It’s been 15 years since I wrote my first case study. And year after year since then, I hear the same challenge from organizations as the main reason they don’t create more case studies.
“We can’t get customers to agree to do them!”
You may be a customer’s best, most beloved vendor, but for various reasons, the customer just can’t or won’t say yes…
• Larger organizations often have policies against endorsing vendors
• Some don’t want to reveal competitive secrets
• Others simply don’t want to spare the time
The truth is, you have to sell the idea to the customer. With nearly anything – and especially with harried business people – it’s still about WIIFM (what’s in it for me?).
But you have to know who you’re selling to and tailor the benefits accordingly:
1- The company
At the company level, organizations that say yes might be motivated by the positive publicity, a chance to showcase their best practices, the prestige of showing they work with an esteemed brand or hot technology, among others.
But many case studies move forward because of greater motivations of the individuals involved. Maybe the person who chose the vendor and led the successful project internally wants to showcase his or her professional accomplishments. They want to document that in a case study, speaking opportunity or award entry. Or they might be moved by activities in tandem with a case study such as the chance to network with peers on your customer advisory board.
For both companies and individuals, monetary motivators are questionable. Most references – if not hindered by a corporate policy against participating – are willing to be featured or serve as a reference without monetary incentives.
You want true customer advocates to be featured – not because they get a discount on software or services.
Donate to Their Charity of Choice
But there’s another option that may motivate both companies and individuals. What about appealing to their sense of altruism? How about donating to the company’s or individual’s charity of choice as a thank-you for sharing their story? The amount may vary based on your budget, but probably set it at at least $25.
I recently met Ryan Sorley of DoubleCheck Research. His company conducts win-loss interviews for organizations. Essentially, he uncovers why an organization chose – or didn’t choose – to buy a product or service. Ryan isn’t creating customer case studies, but in gaining the interviews he needs, the challenge is similar; participation is voluntary.
For every interview he does, Ryan makes a donation to the contact’s charity of choice. He has many to choose from so individuals can select the one they feel most strongly about. Not every person he contacts says yes, but it does contribute to a pretty high rate of success in getting win-loss interviews.
Customer case studies are similar. A charitable donation on the customer’s behalf may not sway the most ardent dissenters but it can possibly get a few off the fence – and appeal to their desire to do good.
I hear it all the time..."We have an amazing customer story, but just can't get them to agree to be a case study..."
Many companies name customer participation as the toughest challenge of managing case studies. They just can't get their happiest customers on board.
There's no magic answer for this because there are numerous reasons why customers won't tell their stories publicly--they don't have time, their company doesn't allow it, they don't want to reveal competitive secrets, and so on.
But chances are, most customers don't see the positives of success story participation. Customers have their noses down, buried deep in their day-to-day business activities. Sometimes you need to do some of the thinking for them.
It's our jobs to help customers see the benefits. A customer story is effectively a positive feature story, created at no cost to the featured customer, ideally showing the customer contacts and their organizations as innovative and progressive. It's rich content that goes online, out into the media, into blogs, into e-newsletters and more--all positive exposure!
If the prospect of free PR isn't so attractive to your customer contacts or their organizations, talk with them and find out what's attractive. Maybe they want to be on your tech council, have input in your product roadmap, or speak at a major industry conference. Help a customer achieve its own goals in the course of featuring it in a story.
You may need to baby-step customers toward a full public story, but that persistence and collaboration pays off for many.
I recently followed a string on a MarketingProfs forum regarding the value of unnamed customer success stories--those where you don't actually name the featured customer. The original post asked whether nameless stories lose all their power.
The answer depends on your goals for your customer stories. If credibility in your market is your top goal, then an unnamed story does lack the punch of a named story. The same goes for PR. If you're trying to get the media to cover your solutions, reporters want to hear real customer stories with actual customer names.
But case studies and success stories also educate prospects and validate solutions. For most types of sales uses, an unnamed story is often just as valuable as a named one. Prospects want to see results with similar customers. Show them a customer story in their industry with strong proof points that support your value proposition. Be specific in your story and it will go a long way toward validating your solutions.