Recent examples of errors made when writing customer case studies


One might argue that there is no better enterprise sales asset than a well-executed case study. However, a customer case study can quickly go wrong if not properly executed. When done correctly, a customer use case effectively captures a project story and supports it with numbers.

On the other hand, an overly promotional case study achieves very little and reads more like a brochure, offering little value to readers. Despite their lack of sex appeal, a well-executed case study can be a salesperson’s best friend and provide a significant credibility boost when properly mapped into the sales cycle.

Here’s a recent list of common mistakes that can be made when creating a customer case study.

Ways to mess up a customer case study

1. Leting the customer provide the copy for the “about” section. In a past life, I’ve lived this one. Customers provide PR-sanitized content for the “about the customer” section, which induces yawns for the reader. A case study, by definition, is a marketing piece, but it does not have to be full of PR crud. The best “about the customer” sections are mercifully short, and interesting.

2. Not including a “challenge” theme. Enterprise buyers are anything but naive – they know even the best projects are full of gotchas. Good case studies set the tone early – by laying out the challenges the company was facing. Then, the rest of the story keeps the same tone, acknowledging the obstacles overcome in the context of a greater success. That includes detail on the selection process, and what factors led to the buying decision. B2B project success is based on the strength of the customer relationship, not on the magic pixie dust of new technology. The case study should capture this.

3. Not covering implementation, user adoption, training, and support. Readers want to understand the implementation process – how much training was needed, how the process was managed. User adoption is a critical issue for project success. How the users reacted to the new solution, and how change was managed, is core to the credibility of your narrative. The absence of that material turns the case study into workplace fantasy. Sharing the imaginative ways your customers achieved user adoption is a case study win.

4. Lack of hard numbers or quantifiable benefits. If the case study doesn’t have at least one quantifiable benefit, it’s not worth doing. There are plenty of quantifiable benefits besides numbers (not all customers can publicly share project financials). Other quantifiable benefits include: speed improvements, user adoption growth, increased sales (by percentage), reduced help desk and/or customer service calls. In today’s “outcome” world, you want to quantify how your software/services helped a customer serve their customers better (or other stakeholder groups).

5. Only publishing a PDF version. Yeah, we pay a king’s ransom to our designers to make the case study into a pretty PDF. That’s great for salespeople who want some email razzle-dazzle to send along, but on a web site, PDFs stink for search. They aren’t a picnic on mobile devices either.

6. Neglecting to feature “pull quotes”.  Every good case study has a couple of standout quotes. Those quotes should be featured prominently in web and PDF layouts. Too often, they are buried. Pull quotes can also be used on testimonial pages and event promotions, etc.

7. Overlooking the power of video. Once a customer has done the written case study, if you can charm them into a follow-on video, that’s huge. Videos are especially powerful for case studies, because when you are vouching for a product or service on camera, it speaks volumes. I recommend doing the written study first, so that the numbers and benefits are already in the public domain, allowing the interviewee to speak more freely, with less video nerves. The approved published case study gives them air cover.

If a customer won’t do a full-fledged video, they may still agree to do an impromptu 30 second quickie on the trade show floor. Tip: always be ready to shoot a quick smart phone video on the show floor (ideally with a plug in microphone, to reduce the conference chaos).

8. Assuming one case study works across regions and industries. It’s a hard lesson, but most prospects aren’t swayed by case studies unless it applies to their industry and/or region. That’s why we need a case study program, not just a case study. The best case study libraries have pull down menus to sort by geography, industry, or solution.

9. Refusing to invest in case studies because they are a pain in the neck to produce, or perceived as outdated. Customer stories never go out of style. Some have told me, “We don’t need case studies because our customers sing our praises on social channels.” Great – but they won’t share financial numbers unless you go through a formal process. I’ve had to perform last rites on many case studies that died in the customer approval stage, but enough of them survive to make it worthwhile.

10. Doing a case study too soon. Most of the significant benefits come after go-live – and go-live itself should be part of this story.

11. Obsessing over case studies from your most famous customers only. Yes, publishing a case study with a household-name brand is a huge win. But those are also the hardest to achieve – and the approval cycles can be never-ending (the bigger the name, the fussier the PR/legal review). It’s really about the best stories – across geographies and focus industries.

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