Every aspect of selling and marketing is storytelling. As a marketer, I have relatively little credibility with my target audience. They know I’m paid to promote things. They’re going to be skeptical of what I say. So, when a third party says it, when a customer says it and says they actually got value and here’s what it did for me, that’s the kind of thing that goes much, much further than traditional marketing.
It’s what people pay attention to.
Welcome to the State of Customer Storytelling podcast, brought to you by Testimonial Hero. The podcast that is all about helping you as a B2B marketing leader. Get the download on the most current practices and tactics related to customer storytelling.
My guest today is Russ Somers. Russ is the CMO at Lytho, formerly inMotionNow.
Russ also served as the VP of Marketing for a number of companies, including TrustRadius, TrendKite, Invodo, and several others. He’s also an advisor to many startups, and a mentor to many people in the B2B marketing community.
I’m very excited for this episode because Russ is an experienced leader, skilled in corporate marketing, demand gen and product marketing, and comms. Also, I think you’ll appreciate how he really brings the combination of strategic vision as well as analytical insight.
Russ, welcome to the show.
Sam, thank you. It is awesome to be here. I just hope I can live up to that intro. I will do my best.
Awesome. Well, I’m sure we’ll have no problem with that.
Just to kick us off, what’s the big deal with customer stories? Why do customer stories matter so much in B2B?
Every aspect of selling and marketing is storytelling. As a marketer, I have relatively little credibility with my target audience. They know I’m paid to promote things. They’re going to be skeptical of what I say. So, when a third party says it, when a customer says it and says, “I actually got value, and here’s what it did for me,” that’s the kind of thing that it goes much, much further than traditional marketing.
It’s what people pay attention to.
So true. You’ve been a marketing leader for quite some time now, including at TrustRadius, one of the companies, in my opinion, at the forefront of customer storytelling. I’m curious, how have you seen your customer stories evolve or change over your career?
Some of my earliest marketing roles were in product marketing. Customer stories often rolled up to product marketing. It was, “Hey, we need a customer story about this type of client. Can you go get one?” which I loved because you learn your customers, you learn your product, you learn your market by doing that.
Back in the day, it was very curated. It was, let me get a customer story. Let me Polish it. Let me run it through legal a dozen times. What you’re going to get is this very perfect little jewel, but it’s also like an overproduced movie or something where you go, “I don’t believe it was that easy for Frodo and Sam to get up the side of Mount Doom. I think there had to be a heck of a lot more grit, and mud, and tough stuff along the way.”
People are embracing that authenticity, stepping away from, “I want a perfectly curated case study,” and into, “I want to know what actual users say, both the good stuff and the bad stuff.”
If you only give them the good stuff, it doesn’t build trust because they assume you’re holding something back. They want the full picture.
That’s such a good point. I love that you brought the Lord of the Rings analogy in there, as well.
Let’s step back a little bit. I want to talk about what you’re doing right now. Your current role. I think you just went through a rebrand.
Tell us a little bit about your current role and what you have going on at Lytho.
Sure. Well, I’m stepping into life though at an exciting time, because we just recently, as of April of this year, merged two companies, a Dutch company called life though, and a us company called inMotionNow. And what we determined, there were a few things that we needed to deal with. We had two very different sets of customers with somewhat different concerns, two very different stories.
And it was hard for a prospect to get their head around how these things work together. Even though really the two halves are simple on the workflow side, what was formerly in motion. Now we help creatives teams maximize their workflow and collaborate more effectively. And then on the lighthouse side, the legacy company, we help.
We help store those assets, put them into a brand center so that they can be used, et cetera. So to us, it was one sort of simple content lifecycle. We sometimes call it, but it was a little bit confusing to the market. So we had to go, how do we brand and tell a story that’s about that entire content life cycle and about the customer that needs that rather than about the two separate products.
It’s really fun, Sam, to walk into a marketing role. And on day one, have people say, I don’t know what’s up with our brand, but please blow it up and build something better. That’s just kind of fun. Usually you spend a quarter or two building the alignment that that might be needed and here it was open and waiting.
