Not Another Boring Case Study

The real mission for any software company is to make customers successful. Software marketing should always be customer-focused. So why are most customer success stories or case studies put out by software firms so dull?

They don’t have to be boring.

Case Studies Need Not Be Boring

Case Studies Need Not Be Boring

Traditional Case Studies – Why Vendors Don’t Care!

Most software companies prepare case studies to provide a basic level of credibility. They hope that prospects will see a list of well-known company names and logos and be reassured as they think:

  • “this is a legitimate respectable software vendor”
  • “we will be in good company”
  • “if this software meets the needs of these illustrious companies and they’re happy to be publicly listed as a customer, then surely they can meet our needs”

Vendors think that all that’s needed is a public confirmation that well-known customers are using the software. So the vendors aren’t motivated to provide in-depth, entertaining stories. They don’t believe there’s much value.

Additionally, the vendors want to avoid straining account relationships by pushing customers for deep, educational, engaging stories. Vendors have an internal conflict of interests:

  • Sales want to minimize the number of requests made to “their” customers. Each account manager would rather save any goodwill to “spend” on reference calls with prospects, which directly help their own sales figures.
  • Marketing’s objectives are the opposite. They don’t mind inconveniencing one customer if that will provide a better story and attract more leads and sales for the entire company.

Typically, the result is a compromise. The account manager only grants marketing permission if marketing promises to keep the story quick and simple. So we see lots of superficial case studies.

Why Customers Don’t Care Either!

Now, let’s turn this around and look at it from the perspective of the customer, the customer as a person and as a company.

Someone bought and implemented the software within the customer organization. They care. They have a vested interest. Assuming the project has gone well they’ll be a keen advocate and want publicity for their success.

They’ll want to shout loud and wide about their success – it can only help their career prospects. They’ll probably be keen to make it an interesting story, discuss highs, lows, challenges, learnings, warts and all. After all, how can they be a hero if it was all too easy.

However, a number of players within the customer organization will dumb down the advocate’s story as it’s reviewed – until the story becomes bland and boring. For example:

Customers May Be Prevented From Telling Full Story

Customers May Be Prevented From Telling Full Story

  • The CIO insists there are no negative references to other software vendors or suppliers
  • The CMO ensures that their own boilerplate marketing messages are included
  • Legal insists that concrete ROI numbers are removed and any firm recommendations are watered down
  • The business function head cleanses anything about commercial strategy or business processes in case it could help competitors

Case Studies 2.0 – Less Boring

Instead of thinking of customer stories as a tick box exercise, you should view your customers as your most important asset. In particular, customers are your most important marketing asset.

Your customers can say things you can’t. They’ll be believed when you won’t. Even better than objective third parties, these are the very people your prospects will relate to, want to hear from, and want to learn from.

Your customers are:

  • Authentic – genuine customers discussing real-world scenarios is more believable
  • Realistic – without bland marketing packaging the evangelizing messages are more powerful
  • Holistic – they can address the whole problem and where your software fits in
  • Specific – they can talk about certain industries, or unusual requirements unlike your general marketing messages

You can dramatically improve your customer stories by getting out of the way. Instead of a formal process that captures official stories for you to distribute, you should enable your customers to present direct. Their own words in their own voice.

You can help arrange for customers to:

  • Present at seminars, webinars, and conferences
  • Speak in short videos
  • Write their own blog posts in their own words
  • Share demos and images of the software in real use

One software vendor who does this really well is MailChimp, it completely ignores the standard formula for case studies.

MailChimp customer stories are about the customer, what they do, what’s interesting or exciting about them. They are written as a celebration of each customer and their success.

These stories don’t talk about MailChimp or their service or even about the space they’re in. As a marketing strategy it’s more subtle and effective than droning on about how customer X uses MailChimp for email newsletters, customer Y uses MailChimp for email newsletters… Instead, MailChimp position themselves as caring about customers and customer success and not being like normal “boring” vendors.

Remember, customer success stories should be about your customers succeeding, not about you and your software succeeding.

Case Studies 3.0 – Dynamic Engaging Stories

If you’re a prospect, hearing a story direct from a customer is far more interesting than a marketing piece from the vendor. It’s better, but only goes so far.

  • The information flow is one-way
  • A few of your questions may get answered but most won’t
  • The story may get out of date quickly
  • You know there will be some level of sanitization

Ideally, prospects want to talk with customers and ask questions live. It’s great to watch a short presentation to get an overview, but if you’re really interested you’d want to be able to sit down with the customer and discuss. By asking questions, learning, participating, stories become dynamic and far more engaging and powerful than a dull case study.

Arranging dynamic stories like this is possible. I’m going to be guilty of some self-promotion here, but this is best example I know:

I used to be the content lead for SAP’s customer events. The main event of the year is SAPPHIRE NOW and customers would to give presentations lasting up to an hour with minimal Q&A at the end. Most conferences are like this:

  • Almost all the communication is one-way
  • Slides are extensively reviewed by the customer and vendor organizations in advance
  • Speakers are not professional speakers
  • Most of the audience loses concentration as lots of material is covered that’s not exciting and not specifically relevant to them.

In 2010 we revamped the content formats at SAPPHIRE, so the content was all about discussions.

  • People who came were no longer just attendees but became participants. Presentations were cut to 20 minutes and served to set the scene before the real action in discussion rooms after each session.
  • Customers met the speakers and other speakers around a conference table and really engaged, diving deep into the topics the participants raised.
  • The format was far more engaging, far more popular and left the speakers feeling far more fulfilled as evangelists.

What You Can Do

Hosting large conferences is not the only way to encourage your customers to connect with each other. Forums, user groups, and discussion boards have always been popular amongst dedicated and technical software users. But with the wider acceptance of social media, you can facilitate and surface those discussions, easily, globally and in real-time.

Sure, it helps to have large budgets and a massive customer list, but it’s not essential. If your software company is a startup, then you can be nimbler and you can include celebrating customer success and open communications as a core element of your culture from the outset.

Imagine how powerful it would be for a prospect to raise a concern about your software, and before you even get a chance to respond, one of your customers:

  • Acknowledges they had the same concern
  • How that was addressed and
  • How they have been successfully using it
  •  And how they would be happy to recommend your software and offer advice

So instead of working hard to convince cynical buyers through long sales cycles and churning out case studies as a tick box exercise, you can focus on:

  • Making your customers successful
  • Enabling your customers to evangelize for you

Give your customers a reason to promote your software, give them a reason to be passionate and make it easy for them to reach each other and instead of boring case studies you’ll have your own sales machine.

How are you going to make your customer stories more engaging?

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Not Another Boring Case Study http://bit.ly/mPPCvZ by @SmartSoftMarket

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