Pulling Case Studies Out of Customers

how to create customer case studies One of the more predictable, and sadder, moments in my work with clients comes when I ask for a customer case study to help illustrate all the good things their hardware, software or services can do.

Their answer is often an awkward silence, followed by something like “Uh, we’ll have to talk to sales to see if they have anything. But they probably don’t so why don’t you start writing anyway…”

That hurts their marketing efforts, because a recommendation from a trusted peer – which is what a case study is – is one of the most credible forms of content you can publish. One recent survey showed that case studies are the top form of content busy B2B buyers want to read.

There are many reasons customers don’t want to help you create a case study. The interviews and review cycles take time out of their busy schedules, and force them to jump through hoops with their internal legal and PR departments for what they may see as “only” a favor for a vendor they’re already paying for a product or service.

Try These Tacks

The Content Marketing Institute recently published some helpful hints for getting customers to participate in a case study. They include (with my comments in italics.)

Create a formal submission and request process, and explaining to your own customer success, sales and marketing teams why case studies are so vital.  A good start, but it requires a lot of internal education and still may not break down resistance among your customers.) 

Create a formal document that outlines how to submit marketing case study opportunities. This can easily degrade, in my experience, into a dreary bureaucratic exercise producing “fill in the form” summaries with vague jargon like “transformation” or wooly benefits like “optimized systems” instead of the quantifiable specifics a good case study needs.

Create a case study request email template to make requests of your customers. A good idea as long as it gives the customer a good reason to cooperate. (See below.) I’d also suggest giving the customer engagement teams lots of rooms to customize them to build on what are (hopefully) their great relationships with clients.

Offer employees a bonus for recruiting customers for case studies. CMI admits this is a “bandage” approach that could get expensive and encourage subpar submissions, but can also jump start longer-term efforts. I actually like this idea, as long as you’re clear with your people about what makes a good case study. You could even make the production of case study “candidates” part of employees’ compensation, giving them an incentive to make case studies part of their “partnership” with their best customers. 

Provide value to the customers doing the case studies (and explain it to them). This is of course the Holy Grail. Possible hot buttons to push in today’s climate include:

  • Using the case study as a recruitment tool by showing the innovative work the client is doing.
  • Using the case study to help your client attract good business partners by, again, showing the innovative work the client is doing.
  • Telling the rest of the client’s organization about the good work IT is doing to grow revenue and market share.
  • Discounted pricing or extra support.

 Anonymous or “masked” case studies, such as referring to the customer as “a major European telecom provider.” A good, tried and true alternative. Not as powerful as a name-brand reference, but if specific enough it can still provide value.

A group case study describing average results seen by your customers. An interesting approach I’m currently trying with one client. Possible obstacles include making “apples to oranges” comparisons of benefits or challenges across customers, and widely differing quality of information or results across multiple customers.

What Else?

In these days of fewer, and larger, customers and increased regulation, getting customers to help out with case studies will probably get harder, not easier. What is working – or not working – for you?

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.

By Gretchen Dukowitz

Case studies – love ’em or hate ’em – remain a critical part of the content marketing mix for almost every B2B organization. To some, they may seem stodgy (or dare I say boring?), but CMI research shows more companies are using them – 77% in 2015 – and 58% say they’re effective.

But, let’s be honest. Case-study creators’ opinions probably fall more on the hate-’em end of the spectrum. The tried-and-true formula – challenge, solution, benefit – doesn’t exactly inspire creativity or good storytelling, and the fallback – to pack them full of bad business jargon – can make writing a case study a huge chore.

Life is short; you shouldn’t waste it laboring over case studies. Fortunately, a few simple steps will allow you to not only create your case studies faster, easier, and less painfully, but can help make them sound better, too.

  1. Interview a real, live person

A good customer interview is the lifeblood of a good case study. Before you write a case study, do yourself a huge favor and actually talk to a real, live customer. In the past, I’ve been asked to write case studies based on quotes taken from videos, testimonial quotes, emails from sales teams – anything and everything but a customer interview.

