The Case for Case Studies
Guest Faculty post by Jennifer Palus
Case studies are at once the most over-inflated and under-supported tool in the sales toolbox.
A case study is often imagined to be this self-targeting, silver bullet that can easily convince even the most resistant prospect. Sometimes even a prospect falls into this trap. Intrigued by your sales pitch, the prospect knows he has to convince his boss (and then her boss) to approve the purchase. “That’s great! Can you get me a case study?” The prospect asks, eyes gleaming with confidence that the case study will be all the persuasion needed to get approval.
Business people seem to hold the image of an idealized case study in the minds. They imagine case study layout and graphics so beautiful that simply taking it out of one’s briefcase or displaying it on-screen stops all other conversation. They imagine the perfect amount of text – just enough copy to grab the reader’s heart and mind (and checkbook), with not one word more. They imagine a conclusion so compelling that the prospect will sign on the dotted line before he has finished reading the last statistic. Cue the music; we have a deal…thanks to the case study!
A strong case study may not be THAT magically effective – but they are powerful tools. So why then is the metaphorical case study cupboard so bare for most of us? Why, at almost every company I’ve ever worked with, do people hangs their heads and make excuses when asked about the quality and quantity of their case studies?
The idealized vision of a perfect case study, in my opinion, is actually the obstacle for most of us.
It’s so easy to find a reason NOT to create a case study:
• The client will never approve the use of their name.
• We just launched the project; we won’t know results for months…or years.
• I asked the operations guys for success metrics, but haven’t heard back.
• This sounds like the case study we already have.
• Marketing already has a backlog of case studies. They don’t want any more.
• I don’t have time to look backward– I need to go sell the next one.
We all want amazing, powerful case studies. But the effort and problem-solving required to create them is daunting. And let’s face it, there will ALWAYS be some other problem, some other urgent crisis that needs our attention.
Putting case studies on the back burner is the easiest decision you’ll ever make.
Until you need one and don’t have it.
So what’s the solution? Take “perfect” off the table. Stop waiting until everything is exactly right before you begin. Stop using holes in the data as an excuse. Focus on progress. Start. Now.
What if your goal was not to create the ideal case study, but to manage a pipeline of case study drafts in varying stages?
When do most people start writing a case study (if they ever do)? When they have all the data. Which may be months or years after the deal was closed. Which may be so far down the road, that no one at your company OR the client remembers the pain that led them to your solution!
And it’s the PAIN of the case study that resonates with future prospects – often more than the solution. If you can express the business challenge and the pain it caused in your case study, you create empathy and connection. Your prospects will be able to relate, even across industries.
To capture those detail and tell that story, you need to begin drafting the case study DURING THE PITCH.
Yup. Every single time you pitch a potential transformational account, you should be asking, “If we win this, what is the case it will prove? What story can we tell about the problem we’re solving?”
I challenge you to ask that question in your next sales meeting as you review your prospects. It will change the complexion of the meeting. Suddenly what was a mathematical revenue exercise becomes a discussion of how your company will change the prospect’s company for the better.
And that’s the point of a case study.
As you hunt big sales, start a file on each prospect. Capture the background of the problem and the business challenge. Nothing fancy, just text or bullets. Add to it as new details arise. Guess what: You’re drafting a case study.
It’s not ready to be presented formally (and maybe it never will be). But the very act of drafting it is powerful. You’ll begin to think about each sale as a potential proof point for your company. The power of thinking in case studies will make you better able tell the story of the problems you solve, what you do better than everyone else, and what you do that no one else can do. Start. Now.