Ep. 129 – How to Craft Interesting and Engaging Customer Stories w/ Alexander Ferguson

How to Craft Interesting and Engaging Customer Stories

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When done correctly, customer success stories can help to convert prospects into customers and position B2B companies strategically against competitors. Why do so many customer success stories fall flat in B2B? What can be done to transform them into tools for B2B growth?

Join us in our conversation with B2B video expert Alexander Ferguson (Co-Founder & CMOTeraLeap) about how marketers can craft better customer success stories that are interesting and engaging. During our conversation, Alexander talked about the pitfalls to avoid and what marketers should look for when conducting customer interviews. He also elaborated on how you can add more emotion to your B2B videos and provides actionable tips that marketers can implement immediately.

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Topics discussed in episode

  • Alexander talks about why most customer success stories in B2B fall flat [2:03]
  • Some pitfalls to avoid when crafting customer success stories [5:02]
  • Tips on conducting research and how to incorporate the findings into customer success stories [8:54]
  • How to get buy-in to from the sales team [11:57]
  • Alexander’s actionable tips: [16”18]
    • Have a clear plan
    • Remember your customer is the hero, not your company
    • Don’t estimate the value of visuals
    • Invest in a good thumbnail
  • Alexander shares an example of how to create interesting and engaging customer success stories [18:25]
  • Alexander’s take on how AI should be used to craft customer success stories [23:19]

Companies and links mentioned

Transcript

SPEAKERS

Christian Klepp, Alexander Ferguson

Christian Klepp  00:03

Welcome to B2B Marketers on a Mission, a podcast for changemakers, where we question the conventional, debunk marketing myths, provide actionable tips, think differently, disrupt industries, and take your marketing to a new level, from improving your campaigns to making you a better marketer. These are the inspirational stories that will help us change the way we think and approach B2B marketing, one conversation at a time. This podcast is brought to you by EINBLICK Consulting, helping you to stand out in the market and drive revenue to your B2B business. And now your host, Christian Klepp.

All right, folks, welcome everyone to this episode of B2B Marketers on a Mission. This is a show where we help you to question the conventional, think differently, disrupt your industry and take your marketing to new heights. This is your host Christian Klepp. And today, I’m joined by someone on a mission to get customer videos that convert and to find the One Ring of Power. (laugh) Coming to us from Raleigh, North Carolina, USA, Alexander Ferguson, welcome to the show.

Alexander Ferguson  01:13

Thank you, Christian, glad to be here.

Christian Klepp  01:16

Not to be confused with Sir Alex Ferguson, the former Manchester United coach. Alexander, it’s an absolute pleasure to have you back on the show. And I’m really looking forward to this conversation.

Alexander Ferguson  01:26

Me too.

Christian Klepp  01:27

All right. So before we head out into the Shire, let’s kick off this conversation with a topic that I think has become part of your professional mission. And that’s how to craft great customer success stories that are interesting and engaging. And correct me if I’m wrong, but interesting and engaging are not necessarily words that are characteristic of B2B. Most times. So why do you think most customer success stories in B2B fall flat?

Alexander Ferguson  02:03

They often are either vague, or just generic praise of the company, or they’re just plain boring. And it really just makes then the entire story invisible to the prospect, doesn’t mean anything. They really lack an emotionally engaging narrative. In the B2B space, I feel like, we often feel like we’re Vulcans, from Star Trek not to change up to another franchise away from Lord of the Rings. But I feel like, we feel like oh, emotion is bad. Logic and reasoning, that’s all the way. That’s what’s important. I don’t think that’s right, though. I feel like B2B companies are more like, they should be more like Spock, you know, a 50/50 split, where logic and reason, they’re important. But you don’t want to disregard the power of an emotionally engaging narrative.

