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The Art of Customer Storytelling


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Every company has customer stories to tell. Some don’t know they have them, some don’t tell them well while others miss the mark by using them to carry marketing too overtly.

This eBook is about finding those stories within your happiest customers and harnessing them to support your business. It’s about how to structure evidence and validation into your offering as a powerful form of sales enablement and marketing.

It is for sales and marketing leaders and those responsible for creating customer references within their organization.

In this ebook we hope to share specific stories about storytelling to advance your sales and marketing efforts.

Published in: Business, Education

The Art of Customer Storytelling

  1. 1. THE ART OFCUSTOMERSTORYTELLINGInsights about how to find and tell better storiesand harness the power of your twitter:@centerline310 South Harrington St. Raleigh, NC 27603
  2. 2. An Important Quiz Does your company have accessible customer stories powerful enough to help you win new business? Yes No 1
  3. 3. So what is this all about? Shortest answer Increase sales using your best asset. Shorter answer We’re going to help you understand the power of good customer references and how to make stories work harder for you. Short answer Every company has customer stories to tell. Some don’t know they have them, some don’t tell them well while others miss the mark by using them to carry marketing too overtly. This is about finding those stories within your happiest customers and harnessing them to support your business. It’s about how to structure evidence and validation into your offering as a powerful form of sales enablement and marketing. It is for sales and marketing leaders and those responsible for creating customer references within their organization. In this ebook we hope to share specific stories about storytelling to advance your sales and marketing efforts.2
  4. 4. A better wayto market?Validation and evidenceMarketing and sales people have been telling The truth is, when your customers are talkingstories for centuries by finding the right story about you and the things you do to make theirfor the right occasion to win more business. lives easier, other people naturally pay more attention. It stands to reason that tellingSome stories are more fluff than others. And better, more deeply engaging stories willwhen the business is telling a story, people address skepticism and build greatercan’t help but to be skeptical. It’s just the way authenticity and is. That is what this eBook is all about.It is a primer on how to findand tell better stories andharness the power ofyour customers. 3
  5. 5. Customer Story Platform Table of Contents Difference Between a Customer Reference Program and a Customer Story Platform 5 What’s Missing From Customer Reference Programs? 8 10 Elements of a Great Customer Story 11 The Customer Story Platform Model 22 How Can a Customer Story Platform Help Salespeople? 23 Centerline Digital Customer Reference Hub 24 Conclusion 25 4
  6. 6. Difference Between a CustomerReference Program and aCustomer Story PlatformCustomer Reference Programs areprimarily about gathering andmanaging testimonial assets to Customer Reference Programsupport and/or shorten salescycles. The emphasis is on assetmanagement and reference contacts • Stores reference assetsand not the quality and efficacy • Tracks how often customers are being usedof the content. Customer StoryPlatform (CSP) is a concept created • Tracks reference-able customersby Centerline Digital to address the • Fields requests for testimonialsmost common limitation of most • Hybrid between a contact database andtraditional Customer Reference a Content Management SystemPrograms, the customer’s authenticstory. The platform is the key.The Customer Story Platformwas built for enterprisesales-forces, who need:high-quality, reusable story Customer Story Platformassets that can be usedonline, in social media, in • Built on a solid content strategypresentations, conferences, • Focus is on the quality of the story toldkiosks, etc. to help them win • Emphasis on story creation, higher-qualitybusiness. • Custom-tailored story creationThe CSP is about capturing the • Creating persuasion from objective,right stories for the right reasons third-partiesand targeting the right outputs to • Making the most relevant stories readilyget the most out of the stories accessiblebeing told. ...... It is best to focus efforts on fewer high impact customers than 5 dilute focus across many, perhaps less compelling, customer stories.
  7. 7. Think of the Customer Story a substance layer that sits on top of your customer reference program that makes your multimedia assetsbetter. The Customer Story Platform is for companies that want to augment their existing customer referenceprograms with more engaging, substantive and results-based stories. The Customer Story Platform is not areplacement for a Customer Reference Program — they work in unison.We built the platform to allow people to focus on increasing the quality of those dynamic, reusable videos of yourhappiest customers validating your business and your offering. We built it because we know these stories don’thappen by accident. They require focused energy and investment. The platform helps people gain that focus. Where to Invest The Payoff 1 Find the right customers. More engaged storytellers, improved level of confidence, more compelling stories. They are the evidence. 2 Make the story interesting. Deepen engagement, broaden appeal, make it spreadable, increase efficacy. 3 Prepare the interviewer. Extract the best possible story, surface the best details, keep the story objective. Uncover salient details. 4 Make the story clear and Allow your audience to visualize their problems understandable. in your hands. Appeal to the broadest audience. Zero in on the insight. Take a stand, have a differentiated insight, 5 make the story more memorable. Illuminate your focal point that helps validate your offering with strength. 6 Editing. Tighten up the story. Make it more professional, more believable and easier to internalize. Customer references are most effective when used as a high-level entry point in ...... the conventional sales funnel. They are best used to enthuse and advance a 6 discussion, and not as an attempt to include all relevant sales and marketing information.
