Several years ago, as the high-tech economy began to emerge from the dot.com doldrums, I began to work with a client that, like many others, had put most sales collateral development on hold for a while. The company now needed to revamp nearly all of its materials. As word got out about the availability of my writing services, I was deluged with calls from the sales force.
By far, the most common request was for case studies.
That’s not surprising. Case studies are among the most-powerful sales tools because they are by far the most credible. Rather than presenting marketing hype, case studies demonstrate how actual customers have succeeded using your product.
Here’s how to make the most of this invaluable tool:
1) Choose your customers wisely. Prospects want to see customers like themselves. Therefore you need to determine the types of customers who are strategic to your business and create success stories for each target. Consider:
- Industry—create case studies for each of your strategic vertical markets.
- Size of company.
- Geography—state, country, or geographic region.
- Job title—include quotes from people with the job titles typically involved in the purchase process for your product, whether they’re line-of-business managers, technical project managers, or chief information officers.
- Product line—develop case studies for each product in your product line.
2) Find the best candidates. Once you know the types of customers you need, find customers to work with you. To line up X number of case studies, you’ll need a much larger number in the pipeline, as some companies have policies against endorsing products and others are unwilling to do so for numerous reasons.
Start by providing incentives for your account representatives to recommend customers, make introductions, and help secure the necessary approvals—but pay up only after final customer sign-off, since that can be a sticking point.
Also, approach customers who participate in your user groups, customer surveys, and advisory boards or are from your customer database. Whenever you find names of customers from these sources, notify the account representative before contacting them, since customers may mention your call. Account representatives may also be aware of any concerns that might prevent a customer from agreeing to a story or that would preclude him from providing a positive reference should someone read the case study and call.
One question that arises periodically is whether to pay customers for participating in case studies. High-tech companies do not typically compensate customers for success stories. Participating customers benefit from a professionally written and designed piece that demonstrates their technology leadership, while individual project managers can leverage the exposure to enhance their careers. Send a thank-you note along with a copy of the final case study.
3) Interview the customer. Once customers have agreed to a case study, you’ll need to interview them about their use of your product. At the start of each interview, assure customers that they will be able to review the story and make any changes, then ask the following questions:
- What was the business problem or technical challenge that caused them to consider looking for a solution?
- Why did they choose your solution?
- What was the solution (product version, underlying database, hardware, network configuration)?
- What qualitative results, such as simpler workflows and greater customer satisfaction, did the product deliver?
- What quantitative results, such as time savings, lower costs, increased revenue, and reduced numbers of full-time employees, did they achieve?
During the purchase process, many prospects demand to see evidence of return on investment. One of the most credible ways to demonstrate ROI is through quantitative results from customers. Yet determining quantitative results is one of the most challenging aspects of creating any case study.
Start by defining a list of the most important metrics for your product. For example, a company producing electronic medical records might track reduction in full-time employees, lower transcription fees, savings in office supplies and chart expenses, and an average increase in per-visit charges.
Then, when interviewing the customers, ask about each metric on your list. If customers can’t come up with, say, yearly figures, ask about one or more specific projects. For example, a manager may not know how much time he saves annually by creating reports with your software solution, but he will probably know how much time he saves on a specific report he prepares monthly.
Combine information from a particular customer with that from industry organizations and trade magazines to produce more meaningful results. For example, if a manager saves five hours each week running a particular report, multiply the number of hours weekly by the number of weeks per year and by the average hourly salary for a manager at that level, which may be available on industry organization Websites.
Express results where possible in percentage terms to put the numbers in context. Instead of saying that reporting time was reduced from 10 hours to five hours, say it was lowered by 50%.
Remember, the key is to capture as many relevant and specific metrics as possible so that prospects get a clear picture of exactly what benefits they can expect to achieve from your product.
In addition, ask about the areas you stress in your marketing to ensure that the story supports your messages. For example, if cost savings, increased customer satisfaction, ease of implementation, and excellent training are critical selling points, be sure to get comments about these issues as well.
4) Craft the story. Most case studies follow an outline derived from the interview questions discussed above. In addition, the story should include the following elements:
- a compelling headline—preferably one that highlights product benefits, including impressive quantitative results.
- a bulleted summary of the major points in the story that readers can scan easily.
- a compelling customer quote that describes the problem the customer faced and how your product solved it.
A note on quotes: Often companies will craft quotes themselves, then ask the customer to sign off on them. A better approach is to interview the customer and craft a quote using his own words. This sort of quote will sound far more credible than a canned quote. That said, do not hesitate to edit quotes for clarity and conciseness as long as you maintain the intent.
Case studies are one of the most effective marketing communications categories at your disposal. By following best practices for creating pieces that provide the right information to your target audience and by distributing them widely, you can maximize the positive impact they will have on your marketing efforts.
Cheryl J. Goldberg is principal of Goldberg Communications (www.cjgoldbergcommunications), a strategic marketing communications company based in Cary, NC.