Like many college grads in 2009, Julian Lumpkin started in an entry-level role in B2B sales and quickly realized that sales was the right place for his talents.
“Over the next few years, I steadily moved up the ladder and started taking on leadership responsibility,” he explained. “As a sales manager at Axial, I realized how important case studies are in the sales process. I was able to tell the difference between the best sales reps and how they used success stories versus new or average reps.”
It was this first-hand experience that inspired Julian to found SuccessKit, a content management platform designed specifically to help B2B sales teams generate and deliver content to their prospects.
In the following conversation, Julian discusses how success stories can influence the sales cycles, gives best practices on creating winning case studies, and shares his advice on creating a success story-focused sales process.
What sets the best sales reps apart from the crowd?
To understand what sets the best reps apart, I want to first recap exactly how success stories are different from case studies. Case studies are more formal, have sign off from the customer and from marketing, and are typically used in all sorts of marketing and sales related functions, like on websites. Customer success stories, on the other hand, are much looser. Sales reps can share success stories over the phone, or via email, and many sales reps have their own go-to success stories ready to share with prospects at any moment.
Knowing when and how to use customer success stories is what sets the best sales reps apart. While many reps rely solely on pre-approved case studies, the best reps can relay many more examples beyond this. They have a success story repository in their heads so that as they learn about a prospect, they can immediately share specific real-world examples that directly relate to the situation at hand. This is where we got the idea for SuccessKit, which aims to enable all sales reps to sell this way. We help teams make every rep the best rep.
How can sales teams take better advantage of case studies and success stories?
At their core, success stories and case studies highlight actual facts, rather than just telling prospects how your solution can help them. At SuccessKit, we enable sales reps to sell more effectively and more authentically by helping to generate and segment content. Our typical customers can create 30-40 new case studies very quickly by simply inputting content into a customizable template that we then expand into a full-blown case study.
Although many reps understand the importance of customer stories, they don’t take as much advantage of them as they should because they are difficult to manage. This is why it’s so important to segment and organize success stories in multiple ways. For some companies, geography is important, so it might be important to organize by city. Industry, company size, and persona are also good segmentations. And finally, business challenge is most important. We’ve also addressed this problem in the SuccessKit platform, where content can be organized and filtered in multiple ways so reps can quickly find the exact story they’re looking for.
How can sales team leverage case studies and success stories throughout the entire sales process?
Success stories are great tools to use when reaching out to a prospect. Try framing your message with a personalized note such as “Check out what this similar company was able to achieve” and go from there. Even if you don’t have a significant amount of information on a prospect, you can still send a success story and ask if it resonates.
During the sales process, it’s all about uncovering your prospects concerns and priorities. Instead of diving in on the value of the solution, try to get prospects to open up about what they care about and then find success stories with these same priorities. In the closing stages of a deal, it’s a little bit broader. For some sales reps, it’s about locking down references and showcasing examples of case studies. For others, case studies can remind new customers about the value of the solution to overcome any final concerns. Case studies can provide peace of mind and confidence that they’re making the right decision.
What are some best practices for overcoming roadblocks when gathering stories?
There are two types of roadblocks: ones with customers and ones that arise from internal processes.
On the customer side, we tend to put clients in two very black or white buckets: either they will create a case study or they won’t. Surprisingly, most clients are somewhere in between. It all comes down to understanding that clients will each provide you with a different amount of information and it’s about figuring out what to do with the information you get. Maybe that means a formal case study that has marketing approval and a place on the website, or maybe it’s a quick list of bullet points that reps can use in their sales playbooks while on the phone. Either way, it’s making the most of the information you have access to.
When it comes to interdepartmental processes, success stories and case studies are generally a joint effort between sales, marketing, and customer success teams. In all cases, I recommend that teams start with sales leadership taking ownership of the process. Marketers have a lot of goals, and not all of them are explicitly about sales. A streamlined process starts with sales leadership informing marketing about what their needs are, and asking them for specific content. It’s a waste of time to wait for marketing to just guess.
When working with customer success, it’s all about showing appreciation for uncovering the stories. I’ve seen this in the form of financial compensation and vocal appreciation, but in all cases, it’s important to recognize that when a customer success team member gets a client to share their story, it’s a huge company win.
Do you have any advice for sales leaders looking to put more emphasis on customer stories in their sales cycles?
My biggest advice is to talk to your reps first and foremost. Ask them directly what success stories they know and use on a regular basis. This will give good visibility into what customers are actually looking for in a success story, which you can then take to your marketing team or customer success team. Additionally, ask your reps what stories they need. What are buyers asking about? Then, your team can prioritize and focus story gathering.
From a thought leadership standpoint, I recommend the SuccessKit blog for more insights and John Barrows’ podcast for practical sales tips and tricks.
Ready to Learn More?
For more information on best practices of great sales leaders, check out the Costello resources below. If you’d like to see Costello in action, request a personalized demo of our real-time sales playbook software.