So it been a lot of
That’s awesome. And definitely, you know, encourage everyone to follow Russ on LinkedIn. And, you know, who’s been sharing a lot of great stuff about that, you know, that transition. So definitely encourage people, check that out. As it pertains to customer stories. How are you, so you, you, you’re taking this time to kind of think about the future.
How are you thinking about a customer stories for life though? in this kind of formative time.
It’s really nice to have the opportunity to go back and build it from the ground up. So that’s forced us to think a little more strategically about customer stories. We. Have a. Blessing that our customers do really do. Like what we do really are very attached to us, which is wonderful, which means we don’t have a shortage of customer story content or volunteers to tell the story that lets us start thinking about it strategically.
So the way. Approaching it is like any product. We’ve got a number of different types of use cases, right? You can use the product for this purpose, for that purpose, you know, for your review and approval for your proofing, for your assets or whatever, it might be. Use cases down in one side. Across the top.
You might go personas. Well, we have creative directors, we have tragic traffic managers. We have chief marketing officers. We have a number of personas across the top. And then if you want to get really fun and turn it into a cube instead of a spreadsheet, you go, okay, there’s a set of types of companies that we serve, you know, retail and CPG.
You know, sports teams are a popular one. We had, you know, both the Braves and the Astros. So whoever won the world series we won anyway. Right. But. Then you have a cube where you’ve got use cases down. One side, one axis is personas and the other access is type of companies. And so I’m going back and saying, okay, what customer do I have at the intersection of each of these things to go get a story from so that whatever the objection might be in a sales cycle, whatever the point we want to emphasize, we’re going to do it in a way that a person will go that’s a company like.
That is a person like me. And that is a problem. Like the one that I have, and that gives you when you can get all three of those things, customer stories become really powerful.
For someone who’s just, starting out, maybe in their customer’s story initiatives, they have, a handful of, of videos or maybe even no videos, a handful of, reviews. how do you advise or, prioritizing, right? Cause it sounds like you guys are pretty mature and you can sort of see, you know, you sort of see the gaps and they’re pretty. But what if someone’s a little earlier on what any sort of tips or guidance that you would give them in the kind of early part of the journey to kind of like figure out okay. Where, where should I prioritize my unlimited time, energy and resources for customer stories.
One of the best things you can do is sit on calls with your AEs, listen to call recordings, et cetera, and try to figure out where are deals getting stuck. And if you can identify those points that tells you what your customer story content needs to be about, because I get it. People, people think this is going to be a big thing and we won’t be there to help them through the implementation.
For example, we’ve all had unfortunately the experience of buying software that was super hard to implement the implementation team. Wasn’t great or whatever. So cool. I know now that I’m hearing on those calls, that people are worried about that. Let me get a video, let me get a customer story of a customer saying, man, the implementation process couldn’t have been smoother, more seamless.
You guys held our hand through every step of it, et cetera. I mean a customer story is just a tool, right? And you go, what is the problem we’re trying to solve with it?
And so listening to sales calls helps a lot with that because you immediately listen to a half dozen sales calls. You’ll go, I know three customer stories that I need right now.
It’s so true. It’s like that saying like a problem well-defined is, is half solved. Right? And, and to your point, it’s like, step one is like, define the problem. Like, are we, what are we trying to solve with this? It’s easy, simple, but not easy. Right. To kind of, sometimes it’s a lot going on, but that’s, I love that point. so I I kind of understand the problem I want to solve. Maybe I understand the industry, you know, in, in the, persona, how do I actually then. you know, figure out which customer in my customer base that I want to feature and kinda, you know, get that agreement.
Is it, is it as simple as, okay. I rope in, you know, customer success to help me find that person. So I feel like, you know, one thing that I see is like data and the visibility that marketers have into the customer. And really varies. And then there’s, you know, based on the software stack, but also the size of the company, how, you know, how large of a company they’re right.
