over cold hard facts when buyers are exploring their options.
Customer stories, also known as success stories or case stories, are best used in the consideration stage of the sales funnel. When stakeholders are considering different solutions to their problem, they typically want to cut to the bottom line. They want to know whether or not similar businesses have had success using a solution and what their experience was like using the product. They will leave the technical details and financial analysis to the decision-makers.
So, how do you write customer stories that engage buyers and lead them further down the funnel? How can you write compelling success stories that make them want to book a demo or schedule a consultation?
In a customer story, the use of characters, plot, conflict, and resolution engage the reader and impact them emotionally. Writing a compelling customer success story involves telling the customer’s story in lively language and descriptive details. You’ll want to structure it with four scenes: situation, obstacle, solution, and outcome.
Set up the situation and introduce the customer. They are the hero of the story. Like the beginning of any good story, the first scene allows us into their world. The reader starts to empathize with them and finds the customer’s story relatable.
Describe the customer, a bit about their history and their mission. What are their goals? What’s important to them? Help the reader connect with the customer by humanizing the business. Tell about the people behind the brand and why we should care about them.
Next, describe the roadblocks the customer faced in achieving their goals and carrying out their mission. What were these obstacles doing to their business? Be very descriptive about the pain these hurdles were causing to their business, their employees, or their customers. Help the reader, who is likely experiencing similar pains, feel empathy toward the customer.
What did the customer need to solve their problem and how did they know it would take outside help to get them out of their situation?
Finally, the wise guide comes along to rescue the hero from peril. In this part of the story, tell how the customer knew you were the one to solve their problem. What fantastic benefits of your product or service factored into their decision?
Describe how you and your customer worked together to help them overcome their pains.
What was the result of your relationship? What successes has the customer enjoyed since implementing your solution? Did they achieve their goals? How much has their business grown as a result of using the product? How has their business turned around with your help?
Numbers are great here to illustrate the significant impact your solution had on the customer’s business.
Customer success stories are powerful content that shouldn’t be relegated to the “Customers” page of your website. They make great video content, blog articles, social media posts, and can be added to eBooks and white papers as proof of the viability of your product or service.
Further reading: 4 Ways to Leverage Customer Success Stories in Inbound Marketing
Make it a practice to ask your customers not only for testimonials but for additional details to flesh out their customer story. Compelling customer success stories have the power to engage potential buyers and lead them to contact your company or make a purchase. Adding them to your marketing and sales content should be a key piece of your inbound marketing strategy.
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