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touch base

After 11 years of working on customer stories, I’ve become set in my ways. And with good reason.

I’ve refined my step-by-step process for creating case studies and success stories and usually stick to it religiously. One step happens before the next, and if not, the story might suffer.

I’ve blogged about my process, featured it in my book, and preach and teach it to other writers.

So when I experienced an unintentional breakdown in my own usual process, it was a harsh reminder that I have been doing it right all along. I shouldn’t have been surprised.

Due to circumstances out of my control, the order of steps on stories for a client got flip-flopped.

The Story

A brand-new client needed success stories. Usually, I ramp up on a new client’s solutions and marketing messages before ever talking to one of their happy customers. It’s my own rule.

But I happened to be attending a major industry conference where some of my new client’s customers were. It was an awesome coincidence and opportunity to interview them in person.

The only problem – my client was so tied up with event activities that there was just no time for the usual discussion about their goals and what they want in their stories.

I had to go into interviews with a list of questions covering what I THOUGHT was important. Not surprisingly, I missed a few things. And later, it was impossible to get those busy customer contacts on the phone for follow up. I’d had my chance.

While the stories were solid, they were missing a couple of key messages that would have helped my client.

The upside? I have renewed faith in my own process and certainly will do everything possible to make sure I touch every base on my way to the home plate.

The Can’t-Miss Steps

What are my tried-and-true steps that must happen with every client and story?

  1. Know the Subject Matter
    Study the featured products and services to truly understand how they work and benefit customers.
  2. Know the Key Messages
    Understand the messages and competitive differentiators that should be reinforced in every customer story.
  3. Know the Background and Angle for Each Customer Story
    For each story, gather any background about the featured customer, so you’re armed as much as possible going into interviews.
  4. Know the Featured Customer’s Business
    Study the featured customer’s website to understand their business.
  5. THEN create questions and conduct the interview.

So whatever your role in customer stories – whether you’re a marketer, small business or writer – don’t underestimate the value of these steps in creating stories that aren’t just well done, but actually drive your sales and marketing goals.

2 Responses to Eek, My Own Process Broke Down!

  1. Mark McClure says:

    So this means a conversation (phone or email) with the client contact (marketing?) is absolutely essential before going to the customer interview stage.

    As I’m finding out, sometimes the client contacts (e.g. the relevant Sales Account Managers) are difficult to reach because of workload, travel etc. The temptation to take a shortcut and “do your own research” is strong but, as you’ve hinted here, often mistaken. How can I, the freelance writer, really know what the Client’s goals are from external research…

    Thanks for the reminder to “be prepared” – I was a boy Scout way back when.

  2. Casey Hibbard says:

    Hey Boy Scout,

    Right, a conversation with the client contact is very necessary before the customer interview stage. But I completely understand how hard that is at times.

    A couple of suggestions:
    – Make it easy for client contacts by being willing to collect the information over email in case connecting at the same time is an issue
    – If your main contact person is super busy, maybe you can work with more than one to collect the info – like a marketing person and then a product manager
    – Remind the person that the stories will be much better (i.e. sell better!) if you perform this step because you’ll know best what to ask and write about
    – Sure, you can glean key messages from a client’s website, but I often get much more updated and specific information by talking with a client too

    Thanks Mark!