3 Major Case Study Approval Roadblocks… (and how to get past each)

July 14, 2017 by

Image copyright: <a href='https://www.123rf.com/profile_utk143'>utk143 / 123RF Stock Photo</a>When it comes to case studies, credibility is the name of the game.

And if you want the credibility that comes from naming a well-known customer in a case study, that customer must grant you permission to use their name. Period.

So, it’s important to have a plan for securing that permission, both before you start the project – what I call the pre-approval process – and after the case study is written (the final customer approval process).

But sometimes, even if you've carefully laid all the groundwork, things can still go horribly wrong! That’s why I’d like to look at three common roadblocks to customer case study approval, and the steps you can take to get past them.

Roadblock #1:  Your Customer Changes

In today’s world, businesses change all the time. They change suddenly. The changes can be minor: people shift roles or leave the firm; departments reorganize. Or they can be great, as when companies are acquired, merge or go public.

Regardless of whether it’s small or large, however, a change to your customer’s organization can affect your chances of gaining their approval of your freshly-written case study.

Quite a number  of events could delay or derail the approval process. Your customer champion might leave the company. An approval authority might transfer to another department. A merger or acquisition could mean a restructuring of the legal department, of postponement of any task deemed non-essential to immediate business needs.

Fortunately, there’s a simple four-step procedure for dealing with customer changes during a case study project:

Step 1:  Find out who your new contacts are.

Get help from your account rep or whoever else is closest to the customer. Determine exactly what change has occurred and who your new contacts and approval authorities are.

Step 2:  Bring those new contacts up to speed.

Set up a call or online meeting with your new contacts. Explain the project, what has occurred so far, and the upcoming steps in the process.

Step 3:  Discover your new contacts’ concerns.

Are they familiar with your solution? Have individuals quoted in the case study left the company? Has the customer’s approval process changed? Do these new contacts have issues with the content or planned use of the case study? Seek to fully understand these concerns, because you’ll need that knowledge for the final step.

Step 4:  Address your customer’s concerns in a way that meets your marketing objectives.

Some concerns are relatively easy to address. If a quoted individual has left the company, for example, ask to have their quotes attributed to another employee in the same role or a similar one. In many cases, addressing the concerns of new customer contacts is just a matter of updating your existing draft and re-circulating it for final approval.

The biggest challenge you’re likely to face is the case where your new contacts are unfamiliar with your solution, and their company is no longer using it. If the customer has lost all corporate memory of the improvements your solution brought about, you may have to abandon the project.

If, on the other hand, the customer is still using your product or service, give your new contacts some time to become better acquainted with it. Ask your account rep to build a relationship with these new contacts. Then, in six months or so, go back to them about reviving the project.

Roadblock #2:  Case Study Oblivion

Every so often when a case study goes to the customer for final approval, a strange thing happens.

You’ve done everything right. You obtained pre-approval. You experienced good cooperation during development. Interviews were completed, pictures taken. You got your polished draft laid out, illustrated, reviewed internally and sent to the customer.

Everything has gone fine. You may even have seen progress through your customer’s approval chain.

Then, suddenly, it’s like your case study got sucked into a black hole.

Updates from your customer champion stagnate. The story is stuck in legal or on some executive’s desk. Your champion can’t seem to move it forward. After a while, your champion stops answering your calls and emails!

What do you do?

Here are three tricks for rescuing your case study from oblivion:

Trick #1:  Call in the cavalry.

Enlist the help of the person in your organization who has the best long-term relationship with the customer. Often this will be your account manager or channel partner who sold the customer your solution. If your solution requires extensive customization, it may be your technical project manager. Update this colleague on where the story stands. Then, ask him to talk to his contact about the story. Tell him to emphasize the win-win nature of the project and the benefits the customer will gain from the story’s publication. Through your colleague, more insight into what’s holding up approval, and come up with a plan for getting the project back on track.

Trick #2:  Take the burden off your customer.

Always remember: your case study is a lower priority for your customer than it is for you. If your customer champion says she’s swamped with other duties, or she can’t manage to spur action in other departments, try to help her out.

Offer to take the point on shepherding the story through the remaining approval wickets. Ask who the remaining approval authorities are. Volunteer to contact them directly. If she accepts, get on it right away.

Don’t be surprised, though, if your offer is declined. Your customer may feel the responsibility should remain with her, as the story reflects upon her department. But simply having the conversation may motivate her to take things to a higher level. It will also allow you to offer advice on how to get the review process moving again.