“But wait,” I can hear you saying, “it’s hard to find customers and get time on their calendars. And get sign-off on the final product? Forget it.” Yes, it can be difficult and time-consuming, but trust me when I say that trying to use secondhand sources makes case study writing 100 times harder than it needs to be.

Case studies are stories. They have narratives and need to be rooted firmly in the experience of the customer. You can get all of these things by talking to one. The end result is a strong case study with a clear beginning, middle, and end, as opposed to a Frankenstein-assembled story that you put together from random parts.

  1. Edit the heck out of your quotes

You are a case-study writer, not a reporter. You are not being held to some journalistic standard that says you must reproduce all customer utterances word for word (not even journalists adhere to this standard, by the way). You can – make that should – edit and embellish quotes to make their point more effectively. In all my years of writing case studies, I have never had an interviewee take me to task for altering a quote. In fact, most people appreciate being made to sound better.

You can’t go crazy and just make up stuff for the fun of it. You have to retain the spirit of what a customer says and make it sound plausible. If you take a quote like, “Yes, on the whole, I would say the WidgetTron 2000 is a pretty good product,” and turn it into “The WidgetTron 2000 is the best product in the whole wide world and its awesomeness brings me to tears every time I think about it,” you’re going to run into problems.

A better way to shape the original quote would be something like this: “The WidgetTron 2000 is a really good product. It is easy to use and allowed us to streamline our operations.” I deleted the “on the whole” and changed “pretty good” to “really good,” which removes the lukewarm tone. I also extended the quote to make it sound well-rounded. A few small, completely OK tweaks make a big difference, and with customer approval, you are secure in knowing your updated quote works for everyone.

  1. Blow things out of proportion

When you get right down to it, most businesses aren’t too terribly concerned about the challenges other businesses face. This may be short-sighted, but more often than not, businesses are too knee-deep in their own issues to worry about the other guy (aside from giving lip service to outpacing the competition, of course).

This thinking is a big problem for case-study writers because exploring the case study’s problems – the challenge section – usually makes up at least a third of the story. To effectively hook readers, take a step back and think about why a broader audience might be interested in the one business’ challenge.

Let me show you. In this case study, the challenge is written as: “Luigi Mozzarello, CEO of Pronto Pies, needed to sell more pizzas, but his point-of-sale technology was slow and buggy.” Clearly, Mozzarello has a problem, but as written, the challenge isn’t compelling.

Here is a more broadly detailed challenge that has greater appeal: “Operating a restaurant is fraught with challenges, from demanding customers to razor-thin margins. Luigi Mozzarello, CEO of Pronto Pies, thought he could rely on his point-of-sale technology to give him a competitive edge, but it was slow and buggy.”

The revised challenge situates Mozzarello’s specific problem – bad technology – in the context of the larger restaurant industry and a universal business theme of competitive differentiation. The first sentence of your case study should always speak to a broad business issue and provide context for the reader. This provides a better chance that readers will identify with the broader challenge even if they are not in the study’s specific vertical or business.

I think crafting a first sentence like this also makes case studies easier to write. After all, if you have bigger, meatier issues to explore, you are less likely to simply go through the motions to craft the case study.

Conclusion

When you implement these three tips into your case-study process, you will be able to create an authentic, easy-to-understand voice that sets the stage for a meatier and more effective case study that is appealing to a wider audience.

Gretchen Dukowitz has spent more than a decade writing case studies, white papers, and other marketing content for some of the world’s largest technology companies, including Symantec and Cisco. She currently works as a writer and content strategist for a tech startup in the Bay Area. You can find more writing tips like these at her blog, DIY Content Marketing, or connect with her on LinkedIn. This post originally appeared on the Content Marketing institute Web site.  

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.

using third party data for progressive profiling of B2B prospects

Ask too few questions on a qualification form that “gates” your content and you can’t identify and track the best prospects. But probe too deeply about their employer, business function, budget or purchase schedule and they’ll abandon your site for a competitor’s.

The answer, of course, is progressive profiling. Don’t ask for their whole identity enchilada at once. Instead, ask for more and more detailed information about them over time in return for more detailed, in-depth or proprietary insights.

