«Return to Blog List Top 4 Reasons Case Studies Backfire – and How to Avoid Them

Today I’m pleased to bring you a guest post by Stephanie Tilton, the principal of Ten Ton Marketing (www.tentonmarketing.com), and founding member of and regular contributor to the Savvy B2B Marketing blog (www.savvyb2bmarketing.com). She’s also a very experienced case study and white paper writer.

Issues throughout the case study development process can derail – or at least complicate – a project.

The following four examples involving a fictitious customer contact named Lucy highlight common pitfalls and ways to circumvent them.

1. Fail to understand the customer’s satisfaction level
When you get on the phone to interview Lucy, you probably expect her to speak favorably about your company and its offerings. It seems reasonable enough – after all, Lucy agreed to participate in the case study.

But you just might find yourself blindsided if you don’t do your homework.

Before a case study interview, touch base with the account manager or review your customer relationship management database.

It’s possible that Lucy – or someone within her organization – had a poor experience using your solution or working with your company between the time you scheduled the call and the day of the interview.

If that’s the case, you – or Lucy – may want to reschedule the interview. At the very least, discuss the situation with the account manager to determine the plan for moving forward.

Though not as likely, Lucy might have had a bad experience the day of your call and not yet reported it to your company. In fact, you may be the first to hear about it.

Offer to mobilize the appropriate resources to address the issue and suggest that the call be rescheduled once the issue has been fully resolved.

2. Expect the customer to rattle off project details and metrics
You probably expect Lucy to know everything about choosing and using your company’s offering. But that’s a poor assumption for two key reasons:

  • The person who originally evaluated, chose, implemented, or used your solution may have left the company.
  • Lucy might know only a portion of the story, while someone else in the company knows the remaining details. For example, perhaps Lucy knows the technical details while Joe in finance understands how the solution has benefited workers on a daily basis.

Minimize the chances of a frustrating interview by giving Lucy insight into the types of questions you’ll cover on the call. Don’t think it’s sufficient to send a questionnaire as an email attachment – Lucy might not look at it before the call.

In the email, summarize the key questions you’ll ask. Be certain to highlight the types of quantitative results you hope to capture.

This heads-up will give Lucy a chance to find the answers – or invite the appropriate people to join the call.

3. Get sidetracked during the interview
Everyone is busy these days. So when you ask Lucy to set aside 30-60 minutes for a call, be sure to respect her time. Lucy expects to be discussing her experience implementing and using your solution.

Don’t distract her with questions that aren’t directly related to the case study, such as how you can improve your offering.

With a set amount of time for the interview, asking irrelevant questions can mean you don’t get everything needed to write the story. The last thing you want to do is bother Lucy with additional questions after the interview because you took up too much time asking tangential questions!

<4. Pressure the customer to review the draft quickly
Want a rapid turnaround once you send the case study to Lucy for review? Then make sure you get the draft into her hands as soon as possible after the interview.

If you take your time sending the case study to Lucy, it’s not fair to expect a quick review.

Even if you do send the draft right away, remember, Lucy has her own busy schedule and priorities. The customer review process is out of your hands.

While you don’t want to badger Lucy, there are a few things you can do to try to keep the case study top of mind for Lucy. Here’s what Casey Hibbard suggests in Stories that Sell:

  • Call in reinforcements. Identify someone within your company who has a strong relationship with Lucy. Ask him or her to bring up the case study during the next conversation with Lucy and find out what needs to happen to move forward.
  • Help out the customer. If you find out that Lucy is trying to chase down people in her organization to review the draft, offer to take over. You can become the person who persistently follows up to shepherd the draft through the review and approval process.
  • Send a thank-you gift. Many organizations send a small gift as a token of their appreciation for the customer’s participation. If you follow this practice, consider sending the gift before the case study review process is complete. In this way, you can tap into the powerful urge that people feel to reciprocate when someone gives them something. (You can read more about this in Robert B. Cialdini’s book "Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.") Lucy will likely be more motivated to guide the case study through to completion.

Have your case study initiatives been derailed for other reasons? Do you have other suggestions for ensuring a smooth case study process? Please share your experiences and thoughts!

3 Responses to Top 4 Reasons Case Studies Backfire – and How to Avoid Them

  1. Michele Linn says:

    Very informative post that highlights some potential pitfalls with case studies. Another thing I have done when working on customer stories is find out from the account manager if there is anything specific success they want to highlight. For instance, if our solution helped them save x dollars, I make sure that there is a question that will address this so I can get a juicy quote. Like you mention, you don’t want to go back with more questions and you don’t want to miss anything important. Thanks for the great ideas.

  2. Michele,
    Great suggestion! This fits in nicely with my comment about giving customers a heads-up about any metrics you’re hoping to capture.
    Thanks for the reminder about how to make sure you do your work up front to keep customers and sales happy.

  3. Michele,
    Really good point about asking specific questions. I have also found that being as specific as possible with interview questions elicits better answers, quotes and case studies. Customers are busy doing other stuff all day and appreciate questions that jog their memories.
    Thanks for the comments!