Christian Klepp  03:00

Absolutely, absolutely. I’m going to share something with you that I asked… Well, I asked the guest the same question, you know, someone that came on the show previously. And this guest answered the question about, you know, B2B being boring by: Well, I suppose it depends on your definition of boring, because it also depends on who this whether it’s video or whether it’s some other form of content, it depends on who this is meant to appeal to. Right. For instance, and I’m not saying, I’m just throwing in this caveat, I’m not saying that this group was boring, but like, for example, engineers, right, if you’re appealing to engineers, that perhaps something that is very structured in a very intricate and systematic format. And in some kind of, like logical order, is something that would really appeal to that demographic. And if it’s highly technical as well. I mean, what are your thoughts on that?

Alexander Ferguson  03:59

When it comes to an industry specific, it’s like when you resonate with the content that person, then to someone else, it could be boring, but to them, it’s either fascinating, interesting, there’s still a lot of motions connected to it, because they’re in that world. So being able to unpack and tease out whatever, that particular industry story. There’s definitely value in that that others may deem uninteresting, but it’s not.

Christian Klepp  04:30

You handled that question like a champ, well done. But speaking of which, that was a great segue into the next question, which I have no doubt that you will answer this really well. Mistakes that you’ve seen B2B marketers make when crafting customer success stories. So and the way I’d like you to answer this, if you can, Alexander, is what have you. What kind of mistakes have you seen? And how should marketers address these mistakes?

Alexander Ferguson  05:02

Mistake number one, I would say is probably lacking specificity and detail. Missing the unique problem or a use case for that story. And this is often as you’re just talking about the high level, what it is and what features, what it was. But being able to fix this, how do you address that? I would say ask more questions when you’re interviewing and pulling out the story with your customers. Ask more who questions or how questions or why questions, when, where, not just the what. And that’ll help unpack and really pull in all the details that grounds the story, in a reality. So when your prospective buyers listening to it, they don’t feel like it’s just this surface level. Well, maybe in some theoretical world, this could help someone, but they see the realness of it. So that was I say, mistake number one.

Number two, I would say is kind of connected what I opened with emotion, often many are missing emotion. It’s like, okay, how do you address that? How do you pull out emotion in a B2B environment? That’s tough. There’s no foolproof plan here. But I would say asking follow up questions of your customer like, Oh, interesting. Okay, so you’ve had to re-enter your data into your accounting software five times that lowered your efficiency, your workforce efficiency, how did that make you feel? And was it frustrating? Did that make you angry? Overwhelmed? How was your team feeling about all this, these follow up feeling questions, can then unpack that emotion.

The third one, I would say mistake is no demonstration of tangible impact, or really, that before and after transformation. Again, it’s just the, hey, we worked with them, and we use these features, you know, go for them. But really showing those before and after states. It can be difficult to get these sometimes because your customer may not know. And you have to do a little bit of the prep work ahead of time, just like you do prep work for these discussions and you craft questions and you already know how to introduce someone versus just showing up and saying, oh, here it is. By doing that little lifting ahead of time for them, it can make the difference.

Christian Klepp  07:13

Absolutely, absolutely. So just to recap the three mistakes, so lacking specificity and detail, then the emotion piece, and then the third one, there’s no demonstration of tangible impact. And I think that one is really hits the nail on the head. I mean, you know, you never want to have a customer success story where the outcome was all they loved it. And it was great. (laugh)

Alexander Ferguson  07:39

It lacks all like that the power of that transformation. It’s like that’s what everyone, why they listen to stories do someone who goes from rags to riches.

Christian Klepp  07:47

Absolutely, absolutely. But to your point, I think the outcome that a lot of people are looking for when they watch these videos are, you know, quantifiable results. And you know, more often than not those are those are not that easy to obtain, I think what’s your point?

Alexander Ferguson  08:06

Yes. And that’s where like in some companies, they either don’t want to share it, or it’s not quantifiable. And so then you have to find other ways to quantify it. Like it could be an emotional state that you can focus on or physical change that happened. But of course, the best is still KPIs and numbers because we’re logic and reason focused B2B companies.

Christian Klepp  08:27

Absolutely, absolutely. You know, don’t rock the boat there man. (laugh) All right, you. You can’t define or develop good customer success stories without conducting the relevant research. Right? So talk to us about what marketers should be looking for when they’re conducting research, and how can they incorporate this into their customer success stories.

