Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Should You Write a "Failure" Success Story?

They're called case studies. Short, real-life accounts of instances where your product/services succeeded in solving a customer's problem. They're supposed to be about glowing examples of your professionalism, timeliness, service quality, expert followup...

Okay, I can't keep writing that stuff. Too candy-coated.

Let's face it - it's impossible to make every customer 100% happy 100% of the time. That's the whole reason these case studies - or "success stories" as many call them - exist. They highlight the times when you did a good job and your customer was happy.

Demonstrating your prowess with success stories is a hugely powerful marketing tactic. Everyone likes to read stories. And it's easy for a businessperson to relate to the issues of other businesspeople. You solved Joe's problem this way; I'll bet you could solve my problem too.

I've written a few case studies in the past couple years. I get a kick out of doing them. But I had a colleague say something to me the other day that got me thinking about the flipside.

Do We Hold Off Success To Avoid Ego?
I'd asked her why she didn't have testimonials or success stories on her website (a popular web designer; many recommend her). She replied that she hadn't thought of it, and threw off a self-deprecating, "Besides, my work's not that great."

Hmmm. Having seen her work and met her customers, I know the opposite is very true. But this self-deprecating attitude is extremely common. I get it myself time and again. Even in the face of a glowing review, we're afraid to tell others about our success because we think it'll sound like loud horn-tooting.

So I thought about it. How could a service provider, like me and like my designer friend, offer case studies of well-handled projects without wanting to appear pompous in the very act of doing so?

And I thought - what about a situation where you weren't the one who solved the problem?

--Maybe you were a facilitator, who made the right connection at the right time.
--Were you only part of the team who provided the solution?
--Did things not go according to plan, forcing a last-minute scramble? (Be honest. We've all had those.)

All of these would make great success stories. Why? Because they're not about 100% success!

I'm Bored of the Same Old Successes
Let me explain what I mean. A typical case study/success story follows, at the deep deep base, a standard format -

1. Introduce client.
2. Introduce problem.
3. Introduce your product.
4. Show how product solved problem.

It happens faster for me, being a writer. But if you read the same thing over and over, what happens? Right, you get bored with it. Your eyes cross and your mind heads for Tahiti.

Why not spice up your success story? Inject a little "failure." Though It's not really failure, since the customer's problem was solved. And that is what we're all about in business, isn't it?

In fact, a "failure/success story" would show another aspect to your work. You're demonstrating that solving the customers' problems is more important than waving your own flag all the time. What's that expression - humility makes us human? Humans like doing business with other humans more than they do faceless corporate entities.

Roadmap to a Case Study From the Real World
Here's how I see service providers (and other business types) using a failure/success story:
  1. Introduce client.

  2. Introduce problem.

  3. Discuss analyzing problem with the client.

  4. List your proposed solution.

  5. Discuss how solution was implemented.

  6. List results of implementation.

  7. If a mistake or change of plans occurred, discuss. Mention client reaction.

  8. Finish with problem resolution.
A few more steps than our standard format. But look how much more flexibility lurks in there. There's room to mention unforeseen changes. Give credit to partners. Inject the human side.

All by opening the success story up to the possibility of failure.



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