How to get customers to agree to a case study
by Gordon Graham, Editor, SoftwareCEO
How do you find the right customers for a case study? Secure their approvals?
Write compelling stories? And repurpose them for maximum ROI?
If you're wondering about any of these questions, a new 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 experience writing case studies.
Her new book "Stories That Sell" is $19.95 printed or $12.95 as an e-book.
It's an easy read full of useful gems of practical advice.
The chapter on securing customer permission alone is worth the price of admission.
"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 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 likely includes samples of formatted customer stories, a one-page description of your process from end to end, your proposed interview questions and your release form.
♦ Getting to yes #2: Give them access and involvement
"Surprisingly, the #1 thing customers want is access and involvement: access to execs and involvement in your product/service roadmap," says Hibbard.
So work to create ways for your top customers to interact with your organization on a deeper level, to reward or encourage them for doing a story.
♦ 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.
♦ Getting to yes #4: Create win-win story angles
If possible, find a way to tell your story and the story your customer wants to tell at the same time, suggests Hibbard.
Although this does complicate matters, it's a terrific idea.
If you can angle your story so it promotes your customer's key attributes and reinforces their key messages, any resistance 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 individual contacts famous, with a campaign highlighting the customer's best practices.
♦ 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" tip #1: 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 option."
For instance, you may offer not to publish a story on your website, but instead create a PDF that's 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.
♦ If it's still "no" tip #2: 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.
"But 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, or anonymous, customer story.
"Unnamed stories, if detailed, still educate prospects and validate your products and services."
There are many more tips and wise advice in this handy book. Even if you've been using customer stories for years, you're bound to learn something from it. I did.
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