Six Big Mistakes in Selling with Customer Case Studies

A guest post by Casey Hibbard

These days, buyers increasingly rely on the experiences of others to make decisions. We consult Amazon reviews before clicking “Add to Cart,” talk to friends about their restaurant experiences and read travel reviews.

In fact, we’ve become so accustomed to having feedback from others, that lack of it leaves us a little lost in making buying decisions.

In the B2B world, vendor-produced customer case studies and success stories fill that void, providing essential third-party credibility and real-world examples that help sell more effectively.

But if your customer stories don’t resonate with your audience, they won’t advance the sale.

Here are the top 6 mistakes I see organizations making with customer case studies today – and how to avoid them:

Mistake #1: Not Mapping Case Studies to Sales Goals
The goal of a customer story is to inspire the audience to have greater confidence in a product, service or person; to encourage the prospect to seek more information or to make a decision. To achieve those objectives, a customer story must be strategic.

Before you collect a customer’s story, know the following…

• What do you want potential buyers to know about your offering?
• What are the top objections and questions buyers usually have in the sales process?
• What are your competitive differentiators?

Once you know the answers, you can create interview questions that specifically ask happy customers about these various areas – giving you the pieces you need to create a story that delivers key messages to your audience.

Mistake #2: Ignoring the Audience
As with any marketing communications piece, a customer story has to speak to the audience or it won’t do its job. But different audiences want different types of information.

A CFO might be interested in only the bottom-line benefits, such as improving overall cash flow. But an operations manager wants to know about the impact on her team and processes, such as how the service reduces downtime and product defects.

Consider what your decision-maker wants to know, and what you want to tell him/her, and craft a story that meets both those goals.

What if various types of decision-makers will consume your story? You can create more than one story, such as a business overview and a more detailed technical story. But many organizations don’t have the time or resources to do that. Instead, try to reach both types of audiences in a written case study with a sidebar that provides all the highlights and then more detail in the body of the story.

Mistake #3: Not Quoting the Customer
Customer quotes are the very voice of the customer, your sound bites. Without them, a case study can feel flat.

Studies have even shown that people who skim tend to read text that’s called out in quotes more than the rest of a story.

In every case study, if there’s space, try to include at least three key customer quotes that speak to these parts of the customer’s story:

• Challenge/Pain – Show the pain or challenge the customer faced before the solution came along.
• Decision – Feature a quote about why the customer chose the solution – a great opportunity to call out your competitive differentiators.
• The Main Benefit – Choose a comment that highlights the primary benefit or benefits the customer experienced. This could then be the quote that you pull out to include in other marketing collateral.

Mistake #4: Not Being Skimmable
There are two types of audiences: readers and skimmers. Some buyers will read every word of your story, while some will look to headlines, subheads, pull quotes, and sidebar summaries for the main ideas and skip the details.

With every written story, build in ways for skimmers to glean the main points without reading it word-for-word. The key pieces of your skimmable document:
• The headline – Feature the number-one idea you want to reinforce.
• Subheads – Tell the main points of your story in subheads throughout.
• Pull quote – Extract and enlarge the customer’s own words that reinforce the primary product benefit.
• Sidebar summary – Summarize key points in a sidebar, such as details about the customer, the challenge, solution, technologies used and results.

Mistake #5: Acting as if the Customer is Doing You a Favor
It can be tough to get some customers to agree to share their story publicly. It’s tempting to beg or offer small financial incentives. But the companies that are truly successful in getting customers on board with case studies treat the process just like a sale.

Always emphasize what’s in it for the customer, and never act as if the customer is doing you a favor by participating. Customer case studies can be win-win. Stress that it’s a joint promotional opportunity and emphasize benefits that may resonate with the customer. Those motivators might include public promotion or a story the contact can use to champion his or her efforts with leaders internally.

Mistake #6: Limiting Story Use Just to Your Website
A customer story is one of the most versatile and powerful types of promotional content any organization can create. With a written version, you can spin out a press release or blog post, summarize it in a sales slide or include the anecdote in a face-to-face sales conversation.

With a customer success video, you have quick-view content for your website, engaging content for your social media channels or something you can play at a trade show.

When you capture something as valuable as a customer’s success story with your products or services, use it every way you can.

In short, with a strategic approach to each part of the case study process, you can create customer stories that sell for you.


Casey Hibbard is owner of Compelling Cases Inc. and author of the first book on creating, managing and leveraging customer stories, Stories That Sell: Turn Satisfied Customers into Your Most Powerful Sales & Marketing Asset. For more tips and ideas on capturing and using customer stories in your sales, marketing and PR, check out the article, “25 Different Ways to Use Your Customer Success Stories,” and the Stories That Sell Blog.



Posted in Sales, Story Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,
2 comments on “Six Big Mistakes in Selling with Customer Case Studies
  1. Colin Hung says:

    Hello Casey.

    Excellent post and good advice.

    Case studies can have significant impact when executed properly. Sadly many of the case studies on company websites do little more than highlight the name of the client. I completely agree with Tip #1 – a case study MUST answer critical sales questions for the audience like:

    1. What was compelling about the product?
    2. How did the client get internal buy-in for the purchase?
    3. What characteristics in the product/company did they look for? (and what did they find)

    A long time ago a mentor of mine encouraged me to look to the mainstream media for ideas on how to craft and design compelling case studies. Magazines and newspapers have blazed the trail when it comes to catchy headlines, quote call-outs, sidebar summaries. I’d suggest leveraging their expertise when writing your own case study.

  2. Hi Colin,

    Great points about the questions the case studies must answer. #2 is especially interesting and not something that all case studies cover, but that’s helpful to decision-makers. And I agree that today’s case studies are looking more like feature stories to be more attractive to readers. Thanks for your comments!

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