More of a watcher than a reader? Check out the webinar on this topic.


Let me start with a question. Of course, I won’t know if you answer it, but I’ll trust you and ask the question anyway: When you write case studies, why do you include customer quotes?

I assume you think it’s more impactful for prospects to hear directly from your customers than from you. And you’re right! Well done!

Let’s take a look at an example:

Acme Company helped save Walmart $1 million.


“Using Acme’s solutions saved us over $1 million.”

— Shelly Smith, VP at Walmart

These both effectively say the same thing: Acme Company helped a big household name save a lot of money. But no one would argue they’re equally poignant. We know the second example—where we hear directly from the customer—hits harder. But why?

It comes down to an inconvenient truth. No, not that one. It’s a truth that us marketers don’t want to acknowledge:

Your prospects don’t trust you.

Bridging the trust gap

Don’t be offended—why would your prospects trust you? There’s too much scar tissue from the past: By the slick-talking SaaS salesperson who overpromised and underdelivered, by the Instagram ad for the socks that were supposed to be “The most comfortable ever®” but itched our feet. 

Here are a couple of stats from Gartner to illustrate my point:

  • 70% of consumers report they distrust marketers
  • 55% of customers now trust companies less than they used to

This means a couple of things:

  • 1) People trust marketers less than they trust companies (sorry marketers)
  • 2) We’ve got our work cut out for us when trying to reach prospects.

There’s a trust gap that exists between what our prospects believe and what we’re trying to sell, as you can see in this artist’s (my) rendition of the problem:

Trust gap illustration

So what’s a marketer to do? We all know we need social proof, but we have different ideas of how to get it. One common way of attaining social proof is the beloved (not by me) case study. But that doesn’t get us there. It falls short because of that inconvenient truth we talked about earlier: you know, the fact that the people we’re marketing to don’t trust us. If they don’t trust us, how can the solution be us writing about ourselves? (It isn’t.)

The real way over this gap is staring us right in the face.

Remember this?:

Acme Company helped save Walmart $1 million.


“Using Acme’s solutions saved us over $1 million.”

— Shelly Smith, VP at Walmart

The reason the second quote resonates is that it isn’t Acme Company (that we don’t trust—and not just because of all of the anvil dropping) writing about themselves. It’s prospects hearing from their peers. It’s why we strive for quotes from our customers, for online reviews and references. The good news is that you can tap into that level of authenticity and relatability in your case studies—you just need to rethink them.

A simple change to your case studies that you probably aren’t doing

Our prospects trust our customers more than they trust us. So what if the whole case study was written by your customer? 

It’s more than a shift from third to first person. I’m not talking about simply changing all references of your customer’s company name to simply say “I” now. I’m talking about helping your customer to craft their story the same way they’d tell it: In their words, without overly forcing your brand message.

That’s right. Your stories shouldn’t be in your carefully crafted brand voice, the one where someone quit because they didn’t get their way on the Oxford comma. These first-person customer stories aren’t diluted by you. Instead, it allows the reader to put themselves in the shoes of your customer. 

Remember that companies don’t buy your solutions—people do. And people don’t relate to companies; they relate to other people. Rather than a typical challenge/solution/results story about what your company did, we want to get hyper-personal, delving deep into the customer’s personal journey to create a relatable narrative (and, let’s be honest, one that’s a lot more engaging to read). 

Creating more authentic customer stories isn’t easy, but it’s possible. There are three main parts that I’ll cover at a high level:

  1. Finding the right customer
  2. Changing how you interview
  3. Crafting an authentic story

Finding the right customer

This part is going to be short, because there’s already a good write up on this. One of our customers at Upshot, Gong, does an incredible job of sourcing the perfect customers to feature in a customer story.

At Influitive Live, I sat down with Gong’s Senior Customer Marketing Manager, Patricia Lalisan Bautista, to see how she does it. You can watch a recording of that session here, or read Patricia’s story, How Gong Finds the Right Customers to Feature in Our Customer Stories. What I love about Patricia’s approach is that it’s not out of reach. This isn’t a system that only a few top-tier companies can implement. While her practice of working with internal teams and vetting customers might seem like a given, I can assure you that most companies aren’t taking this strategy. Read her post and implement it, and then thank me (well, you should thank Patricia) later.

Changing how you interview

Most people think they know how to interview. It’s simple, isn’t it? You think of questions and then ask them. But if your job as an interviewer could have been replaced with a tape-recorded version of yourself, then it wasn’t a good interview. Don’t be so rigid in your interview process. Stop going in with a set agenda for what you think the story needs to be. Follow your customer’s lead. The direction they’re excited to go in is usually what will resonate with your prospects.

The other aspect you’ll need to rethink is the questions you ask (pre-determined or off the cuff). Remember, you want to create a more personal story. That means your company-specific questions still have their place, but you need to go deeper. Trying asking questions that elicit more personal, specific answers.

  • With your previous solution, what really got under your skin?
  • What were you losing sleep over?
  • What are you most proud of?

This is a big enough topic that warrants its own post, and that’s coming. But if you’re interested in learning more about how professional interviewers approach their work, I recommend checking out the podcast The Turnaround with Jesse Thorn.

The key takeaway is to strive for more personal questions and to not be rigid in your interview process. Go in with less of an agenda, favor personal over business-related questions, and ask follow-up questions to go deeper. Make those few changes and you’ll immediately start to see better stories. 

Crafting an authentic story

Once you’ve sourced the right customer and brushed up on your interview skills, you’re ready to write the story. In a perfect world, our customers would write these for us, but that’s not realistic. Asking them to leave a 100-word review is doable. Asking them to write 1,000+ words, less so.

But your job here is to ghostwrite. You aren’t trying to write this as yourself, or, worse, your company. You’re writing it as your customer. Your job is only to help share their story. To do the heavy lifting. Your goal is for their friends or colleagues to read the story and say “I didn’t know you were such a great writer,” not “who wrote this for you?”

One of the biggest challenges you’ll need to overcome is focusing on how the customer would say these things, and not you. Maybe your customer talked about a product in a way that your marketing team never would. That can be a great thing. Marketing leaders who aren’t leaning into customer marketing are so disconnected from customers, and struggle to determine what will resonate with them. But we don’t have to imagine anything here. You have a customer who is telling you what resonates with them, you just have to let them speak. It’s scary, but the results are unparalleled. Customers typically talk about products in ways that are more friendly and relatable to their peers. If they’re valuable to you, you have to trust them. 

There’s no book on how to ghostwrite. Actually, there probably is and maybe you should read it. But like anything else, the key is to just do it. Analyze your own writing habits (a good exercise to do anyway) and ask yourself if that’s how the customer would write. Try to match their tone, their cadence. Use phrases or unique words they use. Are they a “use” or “utilize” person? Do they speak with a lot of analogies? Do they prefer simple, accessible language, or did they use the word perfunctory? Get out of your own head and trust the voice of your customer.

Wasn’t that easy?

So there you have it, just follow those three simple steps and you’ve got yourself better customer stories! Of course, this is all easier said than done. Finding the right customers to feature is hard (unless you use Influitive). Changing how you interview is hard. Learning to ghostwrite is hard. It’s all hard! But it’s also worth it. 

By transforming your approach to case studies, you can create something truly unique. All of your competitors produce case studies, but they probably aren’t compelling, and each one blends into the next. This approach is a way for you to stand out from the crowd. It’s time to stop fitting in. It’s time to give up the case study and embrace the customer story.

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