Case studies are one of the most valuable tools in a your sales team’s arsenal. When you tell a story about how your company helped a client succeed, it lets your happy client do the selling for you. A Director of Sales once told me that the effect of case studies is “almost magical” since they “add credibility in black and white.”
Given the power of case studies, it can be a real bummer when a client doesn’t want to be profiled.
While there is no magic formula for convincing such a client to change their mind, that doesn’t mean you should give up at the first hint of resistance. Your approach will, of course, depend on the reason that your client is hesitant to proceed:
Roadblock: Revealing a Competitive Advantage
“Working with you is so valuable to us,” says your client. “In fact, your solution gives us a definitive edge. That’s why we don’t want to broadcast to competitors that we’re working together.”
This response is the corporate equivalent of “it’s not you, it’s me.” In a sense you should be flattered: your existence is practically a trade secret. Congratulations - I think.
Breakthrough: Embrace Anonymity - and Update Your Contracts
In some cases, a client might be willing to proceed if you anonymize and obscure their information. Doing so will dilute the power of your case study, but a generic success story is better than nothing.
You might also agree to sharing restrictions - you’ll only present the case study in one-on-one sales conversations, for example, and not on the website.
If you find that this form of reticence is common, consider structuring your initial contracts to make case study participation more enticing. Offer discounts, or, if you’re feeling bolder, increase your price for clients who don’t want be profiled.
Then again, sometimes contracts are the problem.
Roadblock: Contractual Language - Or Lack Thereof
There may be a clause in your contract specifically banning case studies. Or perhaps during the negotiation, your client explicitly removed language that would have allowed for publicity. Either way, the client has made their aversion clear.
Breakthrough: Ask Anyway
Stakeholders might be willing to reconsider in light of how your relationship has evolved. The contract language may be old. The people who wanted that language may have left the company.
As long as you’re polite and reasonable, there really isn’t much downside to asking. To paraphrase my father-in-law, the worst thing they can say is no.
One note of caution: when it comes to contractual language, tread carefully and make sure that all relevant parties agree with what you’re doing. This may require written changes to your contract. Don’t go behind any backs, over any heads, or under any tables. For best results, proceed with transparency and honesty.
Ideally, of course, you’ll want to do more than just ask nicely. You want to make it easy for your client to say yes.
Roadblock: Your Contact Is Worried About Their Reputation
Engaging in a case study interview opens up your point of contact to a certain amount of risk. What if they get quoted in an unflattering way? What if their boss doesn’t like the final product? As with many business decisions, it’s safer to just say no.
Breakthrough: Put Your Client In Control
Before, during, and even after your case study interview, assure your point of contact that they are in control. Remind them that your goal is a case study that makes everybody look good. Reassure them that they are free to restate anything they like, and that you won’t publish anything without their approval.
You won’t even get to this stage without overcoming one of the trickiest roadblocks of all: inertia.
Roadblock: Helping You Is Never A Priority
When you’re producing a case study, you’re asking your client to spend prime working time to talk to you, provide supporting content and information, and approve drafts. Even for clients who want to help you out could reasonably ask themselves: what am Igetting for my time and effort?
At best, this attitude can make scheduling and coordination a chore, since working on your case study is always at the bottom of their to-do list. At worst, this stance can impede a case study indefinitely.
Breakthrough: Tell The Story In Their Terms
It’s true - case studies do require some time and work from your client. While you can’t eliminate the work entirely, you can minimize it by doing as much research as possible on your own. You can - and should - keep your interviews short and focused. The best way to achieve client buy-in, however, is to think about your case study from their perspective.
When you’re pitching the story, talk about how you want to tell their story and to build content that they will be excited to share. Frame the case study in terms of your client’s messaging goals. Do they want to seem innovative? Show how your solution puts them on the cutting edge. Do they want to seem customer-focused? Describe how your solution frees up more time to serve customers.
This approach may differ from a typical case study outlining the benefits of your solution for your client. In this case, you want to show how your solution helps your client serve their own customers. You’re extending the value one step further.
Be mindful of your multiple audiences here. Your goal is to reach both your prospects and your client’s prospects with the same piece of content. Your best bet is to write with limited jargon for a broad readership.
If you can make this work - if you can build marketing content for your clients that also meets your needs - your client will think you’re doing them a favor. And they’ll be much more willing to help you get your case study done.
. . .
You can’t win them all. Sometimes you’ll have to let a story go in order to focus your energy elsewhere. But if your elevated persistence scores you even one more case study, you could ultimately help your sales team close their next big deal.