The Case History/ Product Success Story/ Testimonial may be one of the most effective sales tools a company can develop to support sales. These sales support tools not only showcase your product and highlight your most effective product features that separate your product from the competition; they actively demonstrate how an actual customer recently used your product to solve their problem. Rather than your company bragging about your product in an advertisement, the message comes from the third person, the satisfied customer. Then, if the problem that your product solved is at all universal, other potential customers are all ears. Plus, when you get the article published, you have the (implied) endorsement from an industry trade publication as well as its editor (if the editor takes ownership). And that leads me to the first step:
1. Prior to embarking on your Case History journey, first make sure that you will be creating an article of real value. Talk to key industry trade publication editors and ask them if they would be interested in a customer story that discusses the particular customer problem your product solved. With any luck you can find a home for your story in advance, know when you might expect publication, and identify deadlines for completion. Plus, by talking to editors in advance about what kind of information that they are looking for and that is of particular interest to their readers, trade publication editors will do more that make sure you are not wasting your time, they might give you ideas for other stories.
2. After finding a trade magazine home for your story, it’s time to get started. The first thing you need to do is find out everything you can about the problem the customer was experiencing and how your product solved the problem. Talk to the actual product people involved. Whether you were part of the product application or not, you need to become an expert so that you can put together a questionnaire that will capture all of pertinent information you need to write a great story. That includes specifics about the customer, complete details about the problem that was solved, the product selection process (which includes key product features that made your product the choice), specifics concerning the actual product installation (which includes how your company support staff made it easy for the customer), and the final results (which includes specific metrics detailing how your product increased productivity, reduced scrap, etc). (Important tip, to make sure you capture all key information you want most, I suggest you ask the most important questions in several different ways. You will be surprised how much more information you might receive during the interview.)
3. Now that you’ve done your homework, it’s time to plan the customer interview. The first thing you need to do is to give the customer a heads up. I suggest E-mailing the customer the list of questions first prior to the interview. By doing this, you will be assured of better answers because the customer will know in advance. You may even find the customer taking an active interest and writing something out for you because of the free publicity they can expect.
4. Depending on budget, you are now ready to conduct the actual interview by phone or by way of an on-site customer visit. Just be forewarned, the actual customer visit is your best option. You will not only have the customer’s undivided attention; you will typically receive more information and a higher level of quality information. (Tip–to be sure you do not miss anything, record the conversation.) The on-site interview provides other important benefits as well.
5. You now have a good reason to arrange for product application photography. Other than actual story value, good photography will assure you of getting your story published. Great photography piques trade publication editor interest. Another side benefit, you will be adding to your in-house library of product application photos. I suggest finding a local photographer prior to the visit and scheduling that photographer to shoot during your visit. If you are an avid photographer, you might consider taking the photos yourself. Just remember, professional photographers are worth every penny for capturing photos that can be used for a variety of marketing communication opportunities.
6. You now have all the information you need. You have the photography. It’s time to transcribe the interview and write the story, being certain to write it from the perspective of the customer. You can get away with covering every single key performance feature and benefit of your product just as long as it comes from the perspective of the customer.
7. Make sure you get the article approved by the customer. Never assume anything, especially with respect to proprietary information you may have heard during the interview. It will save you problems. Plus the customer will appreciate your consideration.
8. Get the story published. You will be doing the publication a favor and getting yourself FREE advertising. You will find that it is not only FREE advertising; it is probably the most effective advertising you will ever see published. (Another side benefit, you will find that your story will probably live on long after the original publication date because most trade publication archive these stories on their websites.)
9. After your feature story gets published, ask for reprints from the trade publication. In addition, you will find that many publications will also offer to mail copies of the issue to your key customers.
10. And finally, now that you have a great story with plenty of sales support value, be sure to take full advantage of it. Feature the Case History in your customer newsletters. Add the Product Success story to your website. And turn the Testimonial into sales support literature.
Tim A. Schultz is President and owner of Marcom Solutions, a full-service marketing communications agency supporting business-to-business and business-to-consumer clients. He can be reached at MarcomTim@yahoo.com or by phone at 216-314-2227.