killpressreleaseI’m in the middle of a lot of intensive case study work for several clients. Much of it involves reviewing and punching up the “first draft” project descriptions written by their internal experts.

These folks are far more expert than I will ever be in everything from Big Data analytics to system administration to banking and retail trends. But perhaps because they’re so close to the nitty-gritty of what they do, they have a very hard time pulling back and explaining how they did it, why they did it and how it helped the customer.

(Note this post focuses on services such as IT or business processing outsourcing or consulting, rather than product case studies. With products, my clients usually already have descriptions of the value their product delivers, and my work lies in uncovering where a well-defined product delivered value to each customer. With services, each engagement has more variables, and my client’s value lay in long, detailed   fine-tuning of highly technical work flows. Their on-site experts have to dive so deep into details and process it’s that much harder for them to come back up for air and remember the business problems they’re solving.)

That said, let’s dive into the three things I often find missing from my clients” “first draft” case studies you should be on the lookout for:

How you did it

The folks who make big professional services engagements success have to be extremely process-focused. Their work revolves around completing checklists, implementing frameworks and meeting deployment schedules. Not surprisingly, when I ask them to describe their achievements they’ll answer “completed upgrade to Oracle 8  on time” or “completed transition to off-site resources” (shifted work from the client to themselves.)

What a prospective client wants to know is how you did the work that is different or better than your competitors. Try: “Completed upgrade to Oracle 8 33% more quickly than industry benchmarks through the use of our proprietary data cleansing tool,” or “Completed transition to off-site resources three weeks ahead of schedule” due to our best practices in project management and knowledge transfer.

Why you did it

This is the problem statement that is central to every case study. I usually find this under a heading such as “Challenges.” Examples include “Need to improve system availability,” “Excess support costs” and “Lack of agility.” To the folks in the trenches, again, these are high-level goals they take for granted and thus don’t see a need to expand on. What’s missing here are the specifics and the impact on the bottom line that bring drama to the case study, and help prospects see you solved problems they have also.

Push back on the implementers until you get descriptions such as “Unacceptable 93% uptime in critical systems cost $4 million in revenue during peak shopping seasons” “$6 million annual support costs for legacy payroll system starved mobile app effort of funds” or “Inflexible older systems delayed cost-savings from merger, costing client $50 million per year.” Again, you’re looking for specific problems, and their effect on the top or bottom line.

How you helped the bottom line

This is the flip side of the “why you did it” question, and requires pushing for quantitative answers to how close the service provider came to fixing the “why you did it problems.” These may be financial (dollars saved per year) or percentages (17% improvement in storage utilization, 33% improvement in customer support) or time (40% shorter time to market for new products.)

Tip: the implementers in the trenches often won’t need to ask, or to know, these specific improvements, as they’re judged on how well they did their part of the overall project. You might need an account exec or a client-side manager charged with tracking the return on investment to get that higher level view.

However you do it, it’s your job as a content provider to get out of the implementation weeds and explain how what you did helped the client’s business more than a competitor could have.

Author: Bob Scheier
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I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.

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