The art of storytelling is an ancient practice that has evolved over thousands of years and is by no means slowing down. From the intergenerational legacy of its oral tradition, to physically turning a novel’s printed pages, even to binging your favorite new series on Netflix, it’s a craft that continually provokes intimacy between the storyteller and their recipient. 📖

But storytelling isn’t exclusively for the poets. Even in the modern world of business, storytelling can be utilized to generate a connection between brand and customer, cultivating meaningful and lasting relationships.

Much like the poets who don’t have a monopoly on storytelling, product storytelling isn’t purely a marketing technique – far from it. Customer success can harness the power of storytelling as a canny initiative to drive product adoption and to better understand its end-users.

Sam Basile's a Manager of Strategic Customer Success at ZoomInfo, and was one of the elite CS practitioners speaking at March’s Customer Success Festival. ZoomInfo is an AI-led business database that provides accurate and actionable B2B contact information to accelerate decision-making, as well as the growth of sales and marketing teams.

As chance would have it, Sam’s presentation is all about the role of storytelling in customer success. For Sam, product storytelling is “the ability to articulate a complex workflow, process, or platform in such a way that is relevant to your audience.”

We were lucky enough to catch up with Sam ahead of his presentation and pick his brains around product storytelling, specifically asking:

Here’s a taster of the good stuff he’ll cover in his talk.👇

What is product storytelling?

SB: A lot of people assume storytelling is immersing your audience with your product, making it personal, and creating an air of urgency. But within the customer success space, all customers want to hear how you are going to make their lives easier.

If you can tell a story in such a way that not only teaches someone how to use a tool or product but pinpoint when and where within their day they’ll use it. Not only will this make their life easier, but it can lead to greater adoption.

In short, you must find ‘the why’ behind your product and communicate this.

What is the most critical aspect of product storytelling?

SB: The most critical part is reading the room and knowing your audience. If you deliver a story incorrectly it could ultimately lead to confusion and loss of trust. Knowing what triggers to avoid and how to navigate objections from end users is crucial. This again goes back to the importance of understanding ‘the why’ so you can use that as your north star.

What are the main benefits of introducing product storytelling into your customer success strategy?

SB: When you’re trying to drive product adoption amongst your end-users, you’ve got to ask yourself what works better: a line-by-line overview of how to use the tool, or an in-depth story that highlights their business’ goals and metrics, explaining how using the product in a specific way will help them reach those goals?

Through deep discovery, the goal is to understand everything about your customer and end-users. Once you know that, you become an extension of that team. Wrapping it in a bow within a story allows everyone to view you as that product expert, which, in turn, will lead to greater retention of the information.  

What kind of impact does product storytelling have on customer retention?

SB: When it comes to customer retention, I have seen first-hand how storytelling can alter a relationship for the better.

When you utilize it appropriately you become an extension of their team, much like a trusted advisor. With this trust, you have the ability to make recommendations, highlight better workflows that could lead to greater adoption, and have insider knowledge that could lead to an upsell.

Customer retention increases not only because the product is working well, but also because your main point of contact starts to view you as an asset they can’t lose.

How did you get into product storytelling?

SB: In my time spent as a leader within the Four Seasons Resort, I realized very quickly that the information we had to speak with guests about wasn’t always positive. However, we didn’t want to make them upset so everything relied on positive storytelling.

We had to understand the context, where we fell short, and how we would resolve things. Then, we needed to articulate this in such a way that wouldn’t leave the guests feeling upset or as if they missed out on something. This was my first real exposure to the power of storytelling.

Fast-forward to today and you’ll find the role of storytelling part of my everyday. From getting executives to agree to join standard business reviews (SBRs) for my reps, to holding admins accountable to do additional training – it's all storytelling. If I didn’t make it relevant and applicable to their situation, they would never agree to meet.  

Examples of successful product storytelling in customer success

SB: I have tons of these to pick from, but this prime example shows customer escalation.

For instance, in one case I oversaw, a company renewed their subscription but somehow their renewal didn’t follow our normal processes. Now, as a result, this led to inaccurate banners being visible to end-users highlighting their seat on the plan would be deactivated. The main point of contact was, understandably, very upset as this created much confusion and a small loss in revenue as reps stopped using the tool to prospect.

My priority was to understand what had happened and how we would alter our internal processes internally to ensure it does not happen again.

I delivered my apology to the customer, explained our situation, why it happened, and what changes we have made internally to avoid it happening again in the future – our main point of contact was delighted by this. He saw what we were working with internally and my transparency was well received. He mentioned, “there was only one answer I was going to accept and you hit it perfectly.” I was transparent, honest, owned up for our areas of opportunity, and moved on.

If I had not been able to tell this story in a way that was relevant, he would have continued being upset and likely kept escalating up to senior leadership.

Where should you start if you plan on crafting a strategic product narrative?

SB: The first step is simple: become a product expert. If you don’t have an air-tight understanding of the product it can hurt your credibility.

Once you know the product, then it's all about listening to your customers' pain points, goals, and objectives. Once you know all of that, you can weave it into your product overview to make it more relevant.

What would you say are the biggest mistakes CS leaders make when tackling retention?

SB: When tracking retention, the majority of the focus is on the money. When you actually look at what goes into making a great CSM, most of the time it doesn’t involve the extra dollars. I think it’s our responsibility as leaders within the CS space to continue coming up with ways to track those non-monetary items that lead to expansion and greater retention.

Customer retention strategy [Q&A with Arun Kumar]
Arun Kumar is the Head of Renewals and Customer Success JAPAC at NetApp, and took the time to answer our questions ahead of his talk at this year’s Customer Success Festival APAC.

Customer success is a delicate balance between tech and human touch – in fact, it's one of the five principles in The Customer Success Manifesto.

But creating a product narrative sounds very much like a human-led initiative to drive retention rates.

How would you use data and technology in your bid to create a product narrative?

It's all customer-dependent. Take ZoomInfo, for instance. If the customer is tracking meetings booked, we can use their data on how many meetings are getting booked to see if there is an increase. If there is not, we know we need to go back to the drawing board on our story.

Decisions are made based on data, so understanding what data points are most important to your customer will help you understand how to use data and technology when storytelling to drive a point home.

Finally, what key takeaway do you hope people will leave your presentation with?

I hope they see storytelling doesn’t have to be only people willing to speak in front of a room. Anyone can be a good storyteller in their own way if they listen and make the content relevant. Remember to understand ‘the why’ from your customer and how your product is going to help them with that.  

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