This type of story shows someone successfully using your product or service and being satisfied with the result. Don’t confuse it with a testimonial, which can be as simple (and uninspiring) as quoting one of your existing customers saying, “I use this product and it works great.” Customer success stories are stories, not statements.
What a success story does have in common with a testimonial is that they’re both highly effective, which accounts for why success stories are perhaps the most ubiquitous type of sales story in use. There are two main reasons testimonials and customer success stories are so effective.
First, as Casey Hibbard points out in her book Stories That Sell, “We trust what others say much more than what a business says.” As evidence, she cites a 2007 Bridge Ratings survey where 3,400 respondents were asked to rank on a scale of 1 to 10 what their most trusted sources of information were. At the top were family and friends (8.6). Somewhere in the middle were journalists (6.1). Not surprisingly, the bottom two sources on the list were advertising (2.2) and telemarketers (1.8).
As a result, customer success stories are most effective when they’re written or recorded in first-person perspective, told by the customers themselves. However, in practice, most are told in the third person, by the salesperson. Yet these stories still benefit greatly from the credibility of the successful third-party experience.
The second reason testimonials and customer success stories are so effective is what psychology and marketing professor Robert Cialdini calls “social proof” or the “like me” factor, in his bestselling book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. His finding is that people make decisions by (unconsciously) asking themselves, “What would someone like me do in this situation?” Your story shows them exactly what someone like them does—they buy your product. Therefore, the more similarities the character in your customer success story has to the prospect you’re telling the story to, the more likelihood the story will work.
Doubtless, you’re already well acquainted with this kind of story, so I won’t include a complete one here. I’ll just reference some prominent examples you’re likely already familiar with.
OnStar plays actual recordings from emergency calls in its advertisements. eHarmony almost went out of business until 10 couples went on James Dobson’s radio program to share their relationship success stories. Casey Hibbard also cites Microsoft, Visa, Geico, HP, Accenture, Pfizer, Dell, Dow, IBM, Verizon, the Humane Society, and Ford Motor Company as all heavily leveraging success stories.
Interview your best customers and get them to tell you their success stories with your product, and write them down. Better yet, ask if you can videotape the interviews.
[You can find this and dozens of other examples and lessons on storytelling in sales in my book, Sell with a Story.]
Paul Smith is one of the world’s leading experts on business storytelling. He’s a keynote speaker, storytelling coach, and bestselling author of the books Lead with a Story, Parenting with a Story, and Sell with a Story.
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