  8. 8. Your Current References Aren’t Working if ...• More energy is going into explaining your past client experiences than showing them.• You are delivering several hours of testimonial with only a few seconds of insight.• Your sales people aren’t using good customer stories everyday.• Your new client prospects aren’t persuaded.• You aren’t putting them into presentations, conferences, pitches, social media and websites.• You have to “bug” your past clients to field phone calls from your prospects.• You’re more worried about reference burnout than winning the deal.• You’re spending more time looking for that one story from last year that no one can seem to find.• Your customer references sound more like a product demonstration than an outside perspective about you.• People are dropping out before they finish seeing the story in its entirety. 7 ...... A conversational tone, versus a sales-oriented one, is more engaging and persuasive.
  9. 9. What’s Missing From Customer Reference Programs? Story.Your customers each have a story to tell — and that story is the content that can support your next big win.Customer stories provide a unique opportunity for existing customers to earn you additional business. Let’s faceit: however you market yourself, your messaging and positioning simply can’t compete with validation of your cus-tomers telling their story on your behalf — compellingly, sincerely, persuasively. Your future customers wantmore than a simple business transaction. They want to know that you can offer what they need, that you are theright fit and that you, the company, can understand them because you’ve helped others like them.We know storytelling will help you craft that right fit.We see customer story design as the actof turning complex business problemsinto easy-to-follow content. ...... Impart extended benefit and greater knowledge to the 8 customer beyond the immediate solution implementation story.
  10. 10. Better fishermen typically know more about fishing, know thetechniques, catch limits, etc. and they find better fishing holes.Better storytellers, by the same token, know where to find thebest stories — at the very least, they know where your mostauthentic and persuasive stories are, how to catch the stories andknow their limits.Storytelling is complicated. If your offering or sales cycles aresteeped in complexity, and the value of that offering is difficult tounderstand, it’s possible that one story isn’t capable of telling itall. Consider telling the story in pieces.Key questions to uncover your best story:1) What customer is most invested in your success — whose success is tied to yours?2) What customer is evolving or maturing your offering the most?3) What sale of your offering had the greatest impact on the customer and their market?4) Who is most capable of making your offering a no-brainer? A successful customer story not only speaks to the solution ...... or service you provide, but also how the customer was able 9 to reach their own goals and growth because of the support and collaboration they received from you.
  11. 11. How toFindtheRight,ght,GreatStories • Your best stories will have, at the same time, broad appeal to create more connections to a wider set of prospects and narrowed insights that really resonate with specific audiences. • They should be able to be told verbally and create a strong positive reaction. • They should be told by people who are legitimately interested in the story’s origin and outcome. Their interest in the story being told provides the strength required to make it work. • They should be told from a personal point of view. • They should have some distance from your brand. Where will your customer reference videos be delivered once they are completed (your website, to a specific person, a social media channel, ...... etc.)? Knowing this in advance helps define the content of the video... and 10 will help you know where the video will be best-leveraged or posted (your website, YouTube, etc.).
  12. 12. 10 Elements of aGreat Customer StoryEvery customer story is different but the best ones have the same underlying “magic” in common. By balancingyour focus and energy on the 10 strategic and functional elements, the stories you tell will truly change the wayyour prospects respond to the value you offer. They are:Strategic Functional1. Interesting story 7. Preproduction2. Interviewer knowledge 8. Editing3. Story clarity 9. Supporting footage4. Quantifiable results customer is 10. Story activation comfortable talking about5. Substance vs. Aesthetics6. Thought-provoking insights ...... The interviewee’s position within their company should relate directly 11 to the primary audience you wish to reach with the reference. Interview your client’s CEO if that is the role you wish to reach next.
