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.