Alexander Ferguson  08:54

It’s really ties into what we were just digging into around this before and after state, I would say in customer research, fully understanding or unpacking the problems, you know, how well do you know your customers problems? I find as part of the customer story process, you can really get great insight on this and give direction and have more direction on what should you drill down deeper on there, maybe even from previous use cases or problems they were feeling and experiencing, this then helps the story much later. Because you have that direction to say okay, this is where we’re going to, we’re gonna take this interview. Another thing I would say is on the results side too, being able to do some of the heavy lifting, maybe if you’re a software platform, you could pull the numbers for them ahead of time. So doing some research of that data analysis, having these pre-conversations with them understanding what’s the most important numbers and metrics that they’re tracking? Because you may think it’s one number but it could be a very different number or metric that they’re focused on, and it’s important to them in their role. In addition, you could be talking with other departments heads. And so seeing the larger organization achievements or goals that they’re trying to make, and then you’re piecing this puzzle together for them in this customer research before you do that, the interview itself.

Christian Klepp  10:15

I really love how you brought that up, Alexander, because I sometimes see this happen. And a lot of people out there don’t realize how much preparation work is required to conduct these interviews and to conduct this research. You know, it’s not a simple question of just okay, let’s just put together a bunch of questions. And then let’s find some customers that we can interview and then off we go. And, you know, in reality, it’s not that simple. Right. So I think that preparation work, like you said, or, you know, I hate to use this term, but you know, here we are, um, do your homework.

Alexander Ferguson  10:52

Makes a difference. It makes a difference.

Christian Klepp  10:54

Absolutely. All right. Well, this is more of the… this next question is more of the devil’s advocate question. And I think it’s a really important one, because we discussed this during the pre-interview conversation. A lot of marketers are facing this out there, and you just brought it up a couple of minutes ago, right? Sales is very, you know, they’re guarding their customers very closely. Because, you know, those are, those customers are very precious to them, and they don’t really want anyone outside their department or business unit to be talking to these people. Right? That being said, that does not further our cause, or move us further along down the river, excuse me, I’m going back to these analogies again. But how can marketers get not just the customers, but the sales to buy in to this important exercise of crafting customer success stories? How do they deal with, as we just said, sales saying like, No, we don’t want you to talk to the customer directly.

Alexander Ferguson  11:57

Before you can really get a testimonial or customer story program off the ground, you need that buy in from sales, from customer service, without a doubt. Part of it is painting the picture for them. And you have to market to them, easing their fears and concerns that this could take away a potential future sale or this is too much of a lift, I just had a conversation today with a marketing leader who… it took a little while for them to get the buy in. But once they did, once their sales team started to see oh, wow, actually, this is a great customer touch point. They liked to talk about it, they wanted to share their experience, it removed that fear. So it may take a little bit of work ahead of time with the, painting the picture and the vision for the sales team. But once you’ve got that buy-in then it really paves the way to make the rest of it much easier. Because ideally, already in the contracting process and onboarding, you’re mentioning to the customer talking to the customer, hey, we’re excited for this, I think we’re going to have a great outcome. And once we get there, we’d love to share that story, your story of us working together, so they already know in their mind that this is coming.

Christian Klepp  13:08

Absolutely, absolutely. Um, I had a follow up question for you. And I think this might have been where you were going with that. You know, I think an important part of the process of planning and developing strategy and marketing is to conduct customer research. And as a result of that customer research, you develop the relevant buyer personas. And you map out that buyers journey with the respective stages, you know, and you highlight or you illustrate the different triggers, and then the different touch points, and why those touch points are relevant within that specific journey. Okay, I say all of that, to ask, how useful do you think it would be for marketers to show that research and that, for example, that buyers journey map to the sales to get them to understand well, this is the reason why we need that because you know, we did the research, and we identified these touch points. And these are the things that we saw were important to the people that you guys are trying to reach out to. So your thoughts on that.