  13. 13. 1. INTERESTING STORYv 0197 0198 0199 Your stories need to hold the audience’s interest, but what’s interesting to you may not be for those buying your solutions. It’s what they see that is important. Depending on the goal of your story, you may need to adjust accordingly, but for most intents and purposes, you really have to empathize with your audience. Here’s a trick: look at “interesting” from five different perspectives: 1) What’s interesting to you and your brand? 2) What’s interesting to your prospect? 3) What’s interesting to your prospect’s customers? 4) What’s interesting to an independent analysts researching your offering and that of your nearest direct competitor? 5) Finally, what do these perspectives have in common? What are the most significant findings? Can these perspectives help you craft an interesting story? ...... In the delivery of the story, passion and personality is just 12 as important as the story itself when the goal is motivat- ing a potential customer to take action.
  14. 14. 2 INTERVIEWER KNOWLEDGE The catch has a lot to do with the quality of the fisherman. By that same token, interview- ers play a critical role in creating your best stories. They know how to create the best possible conditions to extract the optimal narrative. And it’s not just about the story. It’s just as much about the story-teller. A great interviewer knows the story intimately and knows how to bring it to the surface. He or she knows how to shape the narrative, how to comfort the storytellers, and how to listen and bring out the best. A good inter- viewer knows how to balance objectivity with the benefits of your offering in an environment of authenticity, and does so with experience. If the story isn’t coming to the surface, good interviewers know how to find it through the voice and character of the storyteller. ...... Location based interviews tend to be more compelling as the13 story can be visually supported and the interviewees are typically more relaxed.
  15. 15. 3. STORY CLARITY Clarity is very important. The hardest thing is to make a unique insight understandable, relevant and persuasive. Clarity is what makes your story successful. Here is a valuable exercise: with existing stories in mind, ask yourself the following questions about their clarity: 1) Can you distill the story down into 10 words? 2) Can you find the sharable insight? 3) If you swap your name out with a competitor’s, does the story still make perfect sense? If so, you need to modify. 4) Does the story compel people to think clearly about how you solve problems? 5) Are your stories focusing on the customer more than your offering? 6) Does your story draw a line between what is and what can be? 7) Does the story build? Does it motivate listeners to want more? 8) Is there any doubt that your customer benefited from your involvement? ......14 At the current rate of growth, video will overtake written content in terms of use within most buying processes.
  16. 16. 4. QUANTIFIABLE RESULTS A CUSTOMER IS COMFORTABLE TALKING ABOUTProof. Your customer stories should be centered In order to get your customer to state that,around evidence and validation. Is there clear, because of your offering, they had a 45% increaseirrefutable evidence that your solution helped in overall revenue over a 12 month period, oryour customer solve a problem worth solving? And something to that effect, you have to make sureto what degree? Capturing that “essence” they are comfortable saying so. They have to ownauthentically is a silver bullet. that statement.Think about the stories you want to tell and how The key to this is your customer’s ability to “own”you want them to be heard. You want the stories their result. Sometimes the outcomes are softeryou tell to tactfully and powerfully compel and less quantifiable. Stating they had a happierpeople to take a step closer to considering your company culture as a result is easy to say becauseoffering. You want your prospects to hear the story it’s not quantifiable. Your audience is left toand feel an increased confidence in your interpret the value of that outcome in terms ofsolutions. Having one customer share their their problems and needs. And leaving this up toexperience with your prospects does this. interpretation is a way to devalue the story’sSharing concrete results makes that story intent.stronger. ...... In the medium of video it’s best draw out the story through its main 15 points, high level conversation. The inspiring points that viewers can relate to.
  17. 17. 5. Substance vs. Aesthetics There are two sides to quality. We’ve developed this simple “story algebra” to balance cinematography and shot composition with story substance and clarity: People who create customer reference assets (stories) struggle with this balance everyday. They wonder how much (very finite) energy they should devote to writing or shaping a story vs. how much they should spend on the aesthetics and in post production. While mileage may vary, there is always a good balance to be struck between the aesthetic and the story’s substance. You know you are balancing the equation when your outcomes are successful and you’re staying on budget. ...... 16 You want to get viewers to see themselves in the same situation, empathize with their hardships, be inspired by their journey and moved to action.
