A few weeks ago, Jon Reed (of diginomica), and I had an interesting (at least we thought so!) dialog via twitter and blog comments about case studies. We both were lamenting the lack of great case studies in the technology industry. But we had a disagreement about what needs to be in them. Jon, who is a savvy businessman and strong technologist, is a big believer that case studies should almost always have information on implementation, training, and support. I, on the other hand, believe in fit for purpose. If you are using a case study to illustrate why someone should consider doing something different, you don’t need to talk about implementation details. Save that for later. For me, it’s all about where you see the case study helping the reader in their buying process.
That being said, within this dialog was something that I may have unintentionally implied was not important. That is the necessity to provide potential buyers with details on implementation, training, and support. The lack of good content in this area is, for me, the biggest gap in technology marketing.
There are a couple of research data points that illustrate the importance of this.
First, in our survey about differentiation early in 2014, the respondents told us that Service and Support was the strongest differentiator. This was for people that felt providers did a good job of differentiating themselves. Conversely, those that said providers were not good at communicating differentiation–the majority–cited the inability to understand the details of service and support as one of the major issues.
Second, in our more recent research on buying cycles and influential marketing activities, two of the top three reasons for buyers stopping a buying process–the dreaded “no decision”–were concerns that buyers developed about achieving the targeted ROI and the risk of the project. Effectively, we interpret that to being an issue where buyers initially think the project makes sense and they get some evidence of this during the evaluation process. But at some point, they are unable to embrace how they specifically can achieve value and minimize risk.
This disconnect is often driven by the lack of information to help buyers understand the steps that need to be taken to get value. I believe that if providers developed content that described “the first 90 days with our product” (or any other relevant time frame), that these concerns would diminish. In that content, you would outline the steps that have to be taken by project teams to be successful. Implementation steps. training. How to engage support. What the customer needs to do and what you as the service provider will do.
And not just a description of your training options or support programs. But an authentic story about how to take those things apply in specific scenarios. Jon is definitely right here. Case studies that share how other customers achieved success are fantastic for this purpose. (Here is a good example I came across recently from Minitab. While the story does not explain the exact details of implementation, it does provide a lot of detail on how their product was used to come up with a solution that had a big impact for their customer, Ford.)
I’d be shocked in anyone questioned whether this makes sense. But the reason for the issues is that this is easier said than done. This type of information lies at a bit of a tipping point (not in the “innovation sense” of the phrase). It is the bridge that moves from more traditional marketing materials toward what we think of as documentation or help. Marketing can’t (or shouldn’t) develop this material alone. They need to work with the services, support and product teams. At the same time, if you leave this purely to the services or product teams, you run the risk of it being overrun with minutia that, while important at some point, derail the story and the sales effort. It is a tricky balance.
Navigating this “content bridge” and then going deeper along thispath with all the other content that actual customers need (online help, user guides, etc.) is a critical, often forgotten element of delivering a great customer experience. The stories aren’t the same, and the depth of coverage is different, but the storyline and narrative needs to be consistent. Inconsistencies confuse customers and can halt them in their tracks.
What does this all mean? I’d suggest you do a content audit to assess if you have the information potential customers need to help them understand, quite specifically, how they will actually be successful with your solution. Then make sure that the additional customer documentation extends the storyline. Ideally, use some of your case studies (does not have to be all of them) to help tell these stories. Done right, you’ll be better positioned to deliver on the expectations that you set in your marketing and sales efforts, without confusing the customer with different stories and themes.
If you have this content gap, fill it and let me know if it helps you progress deals faster. If you’ve already filled it, I’d love to hear how (and if it is working) you use this content to accelerate deals and build customer confidence.
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