The proof is in the numbers.
If you ask companies what’s most important in their customer case studies, 9 out of 10 would likely say measurable results.
But drawing metrics out of customers can be agonizing. You ask a question. The customer hems and haws and doesn’t provide a concrete answer. You ask it a different way. No go.
What’s a case study writer to do?
Find Your Inner Sleuth
I’ve been tapping into my inner sleuth lately. Perhaps it’s all the mystery and pirate-themed books I’ve been reading recently with my toddler, but I find the treasure hunt for alternatives to customer-provided measurable results can actually be fun.
In the absence of customer-supplied results, you have to look for other data points that tie into the story you’re telling. Your best source: the featured customer’s web site.
The customer’s website may reveal insightful details about revenue and profit growth, changes in market share, growth of company divisions, customer satisfaction ratings, and more.
IF you can tie any of the metrics publicly displayed on a customer’s website with your story, then you’ve got a metric you can drop in.
Let’s look at a couple of examples…
An Italian Public Aerospace Company
The featured customer – an Italian aerospace company – needs information about industries and global regions in order to plan strategically as it grows beyond Italy and Europe.
The website indicates that "55% of its revenue now comes from outside Italy." Great stat because my client provides information to help this company make decisions about new geographic markets.
While it’s not a result that we can tie exclusively to work with my client, it does indicate that the customer is moving toward its goal of being a global company.
A French Automotive Supplier
For a recent case study, the featured customer is a leader in automotive innovation, something that my client assists with.
We didn’t have a direct measurable result, but the company was recognized for the first time in an important ranking of the top 100 global innovators. Very cool. It’s a strong data point to support the story’s theme.
Where to Hunt
Where do you find this information? Search customer websites for information such as…
• Revenue growth
• Profit growth
• Changes in market share
What if the featured customer is not a public company and doesn’t share financial information publicly?
Look at other indicators of progress such as releasing new products, opening new locations, moving into new markets or winning awards. Find numbers when you can and resort to qualitative information when you have to.
Be creative, be resourceful, and you’ll get a more hard-hitting case study.
In customer case studies and success stories, specific results impress. But not every product or service is easy to measure.
Coaches, consultants and other service providers, for example, often provide services that lend themselves to qualitative benefits, rather than measurable.
If you think you can't measure what you do, there's hope.
Lisa Koss, president of International Advantage, has found a way to measure her clients' results.
The organizational development consulting firm works with medium-sized to large companies in cross-cultural environments on organizational change, team development, or individual development - all areas that aren't simple to measure.
Before each client project - typically several months long - Koss performs a pre- and post-climate survey. She asks the exact same set of questions at the start of the engagement and upon completion.
The survey asks customers about their feelings on certain areas by indicating “dissatisfied,” “very satisfied,” or varying levels in between on a scale of one to 10, hitting on important but hard-to-measure improvements such as employee satisfaction and teamwork.
From there, Koss determines the changes between the pre- and post-survey results to come up with percentages representing improvement - a very clever way to put numbers on what she does.
This was particularly valuable when Koss created a customer story about a major project. The client improved significantly in seventy-five percent of the areas surveyed. Instead of nebulous discussion about improved productivity, the survey showed exactly where and how much of a leap the customer made.
When conducting your follow-up survey, be sure to pick the best point in the relationship to reassess. Choose a point when the customer has had enough time to experience benefits but not enough time to forget the impact of what you delivered.
It’s not only valuable data for customer stories, but also helps you and customers clearly see the impact of the solution. Look for the most impressive gains between the before and after.
Consider performing this assessment with every customer and using this as a basis for which to feature as case studies.
They're the Holy Grail of any case study or success story project.
Prospects want to know specifically how your product or service made an impact at another organization. Show that you can deliver a better return on investment than the competition and you've made a strong case to a potential customer.
Yet, measurable results do not mean the same thing to all prospects. A writer and case study manager I know recently made this very valid point. At his organization, a global technology company, they use percentages to represent return on investment information.
Here's why: Dollar figures do not hold the same meaning for all prospects. An annual savings of $30,000 is very significant for a small business, but may be peanuts for a mid-size or larger company.
If your audience is uniformly one type or size of organization, maybe specific cost savings will resonate with all equally. But most companies target multiple types of prospects.
Always present measurable results in the way that will make the biggest impression on the reader - whether that's an amount of money, amount of time, percentage increase/decrease, or factor of ("4 times, 1/2 as...").
Just another reminder about writing and presenting information relevant to your audience.
Share your own tips on presenting measurable results in meaningful ways.