Yeah, there’s. I mean, there’s a number of routes and they’re all good routes. One is like you said, you know, get in deep with your customer experience team and understand what customers they know, who has a great story. Our leader of customer experience, Brittany Pace runs a regular. Event where she will have a CS team member present a customer story and walk through what they did.
And so I go to those sessions because that’s just serving them up for me. Right. So embedding with your CX team is a big piece of it. Again, getting really, really clear on what problem you solve. As we said earlier is a big piece of it. And then something that marketers don’t do enough in my humble opinion is build direct relationships with customers because then you end up when you actually have not just a customer that you’ve met or had a drink within an event, but actual friends in the industry, then you can call them and say, Whether it’s, we’re thinking of launching a feature or we need, you know, sort of a soundbite about this feature or that feature, you then have people you can actually go to.
So build those direct relationships. Don’t let your company be a barrier between you and the customers.
What about the, you know, different formats and mediums? the big three being, you know, third-party reviews, videos, and maybe more traditionally, you know, written case studies, arguably, you know, we can also include, you know, reference calls and maybe analysts reports or make it five, but How do you think about the different, you know, mediums and formats of customer stories as someone who has leveraged all of them, you know, over the course of your career.
Yeah, they have, they have pros and cons for sure. But you know, obviously written third reviews on third-party sites have this credibility thing. Right. You know, it’s not curated, you know, as. They’ve got that advantage. They’ve got the disadvantage that really only 10% of the population learns best by reading.
Most people learn best either by seeing or by hearing, which is what makes video a powerful marketing vehicle, because then you’re playing to the learning styles of most of your audience. So. All else equal. You want to have the same content in different forms, the same stories in different forms, but video is disproportionately impactful.
One part of it is the learning styles that I mentioned, but the other piece of it is. You know, in this conversation that you and I can look at each other and kind of judge is rest credible right now. Does rest look like he knows what he’s talking about? Does rest seem a little lost on this topic or does he really seem to know it?
Right? You can make a lot of judgements about a person’s credibility in video that you can’t do in text, because we know the text is curated and polished, so they all have their place. But I love third-party reviews because I have neutrality and I love video because it brings multimodal learning. Plus you can really independently assess the person’s credibility.
Yeah, I completely agree. And that we’ve focused solely on third-party reviews and video testimonials, video case studies. That’s I completely agree. And just to score point there with the video too. I think not only can you see the credibility, but it’s because it’s a bigger ask. You, you sort of, there’s an implicit, implicitly, more social proof with that.
And in many cases, right? Cause it’s like, you know, it’s a lot easier to just hammer out a review or, you know, give a quote, pull quote for a site, you know, our slide. But like if someone goes on video, And was willing to commit to that. Like, they were really like an advocate.
Like it’s just, it was sort of that relationship. I think of like, they clearly are committed as well.
Well, they’re putting their mouth where their money is. Right. Which is great. And it, I just couldn’t agree with you more. It makes absolute perfect sense because then they are truly invested. Now I will say that I think there’s generational things as well in that the more you get into gen Z And you know, the younger millennials, the more they grew up on camera, they’re totally good with it.
It’s actually easy. And so there’s something to be said for that as well. Is it actually makes your intake process easier rather than shooting a document back and forth a few hundred times as people edit, revise, Vanessa, et cetera, with video, you capture it. you got it. It’s that easy.
So true. And what about, you know, the more, I think we’re personally you and I definitely lean more toward third-party reviews and videos. I’m curious, where do you see, you know, if anywhere like the written case study. sort of going, or is it, is it, or is the sun kind of setting in your opinion on like the traditional, like PDF, you know, case study?
Or like, on a, in a PDF format almost more certainly. Right. Maybe it’s like on a website now, but, if written like case studies are going to stay relevant, Where do you think that they sort of need to, to evolve into,
That’s a really good question. I mean, off the top of my head, I think the evolution is it becomes clearer that it’s a marketing piece. That, you know, a third-party review is neutral. A video is somebody putting their own name and reputation out there. And when you do a written case study, you just know this is truly a marketing piece.