Progressive profiling isn’t new. But at the MarketingSherpa Email Summit 2014 in Las Vegas Byron O’Dell, Senior Director of Demand Management at IHS, described how the B2B information vendor used a unique approach to boost its click through rate by 1,112%.

Slow and Steady

As IHS developed not only primary but secondary personas for their most valuable prospects, they faced the challenge of identifying which persona best fit each prospect. IHS didn’t ask prospects for any personal information until the third week of a drip marketing campaign, said O’Dell. And by reducing the number of questions prospects had to answer from 15 to seven, it got “much higher completion rates.”

To get the most bang from each answer, one question contained a drop down list explicitly asking which persona the prospect fit into. To make answering even easier, IHS used a combination of the prospect’s IP address and a third-party marketing database to make an educated guess about details such as their company name and location.

 

progressive profiling B2B content marketing

IHS used drop-down lists to make it easier for prospects to answer “gating” questions.

Once the reader provided their company name and role, IHS added about 20 fields of additional information to its internal customer database, including phone number, annual sales of the prospect’s company, number of employees, etc. All that not only gave their salespeople much more background about the prospect, but let IHS customize follow-up messaging based on the prospect’s persona. (To hold down costs, this customization is done automatically, and doesn’t involve major changes to the content.)

progressive profiling B2B content marketing

Simple automatic changes customize content for various personas.

What’s In It for the Prospect?

In return for more valuable content – essentially free samples of their research – IHS dove further into asking prospects about secondary personas. About 50 percent of the time, O’Dell says, they provided that information.

Note that this is a far cry from buying a third party database to do a “batch and blast” single email to everyone on a list, whether qualified or not. It instead uses information the prospect has provided (even just implicitly in the form of their IP address) and uses it to make it easier for the prospect to fill out the form to get the information they need.

O’Dell said he hasn’t seen any push-back from prospects over the “creep” factor of a Web site knowing where they’re coming from. Maybe that’s because HIS is using that knowledge not to push a sales pitch, but to provide content tailored to their needs.

Which is what persona-driven content marketing should be all about. Download the slides or watch the presentation here.

You can also check out my simple “progressive profile” content sequence for selling cloud services.  If you have a product or service you’d like to see a sample sequence for, drop me a line or call at 508 725-7258.

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
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.

bigstock-Chair-3842724A recent McKinsey & Company analysis shows many business to business companies are “talking past” their prospects by stressing themes they don’t care about.

Specifically, it said B2B vendors talk a lot more about social responsibility, sustainability, and global reach than their customers care about. At the same time, two themes that are far more important to customers – the vendor’s effective supply chain management and specialist market knowledge—“were among those least mentioned by B2B suppliers.”

Maybe worst of all, “honest and open dialogue, which customers considered most important, was one of the three themes not emphasized at all” by the 90 companies studied. Maybe if the companies studied actually talked to their customers they’d understand what was important to them.

Tweedle-Dum, Tweedle-Dee

I was particularly struck, however, by the report’s finding of “a surprising similarity among the brand themes that leading B2B companies emphasized, suggesting a tendency to follow the herd rather than create strongly differentiated brand messages.

This is something I see all the time in the briefings I get from vendors. At a recent user conference, one IT pro shook his head at all the sales calls he gets from different vendors, “all saying the same thing.” McKinsey recommends that marketers talk to their salespeople (what a concept!) to understand “the degree to which customers see your products as differentiated or worth a premium… If you hear about consistent pushback on pricing or an inability to articulate a compelling argument for the value of your products, you’ve got a problem.”

It also said “Leading companies make extensive use of frontline interaction and market research to stay in tune with customer needs and perceptions. For example, Hilti, a maker of professional construction tools, has its salespeople do double duty as distributors and hands-on market researchers at customer construction sites.”

Three Potholes to Avoid

I can’t tell you how to get your marketing and sales people to share more insights about customers. But here are three mistakes I see technology vendors make in their me-too market messaging, and how not to repeat them.

