Customer Success Story Critique – AlienVault

Customer Success Story Critique – AlienVault

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In this post, you’re going to learn these best practices that you can apply to your next customer success story:

  1. A nifty technique to boost your ROI
  2. How to choose better case-study candidates
  3. How to strike the right balance between your company and your customers
  4. How to grab skimmers’ attention
  5. How to make your customer success stories easier to read
  6. Why longer customer success stories are OK

Hi, I’m Mike Russell from, the place where marketers go to build trust and boost sales with their customers’ success stories.

Below, I show you three good practices to follow in your customer success stories, three bad practices to avoid, and my thinking behind each one.

Today’s customer success story comes from AlienVault (AV) a provider of highly intelligent security that is affordable and simple to use. It’s about their work supporting the growth of Brier & Thorn, a global IT risk management firm.

To get the most out of this post, take a few minutes to read this customer success story.

Finally, to be clear, I had no part in creating this customer success story. I’m just using it as an educational example.

Alright, let’s go!!

Customer Success Story Best Practice #1: Put a high priority on readability


Line breaks are like breaths; don’t go too long without them.

As strong as this quote is, it needs to be broken apart into multiple paragraphs. Otherwise it looks like a wall of text to the reader; one that may seem like too much of an effort to consume.

Speaking of readability, why aren’t there any subheaders in this piece? They would further break up the text, which would make the whole piece more readable.

Subheaders should give skimmers the gist and set up readers for what's next.

Subheaders should give skimmers the gist of the article and set up readers for what’s next.

When I write a customer success story, I tend to add subheaders after I’ve finished the body of the draft. That way, I know how the customer success story flows (thanks to the time I first spend outlining), and can create subheaders that serve as ‘markers’ for the reader. They give skimmers the gist of the story, and provide more thorough readers with context for the next section.

Customer Success Story Best Practice #2: Use pull quotes that pull their weight

Think of pull quotes as the border between testimonials and case studies. Pull quotes highlight a happy customer’s satisfaction; the case study provides supporting context.

Let’s begin with the case study’s second pull quote. It’s really strong. Even if the reader doesn’t look at the rest of the customer success story, they still get a sense for the problem AV solved for the client.

“Appealing summary, but what the heck are ‘USM’ and ‘OTX?’”

“Appealing summary, but what the heck are ‘USM’ and ‘OTX?’”

That said, the pull quote uses a couple of acronyms specific to AV and Brier & Thorn. Though these are defined in the body of the customer success story, they won’t mean anything to skimmers.

Fortunately, the pull quote’s meaning doesn’t rely on the acronym. For that reason, I’d recommend that the customer success story’s writer remove the acronyms entirely. So, instead of:

“As soon as we deployed USM (without having to rely on any network IDS signatures at all) OTX began immediately flagging egress traffic from the network
to hosts in Russia.”

It could simply be:

“As soon as we finished implementation (without having to rely on any network IDS signatures at all), it began immediately flagging egress traffic from the network
to hosts in Russia.”

One last thing: it should also appears in the body of the customer success story.


Pull quote #2 in context. The best pull quotes move the story forward AND can stand on their own.

I think that’s totally fine. It fits in both contexts: in the story arc, and as an impressive result that should be highlighted.

In contrast, the first pull quote is weak:

Pull quote #1 in context. "But was AV the only vendor that they looked at?"

Pull quote #1 in context. But was AV the only vendor that they looked at?

This phrasing makes it sound like the customer didn’t go through a thorough review process. Readers are looking for contrast between the vendors on their short lists. They want to know why one solution was chosen over another.

If AV had been *the only technology* that the client had looked at, that should be highlighted instead.

Customer Success Story Best Practice #3: Make it easy for readers to follow up




Mmmm… a big green button. So tempting to press it.

I love this ‘start your free trial’ button added twice into the customer success story. It’s a strong, clear call to action, and it’s a logical step in the sales process.

However, it might be premature to call the reader to start a free trial.

AV’s website also offers an online demo

"A demo? Sounds like more work than I want to do right now."

“A demo? Sure, I have time for a demo.”

This might be more appropriate as it’s less of a commitment. There’s a lower barrier to entry.

If you think about adding an interactive call to action like this to your customer success stories (and I hope you do), try experimenting. In addition to a free trial or a demo, you could also offer a self-assessment, a brochure or a consultation.

Customer Success Story Best Practice #4: Give the full story

I really like how this customer success story has two main parts:

This customer success story features two distinct phases.

This customer success story features two distinct phases.

  • (Green) Why B&T chose AV as an incident response forensics tool, and their early success.
  • (Red) Why and how B&T expanded its relationship with AV when it was time to build their first Security Operations Center.

The progression makes sense. Describing B&T’s problems provides excellent context to illustrate AV’s versatility and quality product.

Is it too long for the typical Internet user’s attention span? Yes, but you’re not selling to the typical Internet user. You’re selling to someone whose job may depend on making a well-informed decision. Make your customers’ success stories substantive to support your prospects’ decision-making process.

Customer Success Story Best Practice #5: Focus on the Customer

Believe it or not, some companies’ customer success story writers devote more space on the page to their company than to their customers’ success stories! That’s boring reading for anyone trying to find out how their peers have solved the problems they’re facing.

Readers want to know more about the customer than your company. They can read your other collateral –sales sheets, website, product webinars- to learn about your company.

In this graphic, I’ve highlighted all the parts that are about the customer in green, and used red to show the parts that are about AV and its product.

Most of the space in your customer success stories should focus on your customers.

Most of the space in your customer success stories should focus on your customers.

About the yellow paragraph: Though this is a quote attributed to someone from the customer company, it’s really about AV. For that reason, I think of it as being in between.

Your customer success stories should have 2-3x more green than red. Let your customers shine in their success stories.

The ‘about’ statement at the bottom of the piece offers a nice element of what would be ‘red content,’ unobtrusively.

Customer Success Story Best Practice #6: Choose customer success story candidates wisely

"Now, three years after using USM as a managed services provider..."

“Now, three years after using USM as a managed services provider…”

Wow, AV waited three years before profiling this customer! That’s remarkable patience, and speaks to the quality of their product.

Why wait so long?

“It’s all about the [benefits], baby!”

By profiling the engagement over such a long period, AV shows how it was instrumental in its client’s growth. That’s a tremendous proof point to pass in front of prospects.

Reality check: AV may well have written a shorter customer success story just months after the relationship began; probably as soon as they had results worth sharing. If that’s true, it’s great that their customer success story’s writer looped back to the customer for an update.

Not only can AV show impact over time, but it can also point to Brier & Thorn’s loyalty as proof of quality.

If you’ve just landed a new, impressive client (congrats!), or your new company is just starting to rack up some client wins, the temptation to profile a customer prematurely can be intense. Patience pays off.

There you have it: six practices to make your customer success stories stronger:

  1. Improve readability by breaking up large paragraphs, and use subheaders to summarize the story.
  2. Emphasize key points with your customers’ pull quotes.
  3. Boost reader follow-up by embedding hyperlinked Calls to Action.
  4. Provide as much detail as readers want; don’t worry about an arbitrary length.
  5. Shine the spotlight on your customer. Keep text about your company to the minimum necessary for context.
  6. Choose your customer success story candidates wisely, not just based on their willingness to endorse your company publicly.

If you found this post helpful, I’d appreciate it if you shared it with friends and colleagues.

Contact me for help with your case studies.



  1. Wow – thanks for providing all the examples! Great post!

    • Hey, thanks Brighton! I tend to learn better with examples and assume I’m not alone.