Let Your Customer Sell for You: Case Studies
When a company wants an effective sales tool, there are few types of collateral that deliver as much impact as a well-written case study. A case study offers these benefits:
- It’s a customer testimonial.
- It helps prospects relate your product or service to a real-life situation.
- It can be used as content for a website or newsletter.
- It can be pitched to publications as a feature article.
- If published, the magazine reprints make an even stronger selling piece because it implies editorial approval
Starting a Case Study
The best time to start is shortly after your solution has been installed and the customer is seeing results. Their impressions will be fresh, and they will be as eager as you to promote their success. If you wait too long, that team or manager may be transferred to another project; you’ll be speaking to newcomers who lack knowledge about the original reasons for bringing in your solution and who may not be as positive. Writing a case study is rarely a smooth, uninterrupted process; the stars that need to be in alignment are often outside your control. So before you hire someone to work on your case studies, take a look at the project workflow—in an ideal world, of course.
Find Case Study Candidates
Salespeople are always eager to promote their successes, so ask account managers to nominate customers who would be good case study candidates. Ask them to approach the selected customer(s). You want to avoid situations where you build plans around a customer who isn’t ready. If customers opt out of participating in a case study, add them to a list and follow up with them. (More on that later.)
Confirm How Customers Handle Case Studies
If the customer is open to a case study, ask about their company policies regarding them. Sometimes there are no guidelines, and the story goes to their Marketing and Legal departments for review on a case-by-case basis.
Communicate Your Plans
Prepare briefing notes for the customer. Tell them the general intent of the story; the classic format describes:
- The business challenge.
- The solution requirements.
- The solution deliverables and implementation.
- The happy situation afterward.
Include how the story will be used: in a data sheet, in a newsletter, on the website, or as a contributed article to a certain publication.
Respect the Customer’s Time
Your writer must develop the case study with help from subject matter experts (SME). The customer is only one SME; the others are from your own organization. Make sure the writer gets thoroughly briefed by your internal SMEs before interviewing the customer. For example:
- The Account Manager provides background on the situation before and after implementation.
- Marketing provides messaging and the benefits to highlight.
- The Systems Engineer outlines the implementation challenges.
- The Customer provides their view of how your product or service has vastly improved productivity and delivered on cost savings.
Track the Approval Process
Once the story goes to the customer for review, track the approval process and nudge things along in a professional, courteous way. Build in lots of lead time for customer reviews. Legal and Marketing approval from a customer can take longer than writing the story. Avoid making deadline promises you can’t keep.
Follow Up and Get More Case Studies
Maintain a list of case study candidates. In addition to new customers, this list should include ones who previously opted out. Follow up to find out if their situation has changed. The goal is to have an ongoing case study program, so you can freshen up your website and collaterals with new stories. As you can see, writing the actual case study may be the easiest part of the process. However, with some preparation and realistic expectations, your company can reap the benefits from a case study program.