  18. 18. v 6 THOUGHT PROVOKING INSIGHT A thought-provoking and relevant insight is one of the best ways to validate your offering. Without insight, your customer’s story is just marketing. Example for Technology X Company: With insight, you will create meaning. “I knew the only way I was going to be able to solve the mayor’s problem was to Think about it this way: Your prospect has seen your customer reference video on your website. outsmart our city’s crime with newer and They are interested but not yet ready to buy from more agile views into bigger data. you. What are the things you want your prospects Technology X Company had the platform to take away if they aren’t immediately persuaded to buy your offering? Answer: You want them to and ideas that could help me reduce come away from the story with a strong, crime by 20% in 9 months, and they memorable feeling that your company “gets” worked through my unique situation with them. You want to diminish doubt and skepticism me.” that your company understands customers, is adaptive and competent. And you want all this essence to come from your customer’s story. The overall insight above is using bigger We believe your stories should deliver unique and data as a crime fighting tool. The subject is meaningful insight into “why you?” And with that, about fighting the mayor’s crime problem. the story should heighten the customer’s The object is newer and more agile views into confidence in your ability to address their unique bigger data. The supporting role was played by challenge. In the example below, we illustrate a Technology X Company. It’s more about the insight complex story with a hierarchy of insights. and less about the company. ...... The speaker or speakers must be able to express their story with passion 17 and authenticity. This is the difference between “storytelling” and “selling.”
  19. 19. 7 PREPRODUCTIONPreproduction makes everythingsmoother. Done right, it assuresyou are getting the right people,locations, shots and ultimately,the story. Having preproduction time to research, talk with subject experts, client, sales reps, business partners and the customer also contributes to the overall quality and relevance of the story. Good planning is never evident in a well-told story — unfortunately bad planning is. Through effective preproduction you are able to scout and select the best location, interview and select the most appropriate contacts, and set up the right conditions to capture quality supporting footage (B-roll.) These may seem like “nice-to-haves” but are always the difference between a good story and a successful story. ...... 18 Think about where within the buying process your viewers are: (Influencer early on, purchaser later on?) How does this affect the stories you want to create?
  20. 20. 8.EDITING 8.EA good story is told three times. Once in the The most common editing mistakes that prohibit thepreparation, once in the shoot and then again in success of good stories are:the edit suite. 1) Edit is too tightly packed—intervieweesYou can interview for hours and find the mostpowerful story packed full of insights and validation seem like they’re speed-talking.and have it fall flat because of a poor edit. Imbalancebetween story substance and post-production canmean the difference between a very successful 2) There are too many details drowningreference and a vast waste of time, energy and out the editing is about drawing out the personality of 3) There is no sense of gravity that tiesthe customer in a way that feels natural, authentic the importance of the story to theand integrated. This is a delicate sensibility,and not a one-size-fits-all. The director needs to audience.communicate to the editor how to best portray theclient’s brand. 4) The keystone resolution to the problem isn’t clear. 5) You settle on too much company (you), and too little customer (them). The speaker/customer is providing their story as a reference for ...... you, their story contains the benefits provided by your products 19 or services, so it should be about their story and not the story (messaging, product name drops) you want them to tell.
  21. 21. We call supporting footage, “B-roll.” B-roll helps illustrate the customer’s personality and brand then ties it to the larger story. It provides the backdrop, helps carry the weight of context (of the solution and the speaker) and can help set the tone of your entire story. It’s difficult to plan sometimes, but knowing in advance where you can film good environment, tone and setting shots will pay off in huge dividends. Your editors will certainly agree. Directing the photographer/cameraman and associated team to capture B-roll appropriate to the customer brand leads to a much more interesting and cohesive story. Always grab as much as you can. Many companies have excellent B-roll all ready to go. Don’t forget to consider the work that those before you may have done. SUPPORTING FOOTAGE Videos are accessed most by INFLUENCERS early in the purchasing process – and they are most often found off the corporate website. Videos are accessed more by DECISION MAKERS later in the process20 ...... – and they are most often viewed on the corporate website. Take this into consideration in how you package and proliferate your references.
  22. 22. STORY ACTIVATIONActivation is what happens to the story once it’s Also, when you have a platform view of your storycompleted and “out there”. Activation is how you assets, you’ll gain an advantage by seeing theamp up your assets to work harder for you. additional pieces of your story broken up into smaller, more digestible parts. This will help you seeWhile “put it on YouTube” isn’t a strategy or a mea- how great assets can be repurposed or applied tosure of success, it’s a smart tactic for many reasons. other sales and marketing efforts. (Don’t forget toOne in particular is the Search Engine Optimization look on the cutting room floor.)(SEO) value you derive. YouTube, Vimeo and othervideo posting sites are indexed for search better than Your videos can also have a life beyond the web. Getthe video embedded on your site. Posting your video them on the desktops of your sales team through theon those sites with strategically chosen tags and use of a desktop widget, mobile application, featuredescription, will make your story more “findable”. them in an email campaign and use them at tradeAnother activation strategy is to break up the full shows and other events.customer reference story into smaller or individualsoundbites that can be used in blog posts, banner In all cases, they’re compelling pieces that directads, on video posting sites, and other search-engine people to you.friendly places around the web. You will beamplifying the message, pollinating links back toyour website where your customers may spend time.In addition, your smaller snippets can also be wellleveraged by sales reps in meetings and events, etc. Escaping the noise with your customer references takes both 21 ...... quality CONTENT and CONTEXT. This will help you create a signal that your target audience can separate from the noise.
