A case study on how to get more case studies

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December 10, 2013 by Stephanie Janard

They’re effective, trustworthy, and prospects actually read them. But marketers can encounter some surprising resistance in securing customer case studies. Here’s how to overcome the most common three scenarios.

Challenge: Your company’s sales reps keep blowing off your requests to schedule case study interviews with customers.

And much to your irritation, you’re starting to sense they don’t want marketing anywhere near their accounts. What gives?

I put this problem first because it’s more common than many marketers realize. Salespeople are indeed protective of their painfully won customer relationships – and live in fear that marketing will do something to screw these relationships up.

So, they put you off with different excuses. The customer’s still having some issues with the product…they’ve only recently signed up…they’re on the verge of buying an additional solution/service that will make for a better case study…you get the idea. You’re going to have to walk over the sales rep’s dead body to get to their customer.

Solution: A bribe.

First, keep in mind that your salespeople may be articulating some very legitimate concerns, although if problems with the product are a frequent occurrence, your company has a much bigger challenge to address.

As for the fairly new account, an entire case study can be written that focuses on what led the customer to your company in the first place – and why the customer ultimately chose your company over the competition. (I’ll get to the proprietary restrictions excuse in just a moment.)

So all that said, how do you deal with the salesperson who won’t budge? What else: a bribe. These people, even more than most, are driven by rewards…so be sure to make this a contest that everyone can win. The reward for securing a case study can be anything from a gift certificate for a hot new restaurant to cold hard cash.

Even better, make it an ongoing program with new and increasingly desirable rewards for each subsequent case study agreement. Any investment you make in prizes will be more than worth it if you end up with an impressive library of case studies.

You will also need to assure sales you won’t ruin their customer relationships. I handle most of the case studies I write like this: send a questionnaire to the salesperson so he/she knows what questions I’ll be asking the client; have an initial call with the salesperson to get background; then invite the salesperson to be a part of the client phone conversation.

I know firsthand these steps go a long way in showing the sales rep that the customer will be treated in a professional, respectful manner.

Challenge: Your customers state that proprietary reasons prevent them from participating in a case study.

This one comes up a lot for companies that sell to notoriously secretive government agencies and Fortune 500 companies. And frankly, it’s the toughest to solve. Not even a juicy bribe, like a discount for add-ons or at contract renewal time, will always persuade the customer to agree to a case study – although I have seen this tactic work before.

But in my experience, more than anything it requires a solid working relationship between people in your company and the customer’s.

Solution: Position case study as a marketing tool for the customer, too. And/or offer to leave out customer’s name.

Time and again, your company has gone beyond the call of duty for this client. And  now it’s payback time. Don’t be afraid to remind the customer of all that’s been done – with flattering tact, of course.

Have the person who’s the most “in” with your customer do the asking, something along the lines of, “This partnership has really solved some persistent challenges in your industry – particularly when we solved problem a, b, c, etc. – and I think your peers would really benefit from hearing about the breakthrough you achieved. Can we collaborate on a case study together? You’d have final editorial approval, of course.”

In essence, this conversation should also present the case study as a marketing piece for the customer, not just for your company. Which, by the way, is exactly what a well-written case study should be about: how the customer is doing great things for their customers with your product.In short, it should be the customer’s story – always.

If they still won’t do it, then ask if you can write a case study without using their name or other obvious identifiers. By now, they may be feeling guilty enough about saying no that they’ll agree to an interview under this caveat. It’s obviously not as desirable as using the actual customer’s name, but a skillfully written case study can overcome this.

If you go this route, be sure to note somewhere on the case study that it’s about a real customer experience, with the customer’s name omitted for proprietary reasons.

Challenge: Your company or product is new and you don’t have customers yet to agree to a case study.

This seems like the most impossible scenario of all, but it’s actually the easiest to get around!

Solution: Write an industry usage study instead. 

Do what a client of mine with a new line of handheld scanners did: create a series of “industry use studies.” In this type of case study, you have zero restrictions on how your product or service performs, as you get to make up whatever setting you want it to perform in – for example, how your software saves time, money, or lives in a hospital.

You can make the hospital as big as you want, or even narrow the environment down to a particular ward in the hospital. It’s your story, you get to create every detail of the plot. Just make sure it’s as close as possible to your prospect’s real world work life. And I trust you’ll avoid the credibility-ruining temptation to claim outrageous results, like a zillion dollars within the first hour!

Worried that a use study just won’t be the same as a case study based on an existing customer? Consider this: if your prospects already know your solution doesn’t have customers yet, and they’re still communicating with you, a use study that depicts the solution in a setting much like the one they work in everyday can only prove that you “get” what they do and need.

Did I leave any amazing strategies out? Share it in the comments below! Your peers will love you for it, as case studies really are among the most sought-after pieces of marketing collateral.

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One thought on “A case study on how to get more case studies

  1. Doug Kessler says:

    Excellent tips on a tough but important subject.

    One trick we suggest to clients: at the new deal negotiation stage, just when you’re about to give a concession (or price or terms or whatever) make it conditional on giving a case study. It costs you nothing (you were already going to concede the point); it gives you a reason for the concession (helping prevent a discount mentality) and it gets you a new case study.

    Thanks for the post.

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