  • The endless “solution” statement: Going on and on about the problems you solve rather than how you solve them. The customer knows they’re facing a flood of unstructured data, new security regulations or user-chosen mobile devices. Rather than repeat the problems they face, explain how you fix them more quickly, easily, cheaply or completely than your competitors. If you can’t quickly choose one of those adjectives, your messaging isn’t ready.
  • Hiding your secret sauce. Another good way to break out of the clutter is to describe specifically how you do what you do. For example: “Our patent-pending VPN technology moves mobile user sessions to the cloud. This lets you protect your data without tracking and managing every mobile device every user brings in.” Or: “Unlike other backup systems, we automatically test each backup as it is done, eliminating a chore you know you should be doing but never have time for.”
  • Relying on lazy buzzwords.  Is your “solution” “seamless,” “robust,” “end-to-end,” or “enterprise-class?” Are you “aligned with your customers’ needs?” “committed” to “customer service,” to “generating adding value” or to “understanding your customer’s needs?” So is everyone else these days. If you must use  these clichés, back them up with a feature and a benefit. Examples: “Our integration with all leading cloud providers lets you choose your deployment option.” “Our 24-hour help desk guarantees a response within 30 minutes to keep your business running” or an anecdote “Read how our storage appliances delivered 200% ROI for a leading online gaming site.”)

Even if you’re not boring your customers with feel-good tales corporate responsibility, you might unwittingly sound like every other “solution” out there. Check your messaging for these three flaws to lift yourself out of the clutter.

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
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.

Using an E-Book To Make a Complex Sell

Cover croppedE-books (short, illustration-rich explainers of complex concepts) can be good or they can be trite. Too much dense copy and they become as hard to read as the worst white paper. Too little copy, or a too-cute theme, and they turn off serious buyers.

Sonatype, in my opinion, hit the sweet spot with their promo pamphlet “Go fast. Be Secure.”  While I picked up a paper copy at the MIT Sloan CIO Summit last week, it’s crying out for re-purposing as an ebook.

It uses a medieval type face and “knights in shining armor” theme to explain how Sonatype’s  software automatically ensures that Java code from the global open source community (rather than from commercial software vendors) won’t pose a security threat to corporate developers.

Short and Sweet

They had me on the cover page with a concise value statement. “Go fast. Be Secure.” The subhead explains: “A true story of how Development and Security came together to fix the risk in open source.” Note the short, direct sentences. (One quibble: Using present tense would emphasize this is a service available now, not something that happened in the past.)

Keep reading and you see big, clear pictures and a maximum of about two dozen words per page, in large type for easy reading. The words are carefully chosen for maximum impact, without redundant background or jargon. “Development wanted to GO FAST. But Security wanted to slow down and BE SAFE.” I like that the wording is specific enough that CCF05252013_00002experts in software development “get it” but even an outsider (like a CFO or CEO) can get the general drift. And the illustrations reinforce, rather than confuse, the message.

About four pages in, the e-book introduces technical concepts and the pain point they solve. “Code became like Legos™ – applications easily assembled from thousands of freely available parts. Developers ran even FASTER and Security found it even harder to SECURE.”  Note there’s only one concept introduced per page, and not a word is wasted.

A few pages on they describe the answer: “Bringing SECURITY and SPEED together by building component intelligence and governance in from the START…using all the tools developers love to use today!” Again, the sentences are short, direct, and describe what’s new and better about their approach.

Halfway through the ebook they introduce their notion of “component lifecycle management.” This might turn a reader off as jargon if the vendor had led with it. Instead, they wait until they’ve described what type of components they’re talking about, what kind of lifecycle these components have and why those components need to be managed.

Ye Olde Mini Demo

The second half of the book is essentially a mini-demo of the service. There’s a standard format with a short, concise value proposition on the left (“AUTOMATE and enforce GOVERNANCE in the tools you use today”) and a screen shot CCF05252013_00001on the right. A one-sentence supplemental explainer sits under each screen shot.

One added benefit of the e-book format is that it makes these screen shots large enough to actually read — long a pet peeve of mine in conventional white papers and trade pubs.

Finally, at the end, there’s the call to action (a link to a free snapshot of the reader’s application vulnerabilities) and a “Learn more” page.

