5 Steps to Securing Customer Pre-approval of a Case Study

April 18, 2017 by

Pre-approval of a case studyCase studies – or customer success stories – have long been one of the most influential forms of marketing content. In Eccolo Media’s most recent Technology Content Survey Report [i], for example, 33% of tech buyers surveyed ranked case studies among the content assets they found most influential, third only to product data sheets and white papers.

But while case studies are not difficult to create, it can be difficult to get customers to grant permission for their names to be used in them. Ironically, many corporations who trumpet the success of their customers in case studies are unwilling to offer the same opportunity to their vendors.

For that reason, it pays to get your customer to pre-approve your case study project, before you fully invest in it.

This article describes a five-step process for securing customer pre-approval of a case study.

Step 1: Recruit your customer champion

Your first step in your quest for case study permission, is to get some help. You need an ally. An inside man. A “champion” for your project within your customer’s organization.

In most cases, of course, that champion will also be your closest customer contact: the person primarily responsible for bringing your solution into her company. But not always. It may turn out to be her supervisor or someone farther up the line. It may be one of your counterparts in the customer's marketing department. In any case, it will be someone on the customer side who wants the story to be told. Someone who is willing to do a little leg work to see it gets published.

To find your champion, talk to your account rep. Ask him who he thinks is the right person to champion your cause within the customer’s organization. Where were the results most keenly felt? Who has the most to gain from publication, in terms of recognition, visibility or justification of expense? Your account rep will know, or he’ll know who to ask.

Once you’ve identified your champion, get an introduction through your account rep and set up a brief phone or online meeting. You’ll want to explain your hopes and plans for the project – i.e., how you plan to use the case study – the potential benefits to her and her company, and what you need her to do.

Potential benefits for the customer company may include:

  • Documenting an example how the company has increased productivity, efficiency or economy to the benefit of their own customers
  • Demonstrating how they’re on the cutting edge or industry best practices.
  • Gaining recognition within their primary market or a new market
  • Free publicity in major media outlets
  • Landing new customers
  • Helping you, their preferred provider, stay in business

Potential benefits for your champion, can include:

  • Evidence of contribution to her firm’s bottom line (something she can point to when asking for a raise or promotion)
  • Documented justification for her decision and expenditure
  • Greater visibility within her company
  • Recognition (perhaps awards or speaking engagements) within her industry

Point out that those benefits will far outweigh her involvement. After all, what you need your champion to do really isn’t much: an interview with your writer, review of the draft case study, and some help with forwarding your request to the proper authorities within her company. Total time commitment will usually be 1 – 1.5 hours, with most of that dedicated to the interview.

Don’t bribe your champion with monetary incentives, but do show her how the project could benefit her and her company. Talk win-win. Express your own commitment and your gratitude. Get her buy-in on the project and you’ll be ready to take the next step.

Step 2: Send Your Pitch Package

Once you’ve talked with your potential champion, follow up in writing ASAP. There are two reasons for this. First, your champion probably won’t remember everything you’ve told her. Second, you’ll want to make it easy for her to convey your case study proposal to others in her organization without any information being lost.

That’s where your pitch package comes in.

Here are four things to consider including in your pitch package, as recommended by Casey Hibbard, author of Stories that Sell: Turn Satisfied Customers into Your Most Powerful Sales and Marketing Asset [ii]:

Confirmation letter: A one-page letter that:

  • Thanks your champion for her interest in participating
  • Describes her involvement in the process and the time involved
  • Describes how you intend to use the case study
  • Provides your contact details, in case your champion or others in her organization need more information

Case study samples: Include one or two examples of previous projects, to give the customer an idea of what their finished case study will look like. If you haven’t yet produced any case studies of your own, search the websites of companies you respect. Choose a couple of examples you like in the form you have in mind for the project.

Release form: If your company asks customers to sign a legal form granting permission for use of their story, send along a copy. Most customers like to know what they’ll be agreeing to.

Interview questionnaire: If you already have a writer working on the project, include the list of  questions he intends to ask during the customer interview. If you don’t have a writer engaged yet, promise to forward the questionnaire as soon as it’s available. Customers appreciate knowing what will be asked, so they can gather data ahead of time.

