Guest post by: Jan Willis, Calibra. Customer success stories are an important and necessary sales tool. Just like having references for any job interview, they aren’t going to make the sale but without good ones, it may cause a delay in the sales process. Yet, customer success stories are often cookie cutter in style and not engaging. Even worse, you may struggle to get your customers to approve them. I’ve been working with companies on success stories across industries – from semiconductors to software development tools to software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions. I have experienced the frustration of writing a customer story only to have the customer not approve it, or worse, approve it and then pull it after its been published. There will be many customers who won’t share their brand value with you for fear of diluting it. There will be others that you simply don’t have the relationship with to “override” the policy of not doing them. But there will be customers where you do have the product and people relationships that gain you the necessary approvals. Make the most of these customers and seize the moment as your champion might move on. Most of all, tell a great story for your company and their customer. Here are three tips from my recent experiences that I hope will help you tell a great customer story. Let the story begin! Tell the story in your customer’s own words Don’t fall into the trap of marketing speak! It’s easier to just write the problem, solution and benefits using all the company’s great messaging, but it’s dry and boring. Tell the story as if it were unfolding as you read it. And to do that you need to interview the key people and collect as many usable quotes as possible. Don’t forget to ask for their picture to make it even more engaging and realistic. I like what I see for pulling all three of these elements together in the customer case studies by RelateIQ, a Palo Alto, California-based start-up that is quickly becoming the go-to relationship intelligence solution for professionals seeking to build better relationships and make smarter decisions. Use surveys to help gather facts and interesting user commentary Not another survey! I know we’re asked to respond to surveys almost daily now. But companies who are SaaS providers are one of the best examples of where knowing if customers are successful is not just nice to have – it’s crucial to achieving very high renewal rates, a key metric for a SaaS company. These surveys are usually quite effective as they are often run internally by the customer to validate the ROI. Provided there are open ended questions, this can be a rich source of additional commentary from the users by incorporating direct quotes that can help bring authenticity to the success story and have it sound less like marketing speak. I have seen this work for myself while working on case studies such as Nuance Communications for FirstRain, a pioneer and leader in personal business analytics solutions for the enterprise. If you hit the wall on permission, try new approaches Beware of the marketing police! I always find it a bit awkward to coach people on how to get through the marketing controls on the use of their brand since I used to enforce them myself. The truth is every decision is a business decision and with the right case made by the right person, there are exceptions. There are many companies who have business reasons to want to work with their suppliers on telling their story. The keys are having senior relationships between the companies and finding the win-win scenario. Should you still hit the wall on permission, there’s a new approach that I really like if you have 50-100 customers to work with. Founded in 2007 and based in Emeryville, California, TechValidate solves the problem of extracting quantifiable operational and financial metrics from your customer base, and then instantly turning that data into usable, third party verified marketing materials. Author: Jan Willis founded Calibra in 2007 after holding senior marketing positions at Cadence Design Systems, Simplex Solutions, Synopsys, and HP and completing an MBA at Stanford University. Calibra is a B2B business consulting firm specializing in helping high-tech companies enhance their brand and accelerate the market adoption of their products. Its consulting practice includes whole product strategy, company and technology branding, strategic options analysis, industry alliances, and interim leadership.