Looks Easy But It Ain’t

Creating an e-book this clear required, I would guess, a lot of gut-wrenching work behind the scenes. You need to:

  • Define very, very clearly the top two or three messages you need to convey.
  • Find a very, very clear and concise way to say them.
  • Choose your words carefully so you’re not speaking down to or confusing or reader.
  • Choose and execute a graphical theme that supports but doesn’t distract from your message.
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.

I recently described how the old fashioned business-to -business “marketing funnel” is now a chaotic and unpredictable marketing tornado. A recent Webinar featuring marketing automation (MA) success stories from Dell and Trend Micro showed how marketing automation can meet these challenges. But, these customers said, it is an ongoing process, not a one-time silver bullet.

The Webinar, sponsored by marketing agency Televerde, described how profoundly buyer behavior has changed with the advent of the Web as a channel for B2B buyers to research products and ask peers for advice and feedback. As Kathleen Schaub, VP of research for IDC’s CMO (Chief Marketing Officer) Advisory Practice, said today’s “buyers are never, ever, offline during the buying process” and often know more than the salespeople who are pitching them.

She called MA a fundamental requirement for 21st century marketing. But she said too many vendors “still do lead management like it was 1999,” spamming prospects rather than “express respect for buyers” with content and offers that provide value.

Moving from spanning to getting the most from MA takes time and hard work, agreed Vince Massey, director of enterprise security sales for Dell SonicWall and Maureen McCormick, director of U.S. regional marketing operations for Trend Micro. All three speakers also agreed that deploying and learning the MA software is only the first, and maybe the easiest, part of the process.

The real work – and the real benefits — comes in the ongoing work of training and staffing, change management and continual measuring and tweaking of the new MA-fueled sales cycle. Takeaways and key lessons in each area include:

  • Set aside money and time to train your sales and marketing staffs in how to not only use the software, but to use it to prospect for leads. Dell also learned it had to dedicate a staff to follow up on leads from the MA system, rather than leaving it up to staff that had “day jobs” in areas such as channel sales.
  • All three spoke of the need for collaboration not only between sales and marketing, but between these two groups and operations. This collaboration is crucial for everything from establishing appropriate SLAs for MA system performance to scoring leads.
  • Tracking is critical to understand what is working and what isn’t, and continually improving the MA program. This means assessing not only what content worked and what didn’t, but the quality of leads and the accuracy of your lead scoring.

The results include lower cost of sales, faster handoffs of opportunities to the sales staff, higher quality leads and improved close rates. For some companies, one of the greatest benefits is the ability, often for the first time, to accurately track marketing spending and its results. As Massey said, “instead of talking about whose data is better, we talk about results.”

 

I see customers demanding “industrialized” offerings in areas from remote infrastructure management to data backup. In an era of shrinking budgets and rapid change, they want services based on best practices whose results they can measure, and whose performance they can constantly and improve. Using MA to reach these empowered customers will require the same discipline, trackability and continuous improvement.

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
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.

Software Consultancy: Why MA Is Hot

Software consultancy Software Advice has a good business model: Provide customers free software reviews and advice, both on-line and over the phone, and get paid by vendors when they pass on a quality lead based on those interactions. Its market analyst Lauren Carlson also had an interesting recent post about the major trends pushing customers towards marketing automation software, which tracks prospect behavior to determine which products they’re most likely to consider. Among the main drivers she listed: Buyers’ desire for quality content; an aversion to sales calls (especially before prospects are ready for one), the need for marketing to prove its value to the business and the fact that sales cycles are longer in a down economy.

I agree with her drivers, and would add another one: The decline of the trade press which used to be a source of trusted analysis and objectivity for customers. It would seem PR and marketing firms can help their customers by delivering the skills, processes and content B2B companies need to make marketing automation software work. Recent survey data indicates these are the top three hurdles to companies adopting MA software.

All of which begs the question: Which of these specific hurdles is most critical, and where do B2B vendors need help getting the benefits of MA software? Help us find the answer by taking a two-minute survey on what’s keeping you from MA heaven, and see instant results on how you stack up vs. your peers. And if there are hurdles I missed, I'd love to hear about them…

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
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.