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Stories that Sell - An Interview with Casey Hibbard

I've long been a proponent of storytelling for marketing and sales

As most of you know, I've long been a proponent of storytelling for marketing and sales. Customer stories are one of the most valuable ways B2B companies can share their compelling value. They have the ability to simplify the complexity of considered purchases, validate that what you promise is true, and mitigate risk by proving the business case.

StoriesThatSell Casey Hibbard, and her book Stories that Sell, provides a wealth of information about how to plan for, research and create customer success stories that help you sell more—and do so with ease. And, she ought to know. She's written over 450 of them over the last 10 years for companies such as, Macrovision, Jobfox, USA.NET, IHS, and Vocus.

In the interview below, Casey shares the answers to 7 questions to show you just how valuable your customers stories can be for validating your company's compelling value:

1. What’s the biggest mistake you see B2B marketers make when developing customer success stories?

Marketers are simply not using their customer success stories enough. A story documenting a specific customer’s success with your product or service is one of the most powerful pieces of marketing and sales content you can have. Too often, companies just throw that story up on their web sites and don’t take it further than that.

I’ve seen companies make customer stories the very center of all their communications efforts and it really paying off. That means telling that story every chance that you get – in webinars for lead-gen, at events, live sales conversations, on your blog, on Twitter, in pitches to key media, in training your sales team and all new employees, in awards submissions, in white papers, and the list goes on. If you’re going to invest in capturing a story, tell it every chance you get.

2. Can you share some factors that motivate a prospect to seek out a customer success story?

As marketers, we make a lot of promises. Buyers are wary of solutions that haven’t performed as promised. If someone is going to invest in a product or service – especially a big, high-risk investment – they have to have confidence that it will pay off.

In the age of authenticity, with eBay feedback and Amazon reviews, there’s nothing like a happy customer vouching for you. Customer success stories and case studies document the success of a specific customer, giving buyers the details and evidence they need to justify a purchase.

3. In the book you present the concept of a story needs assessment. Can you talk about why this is important and the types of things companies can learn when they assess their story needs?

So many B2B marketers don’t approach success stories with a plan or vision. So often it’s a matter of, “We have a happy customer, so let’s do a story.” That success story or case study may or may not support your current sales and marketing efforts.

Effective customer stories are very closely tied to your targets. You need to identify your key targets and create a success story wish list from there. What industries are they in? What’s their size? What’s their geographic location? What are their current challenges? What position is the reader in – technical or business? Then decide what stories you need so that, no matter what type of prospect is evaluating your solutions, you have a success story to match.

4. You share a number of ways in which customer success stories can be used in the book. Can you highlight some differences in how success stories are best used in marketing versus sales activities?

Traditionally, there’s been a misconception that customer stories, in the form of case studies, were really only valuable in the latter stages of the sales cycle, when prospects are validating a solution. But many organizations have found customer stories to be equally important throughout the complete customer lifecycle, from lead generation to sales to selling more to existing customers.

The differences between usage in marketing and sales are usually in the amount of information you give people. You offer more details as prospects get further into the sales cycle. In marketing, you might have a summary of a customer’s story or a video story/testimonial on your web site or on your blog. Or, you might feature a customer on a free webinar that folks sign up for. You get someone interested enough to learn more about your solution.

At some point they have the option to read, hear or view a more complete customer case study, or a sales rep walks them through that. The really detailed customer stories, case studies with return on investment data, are most valuable for closing sales. At that point, people want more than a general overview. They want numbers.

5. Testimonials have long been attributed to increased credibility but, at the same time, we all know a company isn’t going to publish anything that doesn’t make them—or their customers—look good.

Have you seen a shift in what constitutes a believable testimonial in a customer success story—especially given the rise in social media? And, is there a tip you can share with us about eliciting effective testimonials?

My #1 tip: always get testimonials from the actual customer! People are definitely skeptical of the “PR” testimonial, a glowing statement that sounds like it’s been written by a PR person (and probably has). If we want to keep testimonials believable, then they need to be from customers. The customer will  always give you a more authentic-sounding quote, with more personality. That’s not to say that you can’t do a little smoothing out, in collaboration with the customer, but try to maintain as much character and authenticity as you can.

The best testimonials emerge when you can really get a customer talking, and usually on the phone. Gathering testimonials by email doesn’t allow you to dig for more detail and elaboration. You start with open-ended questions and keep asking until you get your answer – or before you start annoying the customer.

6. Your book showcases 7 story formats. Which one is your favorite to write, and why?

Good question. My favorite is the feature-story format with call-out sections.  I enjoy storytelling and this format provides the best opportunity to tell an engaging story. It also seems to be the way that case studies and success stories are headed. You have the chance to really kick off with an interesting lead paragraph, punctuate the story with powerful quotes and use descriptive subheads. It’s interesting to those who read the body of the story but also to those who skim only. If you’re pitching your story to editors, they tend to prefer this type of presentation as well.

7. What’s the most surprising thing that’s happened to you as a result of writing Stories that Sell?

The amazing connections I’ve made. I’ve met and collaborated with some really interesting thought leaders on blogs, articles and webinars. I sought out these types of experts while researching and writing the book but it took the book’s release before our paths crossed. It would have been better to know them during the book process, and integrate some of their input in Stories that Sell. Instead, I’m using more dynamic venues like my blog, teleclasses and webinars to share new information on my topic.

Now, do yourself a favor and go buy the book. It's truly a hands-on guide for creating Stories that Sell. Plus, you get two free bonuses. Go check it out!

If you're not reading her blog already, Casey continues to share tips and insights that expand what you'll learn in her book.

Read the original blog entry...

More Stories By Ardath Albee

Ardath Albee, CEO & B2B Marketing Strategist of her firm Marketing Interactions, helps companies with complex sales increase and quantify marketing effectiveness by developing and executing interactive eMarketing strategies driven by compelling content.

Her book, eMarketing Strategies for the Complex Sale, was published by McGraw-Hill.

Her articles and blog posts have been used for university ezines, published in CRM Today, Selling Power, Rain Today and Enterprise CRM News. Marketing Profs has incorporated her blog posts into a number of their "Get to The Point" newsletters.

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