Four Opportunities to Harvest: The Value of Informal Success Stories

By Peter E. Cohan January 07, 2008

What might be the single most important asset for your sales and marketing toolkit?

  • If you are in marketing, what tool or information would be most useful for you to deliver to your field organization?
  • If you lead a channel or partner program, what do your channel partners want most from you?
  • If you are a sales person that has just joined a software company, what would be the single most valuable tool the company could provide to you?
  • If you are a new presales person, what would be most valuable for you?
  • If you are a seasoned veteran in sales or presales, what information would help you sell more successfully and increase your ability to make your numbers?

The answer is the same in each case: Customer Success Stories.

Why? Knowledge of how existing customers were able to address their business problems using your software enables you to engage, present and sell to other customers who have similar situations.

While this is rather obvious, we often find we lack sufficient depth and breadth of Customer Success Stories that we can use in our day-to-day interactions with customers. Why the lack?

Formal vs. Informal

We trumpet Success Stories that we receive from our customers –particularly those that have received official sanction from customer legal departments – and post them on our websites and in our literature. These are our Formalized Success Stories. And yet, these jewels are a small fraction of the wealth available to us. What’s missing?

In the course of our careers, each of us collects Success Stories from our customers – the results of casual interactions, customer meetings, and users’ group functions. The Success Stories we glean we re-use when we speak with other customers or prospects who are in similar situations. Most of this information is never formally “blessed” by legal and is often used anecdotally – without mentioning specific customer names. These are Informal Success Stories – and they are the lifeblood of a software company!

Consider: for every Formal Success Story that is approved and published, how many Informal Success Stories are there? Most people would say it is a factor of 20x or more.

We often complain that we have too few Success Stories or lack examples in specific verticals, or in specific geographies, or find that the customers’ quotes are bland and lack specific metrics of success. Even worse, all Success Stories age. Success Stories that are a few years old may cease to be relevant – they were based on old releases of the software or situations that no longer match current customer needs.

How can we accelerate the collection and use of relevant and useful Success Stories?

Four Opportunities to Harvest

What if you could capture four Success Stories from each customer sale? Here’s a typical sales and implementation process for a customer – and the four sets of success information that can be harvested:

  • Vision of a Solution: The customer gains an understanding of his problem and then builds a Vision of a Solution, often in concert with the sales team. This Solution is what the customer has in mind when he moves through a typical buying process – and is the first opportunity to harvest. This information, along with the sales strategy, is what is occasionally gathered in “win/loss” analysis. While this information is great for sales strategy (“Here’s what happened in order for us to get the deal…”), it provides only a vision of what the customer is looking to achieve and implement.
  • Solution as Initially Implemented: Once the purchase is completed, the customer implements the initial application or applications he has in mind. These deployments may be rough, incomplete (or over-complete), and often only partially address end-user needs.This Initial Implementation is the second harvest and can represent very useful information to share within the marketing and sales organizations. Often, these early implementations will be the same or similar to what other customers want to achieve, as well.
  • Solution as Consumed: Now things begin to get interesting...! How much of what is initially rolled-out is actually consumed by users? 40% of the capabilities delivered? 30%? 20% or less? While the real number depends on individual situations, as an aggregate we often find that the capabilities actually consumed by users is a fraction of what is deployed.

    What is most important, however, is that the capabilities actually consumed represent the real success story – and this information needs to be captured as an Informal (or Formal) Success Story by your team to be leveraged by your organization.

    What information should be captured? Most organizations are terrific at interviewing and collecting how customers are using the software. What may be more important, however, is why the customer is using the software – and what value the customer is enjoying as a result.

    are they using the software? Answers to this question leads to an understanding of what business problems customers are addressing or seek to address with your software.

    There are depths and layers to this information that are important to plumb. A good piece of information is that “It was taking too long to execute the workflow…” An even better understanding is that “The workflow, as it existed previously, kept us from achieving our quarterly inventory goals – we were maintaining $10million in excess inventory on an ongoing basis. Using the new software, we have cut this from$10 million to less than $1 million…!”

    This last comment is golden – here we see the real value of the solution, as perceived by the customer. Specific numbers are important: Reducing inventory by $9 million on an ongoing basis has much more resonance with other customers than the meaningless phrase, “…saved time and money.”
  • Solution as Evolved: Have you ever visited a customer and noted that they have implemented applications of your software that were never envisioned by you, the vendor? Is this exciting? (Say “Yes!”). How can this information be used?

    Solutions after they have evolved are often the most valuable of all Success Stories. These are applications of your offering that often represent new market opportunities, increased deployment, and deeper market development. These stories can help you make your numbers!

These are the four opportunities to harvest truly terrific information. Success Stories are out there in your customer base – now, how do you capture and leverage them?

Walking, Talking Databases

At your next marketing meeting, ask those people who have been with the company for five or more years to stand up. These are the people who have each gathered an extensive set of Informal Success Stories in their interactions with their customers. They are walking, talking databases of Success stories – that’s often why these people are in high demand.

Next, contemplate capturing and combining those individual databases into a centralized source for Informal Success Stories that can be accessed and drawn upon by all in marketing, presales and sales. Would having this help you achieve your quarterly and annual objectives? (Say “Yes!”). Your Success Stories can be stored and accessed via a wiki, knowledge management system or similar tool. StreetSmarts is one excellent choice.

The specific tool(s) and process you choose to use is up to you – but I strongly recommend that you do implement a mechanism to capture and distribute Informal Success Stories. They can make the difference between making your numbers… or not!

Categories: Go-to-Market
Peter E. Cohan

Peter E. Cohan

Peter Cohan is principal of The Second Derivative, a consultancy focused on helping software organizations improve their sales and marketing results. He authored 'Great Demo!', a book that provides methods to create and execute compelling demonstrations. Before founding The Second Derivative, Peter worked in business development at Symyx Technologies, Inc. which creates technologies for high-speed materials discovery. There, he built the Discovery Tools? business from inception into a $30 million operation in four years. Prior to Symyx, Peter served in product management, marketing, and sales positions at MDL Information Systems, a leading provider of scientific information management software.

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