How to get customers to agree to a case study

How do you find the right customers for a case study, and then secure their approvals?

How do you write compelling stories? And repurpose them for maximum ROI?

If you’re wondering about any of these questions, an excellent book by seasoned writer Casey Hibbard will set you straight.

Hibbard spells out a step-by-step plan for turning satisfied customers into your most powerful asset, based on 10 years of writing case studies.

Her book Stories That Sell is an easy read, full of useful gems of practical advice.

The one chapter on securing a customer’s permission is worth the price all by itself.

It’s good to know you’re not alone with this challenge.

“From startups to global enterprises, every company struggles with getting customers to go on record,” says Hibbard.

In fact, this is the biggest roadblock that stops B2B software firms from gathering more customer stories.

Here are seven ideas from Hibbard for how to motivate customers to participate in doing a story with you.

Getting to yes #1: Create a “pitch packet”

This is a set of materials you can e-mail to customers with all the information they need to make a decision.

This includes samples of formatted customer stories, a one-page description of your process from start to end, your proposed interview questions, and your release form.

Getting to yes #2: Give them access and involvement

“Surprisingly, the thing customers want most is access and involvement: access to execs and involvement in your product or service roadmap,” says Hibbard.

So to reward or encourage your top customers for doing a story, work to find ways for them to interact with your organization on a deeper level.

Getting to yes #3: Run co-marketing campaigns

Create a few co-marketing campaigns for the customers you most want to feature.

The focus: how successful that customer is, and how one of its steps to success has been using your company’s software.

This story could well circulate to prospects your client is trying to reach… and paint them as a vendor on the move.

Getting to yes #4: Create win-win story angles

If possible, find a way to tell both your story AND the story your customer wants to tell, both at the same time, suggests Hibbard.

Casey Hibbard

Casey Hibbard

Although this does complicate matters, it’s a terrific idea.

If you can angle your story so that it reinforces your customer’s key messages, any resistance to taking part in a success story will likely melt away.

Getting to yes #5: Develop an evolving relationship

Move customers through a series of communities of increasing importance, from user groups to advisory boards to tech councils.

The more involved a customer feels with your company, the more likely they will agree to a story.

Getting to yes #6: Boost your contact’s fame

Make your client contacts famous, with a campaign to highlight that customer’s best practices. Position them as winners in their company and in their industry.

Getting to yes #7: Shoot for awards

“Everyone wants to be recognized for success,” says Hibbard. So take every chance you can get to submit customers for awards and PR opportunities.

But what if you simply can’t get a go-ahead from a customer? Are you dead in the water?

In this case, Hibbard suggests two last-ditch alternatives.

If it’s still “no”: Ask for limited use

If customers cannot or will not agree to full public use of the story, sometimes they will grant limited use.

“This can mean specifications on where and how the information is used, as well as for how long,” she says.

“You can still squeeze a lot of value out of a limited-use story. Start with finding out what the customer’s concerns are, and then propose a fitting limited use.”

For instance, you may offer not to publish a story on your website, but instead create a PDF only used in press kits, or only sent directly to potential customers.

Perhaps you can agree to only use a success story for six or 12 months.

Or that the story is for your internal use only; so that your sales team may read and memorize the details, but only reveal them in personal conversations with prospects.

These informal “campfire stories” can still pack quite a punch.

If it’s still “no”: Don’t name the client

“No one really wants to feature a ‘global semiconductor company.’ You want the credibility that goes with telling America that you work with a specific global semiconductor company,” says Hibbard.

Of course, you can’t name customers who don’t give you permission.

“But in reality, the unnamed customer story goes further than you think. Don’t automatically discount an unnamed customer story.

“Unnamed stories, if detailed, still educate prospects and validate your products and services.”

There are many more tips and much wise advice in her handy book. Even if you’ve been using customer stories for years, you’re bound to learn something from it. I’ve written hundreds of case studies, and I learned some great ideas from it.

You can get the printed book for $19.95 or the e-book for $12.95 from Casey’s site. And you can pick up some further interesting tips and best practices there.

About Gordon Graham

Author of 275 white papers on everything from choosing enterprise software to designing virtual worlds for kids, for clients everywhere from Silicon Valley to Switzerland, for everyone from tiny startups to 3M, Google and Verizon. Also wrote White Papers for Dummies which earned 50 5-star ratings on Amazon. Reviewers call it "a must-read... fantastic... outstanding... terrific... phenomenal... the best book of its kind."

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