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Rethinking Case Studies for Buying Cycle Activity Streams

by Hank Barnes  |  March 18, 2014  |  2 Comments

Last week, my colleague, Todd Berkowitz, wrote an excellent post on case studies.   Todd provided a lot of great suggestions for making sure that your case studies deliver value.  This week, I want to expand on Todd’s ideas with a few more.   The power of case studies come from helping buyers build confidence in you as they move through the buying cycle.  Therefore, it is time to stop thinking of case studies generically and start focusing them in on specific questions that buyers have as they make decisions.


As a reminder, we first introduced the idea of Activity Streams in the Technology Buying Cycle last year.  We are continuing our focus on this buying cycle, and what providers can do to be more effective in working with customers as they move through it, so expect more research and blogs about it.  But returning to case studies, since they are a powerful tool.

While Todd talked about the structure and approach for case study development, I think you can take it even deeper.   As you look at your customer stories, there are actually 4 different angles you can explore.  These align with activity streams

  1. The Business Value Angle – This aligns with buyers who are exploring–looking at potential approaches and opportunities to address a need–to determine if it makes sense to invest in a project.   Case studies that are focused on business value should be all about the outcomes delivered the the problems addressed.  Think of these as being very similar to many case studies you see in tech magazines.  The focus is on the issues, not the products.  Products are mentioned, but typically in brief.  You can take this approach yourself to build up interest in the early stages of buying cycles.
  2. The Competitive Angle  – This aligns with buyers who are evaluating providers.  More competitive oriented case studies put more emphasis on the reasons that the customer chose your product or service versus others.  You still need to talk about outcomes and results, but all this should be positioned in the context of the competitive advantage that you provided as opposed to other choices.
  3. The Implementation Angle – This aligns with buyers who are engaging with a short list of providers.  Here, you want to focus on how the results were achieved.  Describe the implementation and rollout approach.  Guide the reader on how the project was executed. You are painting a picture of how to achieve success.
  4. The Experience Angle –  This aligns, rather obviously, with experience.  In this study, the tone is all about what it is like to work with your organization and your products.   The story should communicate how easy you are to work with and how the users love the product.  The tone is all about how you worked with the customer to create a great experience end to end.

All four of these approaches still need to talk about business value (outcomes), problems addressed, and resolution, but the core of the story should explore one of these angles in detail.  Doing this will provide you with a diverse set of case studies that can be used to assist buyers at various stages of their buying cycle.     You could even do an in-depth series on one customer (if they are willing), looking at their story from all 4 of these perspectives.  This does not have to take a ton of additional time with the customer during the interview–it just requires more planning on your part to get the most from the interview session and to cover each of the four perspectives.

Adding a focus on the theme of the story will provide more clarity to your case study development and make it easier for potential customer to consume and embrace the information.    One size fits all case studies are a thing of the past.  They overwhelm buyers with too much information–information that they may not even care about, depending on where they are in the buying process.

Beyond these streams, always take a step back before developing case studies.  Think about your target audience and make sure you are communicating with them in a way that they prefer.  If they are aggressive buyers, the industry and details of the company matter less than the innovative nature of the solution.  Conversely, more mainstream and conservative buyers want to know that your solution is proven in their industry.  Additionally, make sure you are always reinforcing your key areas of differentiation that are appropriate for the situation.

Case studies, references, and advocates are some of your most powerful assets.  Take a more focused approach to the development of these assets following the guidance from Todd and the tailoring of the stories to activity streams to get even more value from them.

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Category: future-of-sales  go-to-market  

Tags: activity-streams  buying-cycle  case-study  differentiation  

Hank Barnes
VP Distinguished Analyst
6+ years at Gartner
30+ years IT Industry

Hank Barnes explores the dynamics, challenges, and frustrations enterprises face when buying technology products and services. Using that customer-centric lens, he advises those responsible for marketing technology products and services, general managers responsible for product portfolios, and startup CEOs on next practices to drive success for their customers and their business. Read Full Bio

Thoughts on Rethinking Case Studies for Buying Cycle Activity Streams

  1. Hank,

    You missed one: “The Adoption Angle.”


    • Hank Barnes says:


      Thanks…I would include Adoption in the Experience Angle….How you got people to use, and love the product experience. But also agree you could focus solely on adoption with great impact.


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