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How to Gain Customer Approval of Case Studies

by | Jan 13, 2010 | B2B Copywriting, Collateral, Lead Generation, Case Studies | 0 comments

Do you have trouble gaining customer approval of case studies?

If so, you’re not alone.

Several marketing managers I’ve spoken with have told me they would love to use case studies in their marketing, but their customers refuse to participate. And many companies who do publish case studies report that gaining permission is the hardest part of the process.

That’s a nuisance for marketers, because we know case studies are among the most widely read, most trusted form of marketing communications. In a recent KnowledgeStorm/ Marketing Sherpa technology marketing survey, case studies (67%) ranked second only to white papers (71%) in content frequently read by technology buyers, far surpassing corporate websites (53%).

Which is not surprising.

After all, all businesses have problems and want solutions. But business decision makers want to avoid risk. So they’re interested in knowing how others have succeeded in circumstances similar to their own. Case studies fit the bill perfectly. They describe how real companies have found real solutions to real problems.

Problems are the main reason businesses shop for new technology. According to that same KnowledgeStorm survey, 72% of business buyers start technology research to “solve a current problem.”

And 83% said they want information on those solutions targeted to their industry. That’s why savvy marketers work to develop a library of case studies, highlighting their full range of solutions across all of their target markets.

The problem with case studies…and how to solve it

But the problem with case studies is that to make them as effective as they can be – to maximize their credibility and readability – you need to be able to use the name and comments of your customer. For that, you need their participation and approval. And as we’ve already mentioned, that approval can often be difficult to obtain.

Companies today don’t take the use of their name or the discussion of their business practices lightly. They may say “no” to you for any number of reasons. These can include concerns over liability, security, confidentiality or competitiveness.

Time can also be deciding factor. A large company with hundreds of vendors may say no to all to avoid spending manhours evaluating every request. A small company may feel they simply have too much on their plate to add another thing.

Fortunately, companies also have many reasons for saying “yes” to a case study project.

Managers want documentation to demonstrate how they contributed to the bottom line, to defend purchasing decisions, and to justify retaining vendors and solutions. They may also be seeking recognition within their company. Their companies may be seeking recognition within their industry. And all companies crave good PR.

A published case study can provide all those things. And it provides them in an objective, third-party form – which boosts their credibility.

Customers may also agree to case study projects because want their suppliers to remain in business. They don’t want to lose time and money shopping for new vendors and adopting new solutions. They want continued support for existing ones. It just makes good business sense. And it makes their lives easier.

Getting to “yes” on customer success stories

To tip the scales in favor of “yes,” case study expert Casey Hibbard, founder and president of Compelling Cases, Inc., recommends you start by talking to your customers.

Each customer is different, she points out, so you need to work them on a case-by-case basis.

Begin with your closest contacts. You’ll want to discover their individual objectives and desires, as well as those of their company. You need to understand what the customer is willing to do and who could be motivated to help push for approval. You’ll also be looking at how your goals for the story mesh with your customer’s goals. That will help you uncover a story angle that’s exciting for both sides.

Then, you’ll approach your customer with a customized proposal that matches their needs and the scope of what they’re willing to do. Emphasize the win-win nature of the project. And be sure to spell out all the benefits the customer will gain.

Some customers, however, will need motivation beyond the benefits offered by the project itself. This calls for creative solutions.

Discounts and other monetary incentives can be tricky, Hibbard warns, as both sides can feel as though the endorsement is being bought.

Fortunately, most customers prefer non-monetary incentives. These can include access to your company’s leadership, involvement in your company’s direction or input to you’re your product development through select customer councils…anything that helps assure customers they will get solutions customized to their needs.

What’s great about these “access and involvement” motivators is that they provide benefits to your company, as well. Such “collaboration marketing” efforts not only strengthen your relationship with your existing customer, but they can lead to additional business through word of mouth within you customer’s network.

In her excellent book on success-story marketing, Stories That Sell: Turn Satisfied Customers into Your Most Powerful Sales & Marketing Asset, Hibbard provides the following list of proven techniques (reprinted with permission) for getting a “yes” on case study projects.

Customer Motivators

From startups to global enterprises, every company struggles with getting customers to go on record. Here are some ideas in practice at companies today for encouraging customers to participate in customer stories:

Access and involvement – Surprisingly, the #1 thing customers want is access and involvement–access to your execs and involvement in your product/service roadmap. Create ways for your top customers to interact with your organization on a deeper level.

Co-marketing campaigns – Create a few co-marketing campaigns for the customers you most want to feature. The focus: How successful the customer is, and one of its steps to success has been using your solutions.

Joint-benefit story angles – If possible, find a way to tell your story and the story that your customer wants to tell the public.

An evolving relationship – Move customers through a series of communities of increasing importance, from user groups to advisory boards and tech councils.

Customer fame – Make individual contacts famous with a campaign highlighting the customer’s best practices.

Rare exceptions for the most coveted customers – In the sales process, you can consider offering training or other services in exchange for reference activity. If you do choose to extend discounts at that time, then ask customers to participate in multiple reference activities.

Reminders about publicity possibilities – If your solution saved a department money, increased sales, or improved customer service, for example, approach the department head. A story could be very valuable in demonstrating the success of that individual and helping him justify having made the investment.

Awards opportunities – Everyone wants to be recognized for success. Take every opportunity to submit customers for awards and PR opportunities, and they will be more willing to participate.

Persistence – Some of the world’s largest companies spend years building customer relationships, gradually involving the customer more in joint marketing activities (speaking at conferences and panels, accepting reference calls, and then customer stories).

Alternatives when you can’t go public – Internal-only or unnamed use of customer stories may be the only way to get some customers on board.

Each customer may require a unique approach. Know what you can and can’t offer.

The preceding excerpt was reprinted with the permission of the author, Casey Hibbard, from her book, Stories That Sell: Turn Satisfied Customers into Your Most Powerful Sales & Marketing Asset. You can find out more about the book and get additional tips on success-story marketing on Hibbard’s website:

One final note. It is not inappropriate to reward key contacts for their participation in a case study project. A small “thank you”, such as a framed copy of the published article for a corporate manager, or a gift card or renewal discount for a small business owner, can go a long way toward strengthening your customer relationship. Just be sure to present any such reward as a “token of appreciation” at the conclusion of the project, not as an up front enticement.

Take-Away Points

Case studies are one of the most powerful weapons in a marketer’s arsenal. But getting customers to agree to them is often difficult. They have many reasons for saying “no.”

Fortunately, customers have just as many reasons to say “yes.” And your company can provide additional motivators that not only encourage participation, but strengthen your relationship with your customer, as well.

The key to tipping the scales in favor of a “yes” is to talk with your customers. Discover what would motivate them and their company to participate. Then present a customized proposal emphasizing the win-win nature of the project.

Need help interviewing a satisfied customer and writing about the success they’ve had with your product or service? Call me at (+39) 011 569 4951. Or email me at

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