Content StrategyGTM Success

Thought Leadership That Maximizes Sales Funnel Throughput, Part III: Success Stories

By February 22, 2020 No Comments
Content Strategy

In part I, we talked about narrowing your content’s focus. In part II, we talked about the necessity of developing content that places you in a market and differentiates you from your competitors to foster prospect conversations that improve sales funnel throughput.

Now let’s focus on using customer success stories effectively. Each type of success story has pros and cons. Let’s assess their value for use in various stages of the sales funnel.

Stories in the Press

If you can get a journalist to talk about your solution at a client’s site, go for it. It’s some of the most objective, trustworthy content you can get and generally has wide distribution. These testimonials often makes client executives happy, too. The publicity benefits their careers while highlighting your solutions. These stories also tend to set your solution into a bigger-picture technology context.

However, these strengths also limit their value.

Journalists writing your story have their own agenda, and vendors have little control over the publication. Big-picture buzzwords might launch you into a market without the detail that differentiates you from everyone else in the space.

Press stories offer good pull quotes. Use caution when sharing entire articles, which often contain solutions from multiple vendors. Reprints and video interviews can help new prospects dig into your solution more quickly, you can’t slice the stories up into different forms (say, a 15-second video snippet alongside a 5-minute interview) without permissions and fees.

Don’t get me wrong: I love stories in the press. But I think their value lies primarily in early-stage marketing activities like pre-funnel brand awareness and social media campaigns.

Self-Published Stories

The opposite of press stories, self-published stories offer complete, detailed control over what to publish.  You can slice and dice raw content to emphasize a different aspect or differentiator of your solution for targeted personas.

But client executives know they’re doing you a favor with little return, so they tend not to prioritize these stories. Because these stories look less objective, prospects may view them as sales collateral rather than case studies.  Your own company’s distribution mechanisms may cause limits, too.

Contributors can sometimes write these stories with an eye toward larger industry trends, such as streaming analytics or the Industrial IOT (IIOT); however, clients often feel less comfortable talking about their projects in those contexts unless they’re a perfect fit.

Self-published success stories can be used throughout the sales funnel:

  • As source material for social media and re-engagement campaigns
  • In account-based marketing (ABM) when you’re targeting companies with similar profiles
  • As proof of value for your salesforce

Take time to train salespeople, telemarketers, and Sales Development Reps (SDRs) how to leverage them effectively in general situations and when addressing specific competitive scenarios.

What lessens stories’ impact is the perceived lack of objectivity relative to press stories and third-party content.

Third-Party Content

Note that the heading isn’t “stories in third-party content.” I think it’s best to consider why people initially seek third-party content and where the success stories fit.

Third-party content can provide people with the ideas they’re seeking without feeling like they’re being “sold to.” Third-party content providers want to protect their reputations for independence: Their livelihoods depend on readers’ trust in the guidance they provide. Many provider executives are independent industry analysts and commentators in their own right.

As a result, good third-party content providers reach buyers – your prospects – as buyers are starting to understand solutions, architectures, pros and cons, and more. These content providers don’t sell products and solutions as much as their own vision for business and technology. They use buzzwords like digital transformation and the circular economy not just as hooks but to provide their readers with guidance on incorporating those ideas into their worldview.

These third-party content providers want to work with vendors, too. They know that you have a perspective, and they’ll help you express it. Trustworthy and objective like the business press, third-party content offers more adaptability, making it useful in a variety of situations.

Trustworthiness and objectivity make a powerful combination, transforming the success stories embedded in third-party content into real-world case studies about exciting topics. These stories show what success looks like, in context, with a level of detail that can highlights the specific advantages of your solution.

Salespeople love conversations that start with third-party content because that content elevates your company to a forward-thinking position within the industry while reassuring prospects about the attainability of their business goals. Those conversations help usher prospects from the interest and evaluation levels of the sales funnel to evaluation, engagement, and commitment.

Three Considerations for Success Story Usage

It’s worth mentioning what may affect how you use success stories in given situations.

Show how your prospects can reduce their fears. Two of our most visceral fears include the fear of missing out and the fear of messing up. Many of your prospects will experience both of those fears simultaneously. Land a one-two punch by showing prospects details in your customers’ successes that demonstrate how their investment will move them forward with minimal or mitigated risk – especially compared to solutions that don’t have your differentiators.

Don’t be afraid to show how people overcame serious issues. Some of the most-downloaded white papers I’ve written or edited had titles that started “Worst Practices in…” People want to know how  and what can go wrong. Show them – and highlight how you your solution avoids or overcomes those issues. This approach to best practices comes from the opposite direction, of course, but in my experience it grabs attention more effectively.

Don’t succumb to the temptation to be too simple. Using success stories enables you to:

  • Clearly state the problem you’re solving
  • Reduce fear about using your solution to solve it
  • Differentiate your solution from the rest of the market
  • Plant competitive landmines and inform your prospects’ Requests for Proposals (RFPs)

You can’t accomplish these goals without detail, so resist the pressure to appeal to “the business” by oversimplifying. Pre-funnel success stories should show that your clients solved problems. By the time prospects travel further down the funnel, you should be showing how clients solved their issues while emphasizing why your solution was the best choice.

Regardless of which success stories you use, incorporate training that teaches your sales force to tell the same stories in the same way. A downloadable or printed guide helps: Salespeople are notorious for only reviewing what they need to know mere minutes before making the sales call.