Great case studies start with great stories.

A Case Study on How to Get More Case Studies

They’re effective, trustworthy, and prospects actually read them–but marketers can encounter surprising resistance in securing case studies from their customers. Here’s how to overcome the three most common challenges standing in the way of compiling a great collection of customer success stories.

CHALLENGE #1: 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 the PR or Marketing teams 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 them 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: First, keep in mind that these excuses may very well be legitimate concerns, although if there aren’t any good results to report within a few months of implementation, your company could have a larger challenge to address. As for the fairly new account, almost an entire case study can be written that focuses on what led the customer to your company in the first place, why the customer ultimately chose your company over the competition and the solution itself.

So all that said, how do you deal with the sales person 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. I recommend the latter. A generous amount of it. A good customer case study can deliver priceless returns to your marketing, public relations and sales programs.

Even better, make it an ongoing program with new and increasingly desirable rewards for each subsequent case study agreement secured. 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, of course, need to assure sales that you won’t ruin their customer relationships. I try to handle most of the case studies I write like this: send a questionnaire to the salesperson or account manager 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. Getting both the salesperson and client’s perspectives also makes for a more layered, contextual customer success story.

CHALLENGE #2: 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 candidly, it’s the toughest nut to crack. 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: Time and again, your company has gone beyond the call of duty for this client and you’re fairly certain there’s considerable gratitude and appreciation for it. Well, now it’s payback time. Don’t be afraid to remind the customer of all that’s been done – but in a way that makes the customer see the value in publicizing it.

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 for your target market– particularly when we solved problem a, b, c, etc. I think more widely promoting this breakthrough to others struggling with the same problems could make a big impact. Can we collaborate on a case study together? We have very skilled writers on hand to craft it, and of course, you’d have final editorial approval.”

Important note: This conversation should also present the case study as a marketing or public relations asset for the customer, not just for your company. Which, by the way, is exactly what a well-written customer success story 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 the company’s 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.

No, it’s not as desirable as using the actual customer’s name, but a deftly written case study can overcome this limitation.

And you can add some credibility back in by noting at the top of the case study that it’s about a real customer experience, with the customer’s name omitted for proprietary reasons. And do show it to the customer one more time—if it’s well-written, they may like it so much they’ll agree to put their name on it after all!

CHALLENGE #3: 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: Do what a mid-sized client of mine from my past life as a freelancer did with a new line of handheld scanners: 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 and patient lives in a community hospital. Or a large health system. Or a skilled nursing facility. It’s your story, and you get to create every detail of the plot, including your ideal setting.

Important caveat: Just be sure the plot is indistinguishable from your target prospect’s real world. And I trust you’ll avoid the credibility-ruining temptation to claim outrageous results, like a zillion dollars in new revenue generated within the first week of implementation!

Worried that a use study won’t be as effective 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 proves that you “get” what they do and need.

Of course, if you have case studies about other products in your portfolio to share, all the better. To get more of those, refer back to Challenges #1 and #2.

Lastly, be sure to check out my colleague Matt Schlossberg’s post on how to prime your customers to participate in your public relations efforts. He’s got some great strategies, as well, to make the most of your most important asset–your customer.

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