We’ve worked with 300+ companies on customer success stories. Here’s what 99% aren’t doing that would change everything.
Since 2016, I’ve had a front-row seat to see how hundreds of companies come at the challenges of customer success stories.
My team and I have had hundreds more conversations with B2B’s ranging from 10-person startups to 2,000+ person enterprises.
It’s a rare position that’s offered an incredible level of insight into what works—and doesn’t—when it comes to scaling up strategic, meaningful storytelling.
After all these years, there’s something we’ve noticed that fewer than 1% (!!!) of companies we’ve engaged with are doing that makes a HUGE difference for:
- Getting buy-in from customers
- Telling stronger stories that support real business goals
- Avoiding unnecessary delays in production
- Minimizing the risks of ‘losing’ a case study opportunity
- Scaling up production
And ultimately, moving toward a marketer’s (and honestly, a sales/CSM/leadership person’s) dream: making case studies inevitable.
That concept is proactive storytelling.
What the heck is ‘Proactive Storytelling’?
Let’s start by looking at what it isn’t: ‘Reactive Storytelling’, aka the (tragic) status quo.
In a typical business, here’s how case studies happen:
- Someone, somewhere in the business is made aware of a win, somehow.
- They scramble to figure out who the right person to tell is.
- That person rushes to make contact and tries to secure permission.
- As that’s happening, there’s a race to discover (or rediscover) the story in reverse.
And that’s where the reactive part comes in at its worst:
- The customers’ initial goals, pain points, and desired outcomes have been lost to the sands of time or are locked in a CSM’s head.
- If you’re lucky, the customer has been tracking their KPIs and ROI.
If you’re not, then you know (at best) that the person is happy, but the metrics are complete mysteries that must be unearthed.
- Even the ideal point of contact can be a mystery!
Whether that’s due to churn, a lack of knowing who the decision-maker actually was, or a cloudy understanding of who would know the story best.
- Worst of all, sometimes there’s not even familiarity or friendliness between parties! It’s like both sides are working together as total strangers.
It doesn’t need to be this way—but it is.
And that’s because, for most companies, case studies are an afterthought; one of many tasks shoved onto the plate of marketers or CSMs without any real foresight, planning, support, or underlying systems.
Proactive storytelling is capturing the customers’ story as it is happening in a systematic, collaborative way. This is what the 1% do better than the 99%, and it’s why they can publish so many deep and compelling stories while others struggle to get one out the door.
Here’s the recipe for successful proactive storytelling:
If you want to join the best-of-the-best in scaling and deepening your customer stories, this is exactly what you’ll need to make it a reality.
1. A central source of truth.
Whether it’s a client wiki, custom fields in your CRM, or even something as low-tech as an Excel sheet (though… there are so many better options!), your teams need a place where they can document a client’s story as it is unfolding:
- The primary points of contact and their roles in buying/deploying/ongoing usage
- The pain points that brought them in (or evolve as they grow with you)
- The objections they vocalized during the sales process
- The goals and outcomes they’d envisioned for themselves and a definition of how they measure success with you
- The relevant KPIs to track, and how both you/your customer will track them
- The solution(s) provided, with a brief rationale as to why (more applicable for services)
Essentially, you need a place where—from the moment a new lead is onboarding—you are capturing a customer profile that goes beyond a persona and is structured.
2. A regular cadence of check-ins.
That central source of truth is almost worthless if it isn’t kept current; it’s a living document.
- Personal: for example, quarterly calls or check-in emails (the less passive, the better)
- Automatic: feedback surveys, in-app prompts, questions during the sign-up flow, etc.
- External: between you and your customer
- Internal: between different teams collaborating on the account
As long as they’re regular, scheduled (ideally on both your calendar and your customer’s), and focused.
Instead of ‘JUST CHECKING IN!’ — you’ll now be equipped to remind the customer of the things they’ve already tabled and get them to share a clear picture of how things are evolving.
3. Incremental feedback.
This point and the previous are heavily intertwined, but the best companies are leveraging tools to capture small soundbites and data points as the customer relationship evolves.
Whether that’s feedback surveys, NPS/CSAT scores, a focused ‘reviews’ program, or just documenting the feedback collected on your regular check-ins, you want to be collecting feedback on performance and ROI in small doses throughout the relationship.
And make SURE that this disparate feedback from multiple sources makes it back to your central source of truth!
Clients forget things. Data gets blurred. Excitement fades. New points of contact come into the picture. Don’t leave it all up to one Hail Mary moment at the point of a win, where these details may have been lost to time.
4. Roles and accountability.
For any of this to work, your team(s) need to KNOW their responsibilities for keeping the central source of truth updated: the who, when, and how.
Whether it means incentivizing participation, automating notifications, tying these tasks to performance reviews, or something else, it needs to be abundantly clear to every single person who touches a customer relationship that you are counting on them to keep the records current.
And that doesn’t need to be rocket science.
- Tools like Fathom are already brilliant for summarizing calls.
- UserEvidence is great for incremental feedback.
- Dock can be used to stand up client wikis — though ClickUp or Notion works just fine, too.
The tech for this already exists and isn’t hard to use; the bigger challenge is getting your teams to see the value and participate.
5. Proactive permission-seeking.
While we won’t recommend shoving case study clauses into every contract, the 1% of companies are great at spinning up initiatives like advocacy boards, incentivized referral programs, and more. Being proactive about seeking permission to share a win—especially if you start with a smaller piece of feedback like a testimonial—means that when you go to ask to share their deeper story it won’t feel like a stranger marching in to ask for a favor.
It all adds up to less friction, deeper storytelling, and more customer stories.
When a company implementing the above goes to tell a customer story, it’s right there waiting—sitting there in rich detail.
- No frantic rush to excavate the facts.
- No need to start from a blank slate or send the customer a questionnaire.
- No wondering if the story you’ll get will serve your business goals.
- No question marks around KPIs.
Instead of having to excavate the facts, customer interviews can now focus on the overall experience and pulling the nuanced details of the story out of the customer’s head and into print or video. Your stories can be more intentional and strategic because you know going in what the angle and opportunities are.
Now, is implementing this all easy? Hell no. If it was, everyone would do it.
But imagine a world where case studies are an inevitable outcome, not an uphill battle.
Seems worth it, no?