You make no apologies for that. So it’s packaged perfectly. It’s nice and shiny, et cetera. What’s interesting though, is the more you work, all of these angles together, you find, you know, from your third-party reviews, you find great reviews.
This is a perfect person to ask for a testimonial or a case study.
You do the work that you’re doing with creating, you know, testimonial videos. The transcript of that is the rough outline for a written case study. So all of these things kind of work together and reinforce each other in my, in my humble opinion.
That makes complete sense. So really it doesn’t have to be an either or it can absolutely be a yes. And, that makes sense. And, I’d love to get your opinion on like measuring results of, you know, customer stories. So I think there’s a lot of interesting you know, in, in good points, about this.
Some people are, fairly sort of blacks on the measurement maybe in, and because they know. Look, sales is using them. They’re getting feedback. Like that’s good enough for me. and that works for them. Other people, if you put in the work, you can obviously measure them a lot more. It really depends how much you want to hook everything up to your remark, an automation platform, and go through that whole thing.
Where do you kind of fall around? Like, just like the philosophy of measurement on customer stories and how, how do you, I guess, achieve.
It’s a really good question. You know, the phrase measure, what matters comes to mind. I want, by default everything I do hooked up to my marketing stack six ways from Sunday so that I can measure anything I might want to measure. But you have to ask, what is the purpose? Of the asset you’ve created before you can measure the results.
So, you know, is it primarily down-funnel impact? Okay. I’m going to measure usage by the sales team. How often do they actually go to the dam, pull this asset and use it in a sales pitch. If it is, if I’m looking for higher funnel, it’s like, I’m getting people to the web. I want them to watch this video and overcome their own objections.
So they’ll opt in and we can market to them then. Cool. I’m going to measure consumption on the website. How many times a video, how many times have pages seen how many times the video is played? Is it played through the completion? And nice thing about video is you’ve got, and this goes back to my days at, in Voto super cool metrics in terms of how long it’s watch for are there points that they scrubbed back and forth to see additional contents?
It all comes down to the purpose, but I’m going to want to know two things. is it consumed by external parties? And is it used by our internal parties?
By our, by our sales And CS team? If I measure those two things, I feel like I’m going in a good direction. I also look for the soft attribution of hearing from sales.
Hey man, that customer story you published on this particular use case just helped me move this deal down. Can’t really quantify that as well, but I love to hear it because it helps me know. Do people find them useful?
It’s so true. And I agree. I think it’s like, it’s a balance of like common sense and measuring what matters to your point. Right. and I guess starting with the right strategy, right. Coming back to one of your first points. The the better, you know, you nailed on the strategy to begin with the, you know, obviously the results are the measure, the results you’re looking for are going to be there. So it pays to figure out the strategy first because you know that that’s ultimately, what’s going to drive, I think a large part of the results. another challenge, people run into is actually kind of getting customers to start to agree. So like, if I’m a marketer, a B2B marketer, a marketing leader listened to this like, great. I understand, like, I need to, you know, build up this, this matrix, this cube, you know, map my personas, map, my verticals, Matt, my product.
Do a gap analysis, figure out, you know, what I need to prioritize, but when I actually make that ask, you know, it’s, it’s, it can be a big ask depending on what you’re asking for. And like, what have you learned about just getting customers to say yes.
And do you have any tips to share there? Whether it’s like how you ask functionally, you know, ways you can, you know, make it a two-way exchange of value or anything at all you can share with the audience there? Cause I know that is something that everyone gets stuck on, you know from time to time.
Yeah. I mean, there’s a few things. First off is working with your contracts and legal team to ensure that the ask is this just there in the default contract? What that does is it removes a speeding? You’re never, even if every contract says you will give us a testimonial, you’re never going to push somebody that doesn’t want to give you one into giving you one.
And if you did, you’d probably regret it. But by having it baked into the contract as a default task, you remove that first speed bump of. Am I allowed to ask for this. So that’s a big piece of it is making sure that that’s done. I like what you said, Sam, about two way exchange of value and different people value different things.
