How Gong Finds the Right Customers to Feature in Our Customer Stories
How do you find compelling customer stories? Do you look for outstanding achievements and clever solutions to pressing problems? Do you focus on results, or do you concentrate on people? Metrics and outcomes are fine for case studies, but the focal point of a good customer story is your customer, and you can’t choose someone to profile on numbers alone.
Instead, you must find a person who is engaged, engaging, authentic, and able to communicate their expertise and enthusiasm for your product. Otherwise, you’ll fail to connect with your audience and instead serve up a generic case study—not a relevant customer story.
Customer Advocates Are Heroes
I’m a Senior Customer Marketing Manager at . I’m in charge of finding and highlighting customer advocates for things like review sites, case studies, customer events, customer surveys, and more. I also work to find suitable candidates for customer stories. I seek out exceptional individuals who are personable, fun to talk to, and excited to share their stories and thought leadership.
As a customer marketer, I believe that customer stories should go beyond your typical case studies, customer videos, and testimonials. They’re also content for email campaigns, events, and more. Any marketer can share a customer’s challenge, solution, and outcome, but I’d rather highlight a customer’s hero’s journey.
What Marketing Can Learn from Literature
The hero’s journey is a concept popularized by Columbia University professor Joseph Campbell. He studied the world’s myths and posited that all the great stories—from Homer’s Odyssey to Shakespeare’s plays—share a common structure, called a monomyth. His Hero with a Thousand Faces influenced storytellers around the world, including George Lucas, who was inspired by Campbell to write Star Wars.
I’m not looking for the next Luke Skywalker, but marketing is storytelling, and I want to source customers who have exciting and inspiring narratives to share. Gong has an abundance of customers who are raving fans. There are tons of people who are eager to raise their hands to participate in customer stories, but we need to find the right fight.
Step 1: Start with Your Business Needs
Working on the right story begins with your business needs. Is there an aspect of your product you need to highlight? Is there a region you need to focus on? Is there messaging you need to prioritize, especially if that messaging is new? Is there a certain persona you want to target?
At Gong, our marketing team is always planning the next big push. We had some grand plans at the beginning of 2020, but COVID-19 forced us to pivot. So, I put aside a lot of stories I’d planned pre-pandemic and focused on our new business needs.
Our CMO, Udi Ledergor, offered a great analogy during a marketing team call. He reminded us how companies like to splurge when they’re doing well. When it’s somebody’s birthday, they’ll buy that employee cupcakes and have a little party. When times are tough, however, these birthday cupcakes are the first thing to go.
He reminded us that we cannot allow Gong to be perceived as a birthday cupcake. We needed to make it clear that our product was relevant and necessary in a time of crisis. We realigned our business needs to prioritize the shift to remote work, and our people started presenting Gong as a critical solution for companies that had just sent everyone home.
Our customer stories began to reflect this new direction. It was the right approach and helped us weather the pandemic, but now that things are moving back toward normalcy, we’re re-orienting accordingly. It’s a constant evolution, based on business needs. We have a tracker that outlines our customer story priorities, and we share it with people across the company. It’s a way to keep everyone on track as we look for the themes and concerns that jump out at us.
Once you outline your messaging and upcoming business needs, and after you determine the gaps in your content, it’s time to start looking for the proverbial needle in the haystack by finding a customer who fits the bill.
Step 2: Reach Out to Internal Teams
To set things in motion, it’s a good idea to ask customer success managers and sales reps to point to happy customers who are also passionate, charismatic, or enthusiastic. Asking CSMs, “Which customers do you love to talk to?” is a great way to launch a conversation.
But I don’t like to approach our customers—or even internal teams—without doing my own due diligence. Every company has countless tools in their marketing tech stack. I start by looking at customer health scores and getting a picture of what’s happening in a customer account using Gainsight and Sisense. I also look at NPS data collected through a Slack integration. And, because we drink our own champagne here, I analyze customer interactions using Gong to hear the authentic customer voice. I can catch up to a customer account by listening to presentations, business reviews, and more.
This means I have a pretty clear picture of possible candidates when I ask our CSMs and sales reps for a recommendation. I also have the support of our Gong team leaders who can step in and urge their teams to help us find suitable candidates for customer stories. I usually start by sending an email to the teams, but I can then follow up with my own research and ping the appropriate person. It’s almost like an internal drip campaign.
Luckily, our people understand that these stories help grow accounts, acquire new customers, and sell more licenses. But I also appeal to their need for recognition to nudge them into pointing out customers worthy of my consideration.
Whenever you publish a customer story, it’s an opportunity to give a shout out to the team behind that success. Beyond publication, you can also do a bit of a social media push. For example, if I publish and share a customer story on LinkedIn, I ping our larger Slack groups at Gong and ask them to share the story. I make an extra effort to mention the CSM and sales rep working with the person being profiled to thank them for creating satisfied customers who are happy to partner with us. The increased sales and recognition motivate our people to be on the lookout for interesting customers with exciting stories.
Even if your CS or sales teams aren’t as eager to help, I still recommend first digging into the tools at your disposal to find customer story opportunities. Figure out who those great customers are and then approach their CSM to ask if they’re a good fit. You can even offer SPIFFs to reps and CSMs if you’re really stuck.
Step 3: Vet Your Customers
I believe that every customer has a good story to tell. To draw out every detail, I work with , which helps chosen customers develop compelling first-person success stories and thought leadership pieces. I currently use Upshot to focus on customers in our Revenue Champions program, some of our most successful and passionate advocates. This targeted approach helps me find the most interesting people.
I like to lay down some groundwork before introducing a customer to the Upshot team. Once I’ve selected an individual to be featured in a story, I start with an exploratory call. I explain the Upshot process, and I try to uncover their story by focusing on their experience instead of our product. What makes them tick? What’s their passion? Why did they choose their career path or embark on a particular project? I like to tap into their excitement and tie their success and enthusiasm to our product, because that connection forms a more compelling narrative than just citing numbers alone.
This 15-minute call helps me get a better sense of a customer and allows me to determine whether they’re a good match for a customer success story. In some instances, I’ll discover they’re a better candidate for a traditional case study, testimonial, or podcast interview. But I’m looking for those exceptional individuals who offer compelling details about their personal and professional lives that make for memorable customer stories.
My favorite Upshot story featured of Slack. An Ivy League scholar with a graduate degree from Oxford University, Bradford discovered improv while walking the cobblestone streets of Oxfordshire. He went on to a successful career as an improviser before transitioning to sales enablement. I wouldn’t have discovered his one-in-a-million story had I simply relied on the numbers.
Step 4: Sell the Opportunity
The ideal customer wants to tell their story. They want to share their accomplishments and their expertise. They want to show how their company is exceptional, how they invest in their people by providing them with the right tools, and how they use Gong, in our case, to succeed. To get customers to agree to be featured in a success story, cut out all the fluff and appeal to their self-interest.
Explain that they’re positioning themselves as thought leaders and deserve their place in the spotlight. Tell them that they’ve done something noteworthy with your product and the world should know about it. Sometimes it’s worth it to follow up with thank-you gifts, but the key to obtaining buy-in is to explain that they’re being honored for their achievements, and this story will give them a tool to help build their career.
A great customer story starts with a great customer. It takes some work to find the right person to showcase, but the extra effort is worth it. To stand out from the competition, you have to show that your products and users are extraordinary. You must find the heroes who are transforming their companies and their industries with the tools you provide. Most importantly, you must craft a story that goes beyond mere numbers to delight and inspire your audience.
When you do, it’s magic.
Watch my Influitive Live session: How Gong Sources Incredible Customer Stories