Alexander Ferguson  14:12

Creating a case study for your sales team on the reason for a customer story program or customer case study program, your testimony program, it’s, I think, being able to show them that if we get this buyer persona, we capture this story that is going to help your job. It helps them make the sale so much easier through that. I absolutely think it’s a great idea.

Christian Klepp  14:32

Yeah, because like, you know, the last thing you want them to think is like, oh, no, you need a customer. You need to interview a customer, you need a testimonial, that sounds like more work for me, that means that I need to go out there and have that conversation with a customer on your behalf. So you know, just, I won’t even say flip the script, but just make them understand that like no, actually we’re helping to make this easier for you. Right? Because it’s also a conversation starter. Correct me if I’m wrong, right? Like, if they are able to show the success story videos, to potential prospects and like, okay.

Alexander Ferguson  15:08

Yes, I think often though a big barrier for sales or even for the end customer is lack of clarity on the process. When they aren’t sure how you’re going to get this case study, what’s involved? What’s the process? How much time is it gonna take? I can make it happen, then it’s just this automatic: You know what, this just sounds like too much work. But when you bring specificity, clarity, detail. Hey, this is how long it’s going to take. This is how we’re going to do it. And this is what’s going to happen, like, oh, okay, that I can communicate, that I can share. That makes sense.

Christian Klepp  15:43

Absolutely, absolutely. Okay, so we get to the part in the conversation where we’re talking about actionable tips. And you know, you know the drill, you’ve been on the show before, Let’s appreciate that. You know, you can’t do all of this stuff in 24 hours, right? This exercise takes time. But I would say, if somebody were listening out there to this conversation that you and I are having about creating and developing better customer success stories, what are maybe 3 to 5 things that they can do right now.

Alexander Ferguson  16:18

Some of this is going to be kind of recapping some of the things we talked about earlier. But I feel like the first thing is having a clear plan on how you’re going to ask, how you’re going to capture and how you’re going to share those stories. No plan, and this will forever be on the backburner. The second thing is, I mean, remembering the story isn’t about you, or your company, you gotta remember the who the hero is in this, which is your customer. And you’re really just the guide on there, because I see too many stories that fail because it’s the wrong defining of who the hero is. Don’t underestimate the value of visuals. I would say. I’m a little biased, but I think video is an instant level up by having be able to have that face, the voice, the credibility in today’s age of authenticity. But also being able… don’t miss the opportunity to integrate product footage or or content footage into. This will be a little bit of a mini product video itself, if done well. And then comes the versatility of this assets. Another reason why I like video. So keep in mind, how are you going to repurpose the story. So maybe you have a two minute version already have a plan for a 30″ version, be able to leverage the transcript and be able to use it in all the different places because the way people will people consume content today is not just in one format. And I would say the last thing to keep in mind would be investing in a good thumbnail. MrBeast, one of the world’s most popular YouTubers out there. I saw where he reportedly spent upwards of $10,000 on developing that that preview still image. And I think too often these great stories are hid somewhere on a website on a back end page and never get seen. Because the right imagery, the right placement, whether it’s in your email campaigns, whether it’s on social YouTube, people don’t know that. Oh, I should watch this.

Christian Klepp  18:10

Absolutely, absolutely. And, you know, I’m glad you brought that up about visuals, because it’s such a great segue into the next question where I’d like you to give us an example of how you helped save a company from boring customer success stories.