So trying to figure out what they’re going to value and payback that value. Some people love to speak on a webinar or in a video and just. This is super cool. You’re promoting me, you’re building my personal brand. You know, you can look at the person on LinkedIn and go, is this somebody that’s into promoting themselves and building their brand?
Cool. That lets me know how to make the ask because I’m going to make it in the context of we’re going to do this in a way that’s going to help you. Is this person very much sort of the. Corporate citizen that doesn’t tend to step out and do, and, and, you know, do things that are self promotional. Then you have to ask, what do they get out of it?
And maybe you just need to have that conversation with them about their career goals, what matters to them and try to position what you’re doing as a way to get them there. So there’s, there’s sort of no substance. For knowing the person and working to figure out their motivations. So the ask is one that benefits both, but I will say this, we think we’re making this big ass.
Oh my gosh, we’re going, we’re asking a person to do a really big thing. An awful lot of people are happy to do it. I mean, most people, when they find a vendor that they like, it’s like, finally, you get me. They will want to pay that back.
You do have to avoid reference fatigue though, because it’s really easy to go.Here are the same six customers we always ask and past a certain point, they start, you know, going, we’ve given you a lot. So knowing that’s where again, knowing which ones you really want, which customers you need can help you avoid that reference fatigue because by Nat you’ll naturally be steered away from burning them out.
Yeah, I’m glad you mentioned reference fatigue because that can be a real issue. I was having an, in another previous conversation on the show, we were talking about how, you know, with video testimonials and especially utilizing like the micro content and making more than just like the 92nd video, you can really deflect a lot of those reference calls and, you know, you can sort of just.
Kind of scaled out by having a more rich video experience of your kind of would be references. So yeah, that is a really good point.
Well, yeah, let’s you do one to many references where before it has to be one-to-one, which also means there’s some training of the sales team involved. When somebody says, Hey, I’d like to do a call with a reference customer. You should train your sales team to add. Cool. What objection are you trying to overcome?
You know, what’s, what’s your concern? What question are you trying to answer? Because a lot of times then you’ll say, oh, well, I can definitely connect you with a reference, but if your primary concern is again, I’ll go back to implementation. Just in this example, if your primary concern is implementation, here’s like two videos where customers talk about the implementation process.
That’ll get you an overview. And then if you need to know more, I’m happy to set up that reference.
So reference calls aren’t going away then completely, there are still going to be a thing, but maybe it seems like really rich customer storytelling. us as marketers, we can sort of, you know, minimize them or just better utilize them. Is that sort of.
I think that’s fair to say. And the other thing is, again, in this economy where it’s easy to figure out what everybody else is doing, people are going to do back channel reference calls. Anyway, the customer you queue up to give me a reference call. I know again is curated Is prepped. Is somebody you have faith in to not say anything bad, versus if I can figure out who’s using your product.
And ask them myself, I’m going to go have that conversation. And it’s not hard to figure out who’s using a given piece of technology.
That’s a great point. And, in terms of, you know, where things are going in the future, you know, we talked a little bit about how things have changed in the, over the course of your career, but I’m curious where you see things going in the future. Around customer stories and, yeah, let’s what are some of the, I guess, trends or changes that you’re, that you’re kind of seeing in the marketplace?
Well, I mean, there’s interesting things to think about in terms of where the puck is going to be. Right. I think our customer story is going to continue to be important. They’ve been important since the Dawn of business and they will continue to be important. The form is going to change. And if you look at people now trusting third parties, I think a piece you’re going to see is.
People looking for more ways to make direct connection with a customer and ask direct questions of that person. So, you know, that’s one thing people are going to go, how can I look this person up and have a conversation with him directly without being connected? And for that, I think you need to think in terms of your customer story strategy, do you answer all the questions in small enough bites?
Because one thing that is very true of traditional customer stories is they’re sort of monolithic. It’s a big case study. It’s a lot of effort. Cool. But how do you have a simple thing?
That’s like. Three sentences. That answers one specific question per your point, about taking a video and breaking it up and atomizing it.