Trick #3:  Send your thank-you gift early.

If you can’t get through to your customer with the first two techniques mentioned, there’s one more thing you might want to try, if the story is truly important for your firm.

Send your thank-you gift in advance. That’s right, send a small gift to your customer contact in anticipation of your story’s final approval. (See Step 6 of last month’s article if you need gift ideas). With the gift, include a note saying how much your company looks forward to completing the case study and the joint promotional opportunities it will provide.

Casey Hibbard, author of Stories that Sell, says she’s seen this trick work more than once. She calls it the “killing ‘em with kindness” approach.[i] Your customer still may not approve your story, but at least they’ll know you truly appreciate their business.

Roadblock #3:  Your customer says, “No.”

On rare occasions, seeing your case study in print will cause customers to change their minds. The sudden realization that all their newly acquired best practices and business advantages are being laid bare for all the world to see raises fears. Or at least, it gives them second thoughts. In reaction, they deny you permission to use their story.

If that happens and the customer cannot be persuaded to approve the case study as planned, consider these two alternatives to public use stories: (1) the limited use story, and (2) the unnamed story.

“Limited use” approval places restrictions on where, when and how your company and your affiliates may use a case study. Some customers may not want their story to appear on your website or in email campaigns, trade journals or social media, for example, but they may permit you to distribute it at trade shows and in sales calls.

Other customers may allow broader use but for a limited time. You might get permission to use the story on your website and in social and email campaigns for six months, say, if you agree to discontinue public use of the story at the end of that period.

Still others may require their story be restricted to internal use. They might authorize you to use their story in sales training and sales calls, so long as it is not published or distributed in any manner. Some companies manage this restriction by allowing sales reps to access and read such “internal use” stories online, while preventing them from being printed or emailed.

The “unnamed” story often gets a bad rap. That’s because case studies that don’t name a specific customer don’t carry the same weight, credibility-wise, as those that do. After all, nobody really wants to publish a case study on a “global tech giant” when their customer is really Microsoft, IBM or Apple.

But unnamed stories can go farther than you might think.  They can still be quite valuable in terms of education and validation, so long as they provide (1) insight on how your solution helps customers, and (2) information prospects need to make a buying decision.

In fact, many companies have enormous success with unnamed case studies.

Some firms create unnamed stories out of necessity. Their solution may provide a significant business advantage their customers don’t want competitors to know about. Or their customers may be other technology firms. Many tech companies don’t want anyone to know when they needed help of another tech firm to transform their business. Unnamed stories allow such firms to promote their business while preserving the their customers’ anonymity.

Unnamed case studies offer other advantages over those that name names. They allow firms to:

  • Skip the delay and potential hassle of a customer approval cycle
  • Capture more stories faster and at lower cost
  • Publish metrics customers might not otherwise release

Besides, if your customer won’t grant permission for full or limited use of their story, you can’t legally use their name. An unnamed story may be your only option.

Take-away Points

The three biggest potential roadblocks to customer approval of case studies are:

  1. Your customer’s organization changes
  2. Your case study “disappears” during customer review
  3. Your customer won’t approve full, public use of their story

If your customer’s organization changes during case study development or approval, take the following four steps to recover the project:

  1. Find out who your new contacts are
  2. Explain to those new contacts what the project is and where it stands
  3. Discover what your new contacts' concerns are
  4. Address those concerns in a way that meets your marketing objectives

If your case study falls into approval oblivion try these techniques:

  1. Enlist the aid of your colleague who's closest to the customer
  2. Offer to relieve your customer of her burden and take the point on customer approval
  3. Send your thank-you gift early

If your customer won't grant approval of your planned story, consider these two alternatives to a full, public use story:

  1. The "limited use" story
  2. The "unnamed" story

Next Steps

Need help publishing a case study and getting it through all its approval wickets? CopyEngineer can assist with customer pre-approval and post-production sign-off, as well as customer interviews and writing. Call CopyEngineer at (+39) 011 569 4951. Or send me an email.

Finally, if you’d like to get Technical Response delivered to your email inbox – and receive two free reports on creating better white papers – click here.


[i]   Hibbard, Casey, Stories that Sell: Turn Satisfied Customers into your Most Powerful Sales and Marketing Asset, AIM Publishers, 2009.


Image copyright: utk143 / 123RF Stock Photo

Leave a Comment

I accept the Privacy Policy

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.