Alexander Ferguson  18:25

Yeah, yeah. So there was one fellow, Mark, he was a director of marketing B2B company in the customer… in the life science space. Couple challenges that they had. One is why they were getting stories in the first place is getting engagement, getting their potential buyers to just pay attention to them. That was a major issue. At the same time being able to get the customers to agree to get on a video because he knew that if they shared other customer stories to prospective buyers, it would help getting them to agree. So multipurpose here of how they approached that. I thought this is an interesting story to share of another angle. There was an awards going on for that in their particular vertical. So they actually asked their customers about interviewing them for this upcoming award. And using that partly for the entry and promotion of it. So positioning them as as a hero, and what they’ve been able to achieve. And then of course, Mark’s company was the guide, that trusted guide there to help them achieve and get to that award. So in the same interview, they were able to do two things at the same time accomplish both promoting them. And they were wanting to be promoted, as well as they got great content for an insight and customer testimonial. Out of that story because there was a lot of excitement of where they were to where they were able to get to achieving this award. They use it mostly in email campaigns. They have a great email list. And they saw I think was a 500% increase in click through rate because of them focusing on that story, great thumbnail. And then being able to get that engagement from those from those buyers.

Christian Klepp  20:06

Just give me a second here. (laugh) Great points, I’d like to just go back to a couple of them. I mean, first of all, 500% click through rate. Well done. What an achievement. The second one, I thought that the, the awards piece or this, you know, the awards initiative, what a brilliant approach. Right? What a great way to push the customer into the spotlight, right and give them I mean to use the radio term, airtime. Right,

Alexander Ferguson  20:41

Exactly.

Christian Klepp  20:42

I think and then the other point that you mentioned, you’ve mentioned this a few times now in this conversation, which I think is worth jamming on a little bit further, if you will, positioning the customer as the hero, right. And we talk about this a lot on this show, because I bring a lot of folks on that are either in you know, in the same area of expertise that you’re in, or copywriters, and content marketers, etc. It’s about that hero’s journey, right? There’s a book out there called Building your story brand by Donald Miller. And there’s also I call it a formula, but you know, you can call it whatever you want. But it’s the hero’s journey. And that was basically something that the professor of mythology called Joseph Campbell coined. And it was… because he studied all these different myths and legends from different cultures around the world. And it basically, they all had the same pattern. And I believe there are seven steps. And you probably know that, right? So it’s the hero, has a problem. And then goes on a journey to find that solution. Meets a guide, who gives him or her a plan of action, encourages them to take action, so that they achieve success, and they avert failure. You’ll look at every, not even just the Hollywood movie. Well, these days that might, it might be different. But um, you look at every major Hollywood production, you’d look at any case in point, Lord of the Rings trilogy, right? Any Greek mythology, right, any story from Greek mythology, they all follow that pattern. Right? And you’re really right to point this out that the hero, well, you know, bring us back to B2B. Now, the hero is not the company. Right?

Alexander Ferguson  22:38

It’s the it’s the customer. And the story will be better for it when you know, when you know who the real hero is.

Christian Klepp  22:46

Absolutely, absolutely. All right. Next question. Oh, you know, we’re trying so hard to avoid talking about this. But here we go. AI. (laugh) It seems to be impacting almost every aspect of our work as marketers, and you know, it’s also spread across other industries as well. Right. So, here comes the question. And it’s a it’s a basically a two pronged question. Right. So do you think that AI should be used in crafting customer success stories? And if yes, how?

Alexander Ferguson  23:19

Absolutely. But in the right way, yeah, I think it’s great coming up, helping with certain things, but not other things, so not great with creative things necessarily from scratch, well it’s not there yet. But it’s great at helping you ideate, summarize, organize, repurpose. There’s a lot of software tools out there that are integrating AI into their product. Like if you look at a customer research side, there’s some tools that you can use there, like Dovetail has some great insights, Grain and Rev. Both have the ability to hear and these is to help analyze, give summaries. You can even ask questions of the customer interview. And it’ll help you pull out that insight, then you as a human can figure out what you want to do with it. You got standalone tools to help analyze or write new content, ChatGPT, everyone knows that. Jasper, Quillbot. These help you… can come up with maybe headlines for the story, help you generate story outlines based on the transcript or just repurpose or create new social content. So there’s a lot of different ways you can use these in those functions.

Christian Klepp  24:30

Yeah, absolutely. I totally agree with that. You know, I always say there’s a place and time for AI. And it’s not. I think it will be foolish to completely dismiss artificial intelligence and throw it out the window and say, No, don’t use it. But I think it’s to your point. It’s, I mean, currently with this current capabilities, it’s a support function, right? Like, I mean, don’t use AI. Don’t replace what people are actually good at and doing with AI. I think that was your point, correct?