  23. 23. CUSTOMER STORY PLATFORM MODELIt’s not enough to plan for, capture, edit and activate yourgreat customer stories. You also have to store or archivethem intelligently — so those who need them can accessthe right stories, instantly — not allowing them to fall intothe content chasm (that area of content between what’spublicly available and what’s private or behind the firewall).This content chasm is a growing challenge in mostcompanies. It is deep and widening! It holds an evolvingand maturing collection of sales enablement tools suchas customer reference videos, presentations and productdemonstration animations. When this chasm grows, sodoes the problem of accessing the right tools for the rightpurposes quickly and effectively.Compounding this challenge is a growing organization’squality control, along with the savvy salesperson’srequirement to build better sales presentations with thebest existing assets in minutes rather than hours or evendays.There are tools that address this problem by allowingsalespeople and marketers to access the right storiesby keeping them categorized and cataloged and readyto go.** The Reference Hub is a Web application developed by Centerline Digital tocategorize and catalog customer reference story assets. It provides ready accessto your company’s internal sales and marketing assets and allows employees tostitch together their own string of assets to tell a better story. You cannot underestimate the importance of an original voice. ...... The interviewee shouldnt sound like a marketing person or have 22 an over-polished delivery. S/he should come off as a real-world person who had to solve a real-world challenge.
  24. 24. HOW CAN A CUSTOMERSTORY PLATFORM HELP SALESPEOPLE? Imagine having a salesforce that is able to tell stories that professionally validate your company’s offering, using quality dialog from your best customers. A Customer Story Platform should help salespeople and marketers by giving them access to the company’s growing collection of sales enablement assets quickly. By enabling salespeople to pick from a tightly curated and tag-based body of video references and other media, they can cut the time required to build compelling presentations in half—or better. Additionally, they can all store their best compilations for other salespeople or continually improve on their own. Once done, they can simply send or share their new creations in any way they see fit. This cuts the sales cycle down, ensures that only the very best impressions are being made and better equips future sales efforts. A picture is worth a 1000 words while a metaphor is worth ...... 1000 pictures. Use an interesting metaphor or analogy. Inter-23 viewees should be able to crystalize the issues they deal with in a metaphor that makes a complex issue easy to understand.
  25. 25. The Centerline Digital Reference HubE The Reference Hub is a media asset management system on steroids. It helps fast-moving sales and marketing professionals create riveting presentations on the run. Among its many purposes, it: 1) Allows people to access the very best assets to piece together the best presentation in minutes. 2) Ensures the highest quality output by allowing the team to discriminate each asset — quality in, quality out. 3) Is all tag-based allowing people to quickly find specific assets. 4) Allows people to build, distribute and share their creations as they see fit. 5) Allows people to record their own introductions to customize their presentations. 24
  26. 26. CONCLUSIONEvery company is different and so is every story. Once you have a system and platform in place allowing your teamto perfect the necessary storytelling elements (plan, shoot, produce, activate and warehouse), the sky is the limitfor the types of sales and outreach your company can perform.To us, storytelling for sales and marketing and employee engagement is about setting exciting new benchmarksaround quality, creativity, results and access. For 15 years we have been using ideas, technology and hard work tocreate a storytelling platform for one of the world’s largest and oldest companies. This has given us the opportunityto blast through the obstacles and help people use better assets to work smarter with less energy.Centerline Digital is a group of Raleigh, NC-based writers, directors, strategists, Web/Mobile/Social creatives,animators and editors. The stories we help our clients tell have to yield results, so we call ourselves accountablestorytellers.If you would like to learn more about the subject of this eBook, ask questions or learn moreabout our capabilities and experience, please contact us at 919.821.2921 or at the emailaddresses below.John LaneVice President of Strategy and Creativejohn@centerline.nettwitter: johnvlaneErin CraftAccount Executiveerin@centerline.nettwitter: erincraft 25