The pitch package helps your champion fully understand her involvement in your case study project. It also gives her something she can hand to others, as she helps you explore the permission process within her company. Plus, it serves as a point of reference for negotiations and keeps everyone in your customer’s organization “on the same page” while considering your request.

Once you’ve delivered your pitch package, you can move to Step 3.

Step 3: Survey the Approval Trail

As soon as you’ve sent your pitch package, you should begin working with your champion to survey the approval trail: the hurdles you’ll have to cross, the conditions you’ll have to meet and the people you’ll have to satisfy to gain pre-approval of your case study project.

Your champion may already know the path. Or she may not. If she’s the owner, she may make the decision herself. If she’s an executive, she’ll probably know just who to contact. If, on the other hand, she’s an engineer or engineering manager who has never participated in such a project, she may need suggestions on where to begin. In a large company, she’ll probably want to start in the corporate communications department. In a smaller company, she may want to seek out the VP or Director of Marketing and Communications, or someone holding a similar title.

What you need your champion to do for you, at this point, is find out what the procedure is. Is approval even possible? Some companies have blanket policies against employee participation in case study projects. Is there a procedure in place? If a sizable portion of your market consists of small companies, you may often find yourself breaking new ground.

If participation is possible, get the details:

  • Who will need to approve? (names, departments, contact details)
  • What will they want to see or know ahead of time?
  • What conditions will you need to meet?
  • Will they allow use of their company and employee names in the story?

Also, find out what your customer organization wants from the project.

  • What would they be hoping to accomplish with the piece?
  • Are they looking for exposure in specific media outlets?
  • Are they open to a joint marketing venture?
  • What incentives (access to management, input on products, etc.) might interest them?

Gather all the information you can on what you need to do – and what you might need to offer – to gain customer approval. Then, proceed to Step 4.

Step 4: Prepare for Negotiations

Do our aims mesh with our customer's desires and demands? Will we likely get the result we want? Will it be worth the trouble? If your answer to all these questions is  'yes' after you’ve finished Step 3, then it’s time to get ready to negotiate.

In most cases, there really won’t be any negotiation at all. Many companies are grateful for the extra exposure they may gain and are happy to help a valued supplier. Others, however, may need incentives. And in these cases, you’ll need to be prepared to deal and persuade.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What can we offer this customer as an enticement to participate?
  • What should we put on the table to start?
  • What should we hold in reserve as bargaining chips?
  • What objections might the customer voice?
  • How will we address those objections?

Once you have solid answers to these questions, you’re ready to move to the decisive step.

Step 5: Follow the Path to Your Answer

In Step 3, you surveyed the terrain. In Step 4, you prepared to meet the obstacles you observed. Now, just follow the path. Proceed down the trail and work toward an answer. You’re ready to secure customer participation for your latest case study project.

Decide who should make formal requests, and who should follow up. Some customer champions will insist they take the point, others may feel they’re too busy. One strategy you might suggest to your champion is that she forward your pitch package to all the relevant approval authorities, with her seal of approval, and then you follow up by phone. That way, you can take the lead in negotiations as they arise.

In any case, keep after your customer. Follow up regularly and keep moving toward an answer. With polite persistence, you’ll get your project moving sooner, you’ll nail down the scope and form of the project at the outset, and you’ll know what to expect when it comes time to secure final approval of your finished case study.

Take-away Points

It can be difficult to get even the happiest of customers to lend their name to a case study. So, it pays to secure customer pre-approval of your case study projects before you begin them.

The following five steps form a comprehensive process for securing permission to document your customer's success story:

  1. Recruit your customer champion
  2. Send your pitch package
  3. Survey the approval trail
  4. Prepare for negotiations
  5. Follow the path to your answer

Next Steps

Need help getting a case study project off the ground? 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 an email to info@copyengineer.com.

Also, be sure to catch next month’s Technical Response. In May, we’ll discuss when to approach your customer about their success story, so the process we covered today – and the case study you create – will be as effective as they can be.

If you’d like to get Technical Response delivered to your email inbox – and receive two free reports on creating better white papersclick here.

References

[i]   Eccolo Media 2015 B2B Technology Content Survey Report, Eccolo Media Inc., January 2015.

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

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