Alexander Ferguson  25:02

Yes. Don’t… you don’t need to replace people. There’s a lot of tools that are coming out that are generative AI when it comes to video and that either people are afraid of it. That’s a very common one. And which is why real authentic stories, people and when they tell like this is a real thing that it feels so good.

Christian Klepp  25:22

Mm hmm. Absolutely. Absolutely. All right, Alexander, I kind of feel that you’ve been on your soapbox all this time, but please stay up there a little bit longer, at least for this question. All right. Um, so let’s just narrow it down to today’s topic about creating those great customer success stories that are interesting and engaging. But what’s the status quo that you passionately disagree with regarding this topic? And why?

Alexander Ferguson  25:52

Status quo. It’s okay, if B2B content is emotionless and boring, faceless facts and data, that’s all that matters. No. I feel like we need to be able to bring more emotion, real people, real stories, as we were just talking about, we’re in an age where so much is fake and generated. And so the more human and authentic we can have our marketing, the stronger I think the attraction of today’s buyer will be. And I think customer stories are that key to to unlocking this if done correctly.

Christian Klepp  26:25

That’s such a great point. I mean, like, just look at look at LinkedIn. Right? I mean, how often do you get people or bots reaching out to you on LinkedIn messenger on InMail, right? Or, how often do you see posts where you see engagement that looks well, otherworldly? Like for lack of a better description, but you’re like, Yeah, that. That does not sound? Yeah, that does not sound like like an actual person that’s engaging with this with this post. Right. So it’s AI, right. So and I think in this day and age where even like videos, I mean, there’s AI generated visuals of this and videos of that. Isn’t that a breath of fresh air to just have something that’s real?

Alexander Ferguson  27:12

Yes, it’s like, yes. Thank you, something real. We were just talking before the show of like, when people mess up, or something’s not perfect. That’s great. Let me see more bloopers.

Christian Klepp  27:21

Yes, exactly. Exactly. Yes. There will be a bloopers reel in the works at some point, I promise. (laugh) All right, folks. The moment we’ve been waiting for, the bonus question. Right. And I do remember from your last interview, how we were talking about Lord of the Rings, and that franchise and trilogy and whatnot. And I couldn’t help myself, but think of a question that is linked to Lord of the Rings. So here it is. In the third Lord of the Rings movie, The Return of the King, right. So there’s the scene where Lord Elrond shows up at the Rohirrim camp to hand Aragorn the sword. So he’s encouraging Aragorn to go to the Dwimorberg to rally the army of the dead. And then Aragorn says the dead answer to no one. And then Lord Elrond said they will answer to the king of Gondor. And then that’s when he shows him the sword. And he says, this is Anduril, forged from the shards of…

Alexander Ferguson  28:28

Narsil. That one I got!

Christian Klepp  28:31

Well done.

Alexander Ferguson  28:35

Love Lord of the Rings. This is so good.

Christian Klepp  28:39

Alexander, we can keep on going about Lord of the Rings too. But once again, thank you so much for coming on the show. Again. It was an honor to host you. And please, quick introduction to yourself and how folks out there can get in touch with you, especially if they’re trying to save the world from boring customer success stories.

Alexander Ferguson  28:58

Absolutely, absolutely. So a little bit of myself: 15 years I’ve been focused on video, co-founded three different brands. And I’ve been serving lots of different companies, but I’m doing lots of different videos, but I think customer stores, these are like the shards of Narsil, they’re like the thing that could really help in this war building buyer trust and I’m just on a mission to tell everyone getting more customer stories. It’s not hard, and I can help.

Christian Klepp  29:25

Yes, and Renewed shall be blade that was broken. Alexander once again, this has been an absolute pleasure. Thanks again for coming on. Take care. Stay safe, and talk to you soon.

Alexander Ferguson  29:39

Thanks, Christian.

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