Been off the blogging trail for awhile, but look for regular updates moving forward. In today’s post I want to talk about the importance of case studies. For a lot of providers, there is an unlimited amount of content that could be created to address different points of the buying journey that their prospects and customers undertake. But the capacity to create all of that content is greatly limited, from both a time and budget standpoint. So when my clients ask me to help them prioritize what should be created, my first answer is usually case studies. Assuming a provider’s positioning and messaging are in good shape (an assumption that is not always accurate) and the basic pieces of collateral and sales tools are there (like a sales deck and a product data sheet), case studies should jump to the top of the “must have” list.
I often talk to my clients about the need for marketers to tell stories across their content and channels. But content being delivered by the provider is not going to be as compelling as when it comes from a customer. A staple of advertising in talk radio (in the U.S.) is to have the hosts promote a product or service (like a car, mattress, satellite service or mortgage broker) as a user/customer. And many TV advertisements feature happy customers. But those people are paid or otherwise compensated to tell their stories. While customer references are sometimes given preferential pricing or other “perks,” it doesn’t diminish from the fact they are a paying customer and are “speaking” on behalf of their provider because the solution solved actual problems and delivered significant business value.
In a survey we conducted last year around influential marketing activities, (See “Tech Go-to-Market: Align Marketing Activities to Tech Buying Cycle Streams“- subscription required) we didn’t ask directly about case studies vs. other content types. But we found that customer references were near the top of the list in terms of their level of influence, significantly higher than brochures, collateral and white papers. (See the chart below). In the earlier stages of the buying cycle, when a prospect is trying to understand if a solution exists for their problem and then determining which providers they want to further engage, they will be consuming case studies from your Web site or other places and this is likely to have a much greater influence on them than other types of content. But there is also an expectation the case studies will be compelling since they are ostensibly coming from your best and happiest customers.
Given the importance of case studies and examples of really stellar ones available on competitor Web sites, one would expect most providers to be highly proficient in creating case studies. But as I review case studies on behalf of our clients, this is often not the case. So here are some best practices to consider when creating case studies:
- Don’t Outsource the Interview- While you can outsource the writing of the case study, the interview is far too important to ask an agency of a freelancer to conduct on their own. Make sure the person doing the interview understands the solution, the problems it’s designed to solve and the competitive landscape. If the interviewer doesn’t have a solid understanding of these critical items, they won’t know the right questions to ask, especially the ones that have logical follow-ups. A product marketer is probably best suited for this role.
- Prepare for the Interview- Preparation is critical. The interviewer should set up a prep call with the Account Executive or the person managing the relationship to try to get as much information as possible ahead of time. Not only will this make the interviewer better informed, but it can help avoid potential “land mines” during the call.
- Record the Call- While you can take notes during the interview, it often can be more conversational when you’re not frantically scribbling them down. Record the call if possible so you can come back to the conversation at a later point.
- Make Your Case Studies Tell a Compelling Story– The storytelling construct is ideally suited for cases studies! The story starts with the problem the customer was trying to solve, then discusses their evaluation process to solve the problem, then highlights the solution they chose and the benefits that it delivered. The story should also weave in lessons learned, and if possible, highlight future expansion plans. Keep this construct in mind as you conduct the interview. Then ensure the case study follows this flow when it gets written.
- Highlight Outcome-Oriented and Quantifiable Benefits- Instead of having the customer simply talk about how happy they are or why their job is easier, focus on the specific outcomes your solution helped them achieve. Did you save them or make them money? If so, how much? Did you save them time in completing a particular project or task? If so, how much, and is there a cost savings associated with that time savings? Did you reduce risk? How does that translate? The more specific and quantifiable the benefit is, the more compelling it will be for your prospects.
- Get at Least Two Strong Quotes– Content from the case study is often reusable in other places- sales presentations being the most obvious one, and quotes are the “gift that keeps on giving.” When you do the interview, look to get a least two strong quotes. One should be about the business value (with quantifiable outcomes) and the other should highlight why they chose your solution (ideally supporting your differentiated positioning).
- Hire an Outside Writer if Needed- While you don’t want to outsource the interview, you want to make sure it is well-written. If you don’t have a strong writer within the product marketing team or elsewhere, it’s okay to hire a freelancer writer to create the case study. If you choose this option, you should have them listen in on the interview or alternatively, let them hear the recorded phone call. The whole process might take longer, especially if there are multiple iterations and a lot of “back and forth” between you and the writer. But that’s okay, getting it right is much more important than getting it done quickly.
Have a lot of potential case study options, but not sure where to prioritize? Well, this is a great problem to have, but you’ll want to look at several factors in terms of where to prioritize including:
- How compelling is the story? (In particular, how strong are the benefits they have received?)
- How recognizable is the customer brand?
- How well does the customer fit into the “sweet spot” of your segmentation and targeting strategy? (Including industry, region company size, use case and title)
- How hard will it likely be to get the case study approved by the customer?
There isn’t a magic formula within this group. While the most compelling story is always great, it has less value if it’s a small, not well-known services company in Spain when you target large manufacturers in the U.S. Look for the ones that meet as many of the criteria as possible.
As a reminder, if you are a Gartner PMM client, you can always ask someone from the Tech Go-to-Market team to review a case study before it’s published or help you evaluate possible case study options.