You wouldn’t even read your own case study

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Image by spatiallyrelevant via Flickr

Case studies have always been an interesting pain point for most technology organizations and marketers.  You always need more (according to sales), they are difficult to push through to completion and no one in sales uses them once they are done because many times they are fact free, devoid of numbers and generally represent a feel good piece about your product or company which doesn’t help a buyer decision anything or discern why they should further evaluate your product/solution.

Sales Has Some Needs, Ideas and Some Candidates For You!

The typical case study process starts with a sales feedback session and as you would suspect — they need more stuff.   We can always debate if they ACTUALLY need more stuff, but why wouldn’t you want more case studies anyhow, right?  After all, sales is kind enough to give you a handful of companies to talk to, but 99% in the list can’t do one due to some corporate policy or other lame reason like being too busy, but y’all luckily find that 1 which says “yeah we can do a case study if you want”.

It may not be the one you wanted, it’s in a corner case industry for your product, but it’s the one you got and the next time you talk to sales it’s like: “Victory! We have a case study in progress and MARCOM is working with the customer”.

Ready, Set, Write!

So it’s off to the races and it’s a pretty straight forward process for the person in MARCOM who’s been assigned to get it done:

  • Interview the contact
  • write a little
  • work the approval process with the customer
  • 3-6 months later you may or may not have case study.

Providing you are lucky enough to get final approval,  you probably have  some watered down document which doesn’t work for sales or the marketplace at large and looks something like this from a flow perspective:

  • Generic statement that “we worked with big or not so big company to do stuff”
  • Customer Company overview with Logo
  • Perfectly reverse engineered problem statement
  • Quotes about how nice your product is in sidebar call outs from Jeremy,  the Project Manager
  • Your company’s boiler plate

There could be any number of reasons why this happens, the contact wasn’t the the right one, we asked the wrong questions or we just couldn’t get the cool content through their legal – some competitive differentiation/advantage thing.   While, it would be great to think our products do actually provide a competitive advantage, most case studies aren’t discovery sessions around how well the implementation went, it’s a checklist of questions which MARCOM  goes through like case study best practice robots.

Asked, Answered and Outta Here

In many companies it’s MARCOM which works the checklist of obvious questions with no real involvement from Product Marketing or Management and the main reason is they have a list of questions which they have used historically and the cookie cutter questions typically get the job done.  Pretty formulaic stuff for most technology companies.   In fact it is so formulaic that MARCOM may even outsource it, because it so easy – after all we have the corporate communications template, the style guide and a list of questions we can hand off to anyone.

Once we get the answers to the questions we have a case study right?  Probably not, more than likely we have yet another document which sales won’t use and buyers won’t find any real benefit from.  So what can you do to improve the likelihood that you will have something of value when done?  Notice I didn’t say case study, since not all customer stories are really case studies.

Qualify the Case Study

While case study candidates are hard to find, fluff pieces immortalized in Adobe aren’t that helpful to most sales people or buyers.  Try to better understand why someone/a company might want to do a case study.   It’s not that hard, just ask them “So why are you looking to do the case study?”  The types of answers will vary, but might look like:

  • Hey our marketing guy thinks it will improve our SEO
  • To fulfill some contract term which got slid in for a 55% discount.
  • We reduce cycle times by 12%, increased utilization by 3% and lowered costs by 8% resulting in an additional $18M in profit in the first 6 months.
  • I selected the solution, I think it’s implementation will improve my career, so let’s put it in print – k?

So there are lots of answers you could get back and other drivers than true partnership with your company or success with your product which could make a organization want to talk about their implementations.  It’s these type of nuances which makes MARCOM and definitely an external third party probably not the right resource to work the process via a hand off from sales.   In fact, why does sales often represent the starting point for case studies and not professional services?

Conversations, not Case Studies

So as you have probably guessed it might be best to not go in search of case studies, but to have regular conversation with recent implementations and find out how folks are using your product.  While having these conversations you just might find a real case study, a customer focus blog post or other quicker to write (and get approved) web content piece which would help buyers in the discovery process better understand the problems solved by your solutions/product.

I know — sales still wants case studies, but I betcha they would be really cool with video testimonials though.  It also just might be easier to get big brands with a video approach.  How?    Have MARCOM setup a video camera at the next users conference and solicit participation in quick 60 second testimonials around your products, after all everyone loves your product at the user conference and you can slip in some “right to post/tape language” in your click through license for the online conference registration.   Just an idea…..

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11 Comments

  • Reply Emily February 26, 2010 at 7:02 am

    You wouldn’t even read your case study:

    Image by spatiallyrelevant via Flickr

    Case studies have always been a… http://bit.ly/dqdS6a

  • Reply jon gatrell February 26, 2010 at 7:10 am

    SR Post: You wouldn’t even read your case study: Case studies aren't any fun, most people don't read th.. http://bit.ly/bJgmMW

  • Reply devcorporate February 26, 2010 at 10:35 am

    RT: @spatially You wouldn’t even read your case study: #prodmgmt #orodmktg http://bit.ly/bJgmMW

  • Reply topsy_top20k_en February 26, 2010 at 10:35 am

    You wouldn’t even read your case study:

    Image by spatiallyrelevant via Flickr

    Case studies have always been a… http://bit.ly/dqdS6a

  • Reply jcmecke February 26, 2010 at 10:35 am

    RT: @spatially You wouldn’t even read your case study: #prodmgmt #orodmktg http://bit.ly/bJgmMW

  • Reply Amber Naslund February 26, 2010 at 11:43 am

    And @spatially makes some great distinctions between case studies and those that don't make the grade: http://bit.ly/ci1XkY

  • Reply Charlotte February 26, 2010 at 1:44 pm

    Good, very true, article on case studies. Turn it round and there's advice in there. http://bit.ly/ci1XkY (via @ambercadabra)

  • Reply Favorite Product Management Posts February 2010 | A Random Jog March 1, 2010 at 10:03 pm

    […] Relevant – You wouldn’t even read your own case study While case study candidates are hard to find, fluff pieces immortalized in Adobe aren’t that […]

  • Reply April Dunford March 4, 2010 at 7:12 am

    You wouldn’t even read your case study (from spatially relevant) http://bit.ly/a41M9G

  • Reply Michael G. Cohen March 4, 2010 at 7:14 am

    RT @aprildunford: You wouldn’t even read your case study (from spatially relevant) http://bit.ly/a41M9G

  • Reply Top Product Posts of 2010 January 2, 2011 at 11:31 pm

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