How do you arm the sales team and arm the customers with those, you know, 30 seconds on this one feature rather than a five minute video? Right? So atomization would be a big thing that I think it happens everywhere else in marketing is absolutely happening in customer stories.
So true. And I think you know, with that atomization also kind of comes up. This may be more focused on the full funnel approach. Whereas to me, I feel like even, you know, a couple of years ago, you know, customer stores were almost this thing where it’s like, okay, like, you know, they’re pretty close to the deal.
Like men, we hit them with all the customer stories in like that case study to kind of push them over the line. Whereas like now I think a lot of big shift is like the best. No marketing teams are leveraging customer voice throughout the entire buyer journey. to your point, it’s, it’s not this monolithic thing at the end anymore.
It’s atomized throughout the entire buyer journey, just going to sprinkle them.
Well, there are these trust cues, right? A customer story says, I can trust you. And there’s no reason you should save that all for the bottom of the funnel, because your funnel is a series of steps. And at each step you want to give them the insurance, somebody that. Well there’s an SEO platform called demand.
Well, and their primary marketing asset right now, at least as I see it is a video of Kyle Lacy from Lessonly talking about them and they’re not using that just in sales cycles. That is absolutely a big part of their top of funnel marketing. When you see their ads, they’re using that to build credibility.
Because again, what I say about myself as a marketer, no one cares what a customer says. That matters.
So I think you’ll see a lot more of that full funnel and that feeds the atomization as well, because you don’t have the attention span at the top of the funnel for, you know, an hour long session or what have, but you certainly have 30 seconds to answer a key question.
So true. And, Russ, any tips for marketing leaders who want to, they like what they’re hearing and they’re like, okay, I want to, I want to make up for lost time. Right? Like I want to get. I want to catch up on my customer story programs, any tips or advice to help them kind of get.
I mean, you’ve got to start somewhere. So the key is just to start right. Do some quick and dirty map of again, the verticals you want and the personas, the problems. So you have a starting place that doesn’t have to be. Big exercise. You can do it in 30 minutes if you know your business. So that’s step one.
Step two is to go to your customer success team and say, I apologize for not having been as involved as I should have been, but I really need to start getting to know customers and use them to broker those introductions. And then as you build those direct relationships, Use those to expand your program, you know, identify, you’ve got a customer that it, a killer testimonial, killer customer story.
Awesome. Who are other customers like that? So the core thing is just to start some strategy, but a little bit of execution overcomes, overcomes that pretty quickly.
Russ, where can people get in touch with you if they want to connect and learn more about you or one of your courses?
I’m just Russ Somers. I’m on LinkedIn. You can hit me up there.
Lytho, L Y T H O.com. You can get all the information on our offerings. If you’ve got creative teams, marketing teams dealing with complex things, we have a lot of resources there that can help you.
Russ, this has been just an absolutely fantastic episode. Very excited to get this out there. Thanks for hopping on.
Sam, I’ve really enjoyed it. Thank you so much.
That was a just fantastic episode with Russ Somers.
Just to highlight a few of the things that really stood out to me. I love this, not just a matrix, but a cube. So, thinking about plotting it out, use cases on one axis, personas on the other axis, and then industries. Just thinking about that and making sure you check all the boxes that you want to check in the order that is important to you.
Lots of good stuff about sitting on calls with your AEs, understanding the pain points. At the end of the day, as Russ said, customer stories are a tool. So, if you want to solve a problem, you want to understand what problem you’re trying to solve.
Is it a specific objection? A question or a doubt? A QFD that comes up frequently? Also some really good stuff about how it’s no longer about a monolithic case study. The best marketing teams are out there are taking a more full-funnel approach atomization of content.
You really want to get your video, get your third-party reviews. Your case studies can be a part of that as well. They’re all synergistic, and they all reinforce each other.
I definitely encourage anyone to follow Ross. He’s great on LinkedIn, shares a lot of great content.
As always, this is the State of Customer Storytelling podcast. I’m Sam Shepler from Testimonial Hero, and we hope to see you in another episode.