You’ve decided to embark on a series of customer success stories. You’ve thought it through, identified angles sure to click with your audiences, and connected with individuals in your company’s front line to help you identify subjects. But a couple of weeks have passed since your conversations with your sales or service people and you don’t have any leads.
Although your colleagues’ packed schedules may have prevented them from getting to your request, it’s also possible they weren’t clear on the vision or how to approach their customers. The devil is in the details and if you didn’t engage your front line appropriately from the start, your project may fizzle.
Here are a few best practices for onboarding your front line.
Create a document that articulates the vision
A project brief, written or visual, will enable you to have a productive conversation with your colleagues up front and serve as an ongoing reference tool for both of you. Lean toward one page or one graphic and resist the temptation to create a PowerPoint deck. Outline objectives, the desired outcome with examples, and steps with timeframes. Include one or two compelling reasons why customers may want to take on this project.
Book a meeting to go through the game plan
Consider inviting a helper, someone who understands the end point and can explain it from an additional viewpoint to those whose help you’re seeking. Train your colleagues on why this proposal could be attractive to their customers and -- here’s a key point -- ask them to think about specific customers whose scenarios may predispose them to jump on this project. Do a little brainstorming right then and there to refine the strategy.
Encourage questions so that you can address all potential concerns, for example, how much control the customer subject may or may not have over the finished content. Book a follow-up meeting.
Examine the proposed customers up close
Once your prospects are identified, flush out why each one could make a good story. At this point, you don’t really know so surface all the positives and negatives.
To do this, reserve an hour with each account manager, the person who knows the proposed customer best. This person may not be the same one you originally engaged. Discuss the account manager’s relationship and history with the customer. Approach this almost as if it were the actual customer interview complete with prepared questions. The difference is you’ll be getting the story from your front line’s point of view. This preparation is an invaluable investment.
Before you exit this meeting, make sure you’ve accomplished three things:
Even with the customer having agreed to the project, it may still be difficult to reserve his or her time for an interview or to reschedule if the customer gets pulled away from the appointment. Take time to establish whether you should be coordinating with your interview subject directly, through your front line colleague, or through the customer’s assistant. If available, an assistant may be invaluable in moving the action along.
Ask your original colleague, or the account manager, if he or she wants to be present for the customer interview. If the decision is bounced over to you, invite the account manager.
A worthwhile investment
Don’t underestimate the amount of work and detail it takes to identify the best subjects for your vision, secure willing customers who will deliver, and get on their calendars. If you can’t invest the time, outsource the work.
Although there will still be much more to tackle before completing your project, reaching the customer interview stage – well prepared and with the right customer -- is a project milestone worth cheering about. Congrats!