Handle with Care: 10 Tips on Interacting with Case Study Customers

Handle with Care: 10 Tips on Interacting with Case Study Customers
Michele Linn - Tue Jun 09, 2009 @ 09:04AM
Comments: 65

HandshakeAt Savvy B2B, we enjoy blogging about case studies because they are such powerful marketing tools. Typically, we focus on the art of crafting an effective case study, but there is another important aspect of the case study process to consider: how you interact with the customer.

Of course, it makes sense to treat your greatest asset with care, but this can be easier said than done as you encounter unexpected challenges with the customer or barriers in your own organization. And, consider this: even if your initial goal is a case study, there will likely be other customer-facing activities you want your clients to participate in, such as a webcast, press release or speaking engagement. The easier you are to work with, the more likely your customer will be to participate in future activities.

Regardless of if you are creating the story in-house or working with a writer, you need the people interacting with your customer to be on their best at all times. As a project manager and someone who has worked on case studies, here are my ten tips for getting the best results from your case study customers.

Have one point of contact
Your customer doesn't care how your company is organized; they want to interact with as few people as possible (don't you feel the same way when participating in a project like this?). Regardless of what client activities you have planned, choose one person (typically the writer or marketing manager) to be the point of contact for all projects you are working on with each customer. Of course, you can introduce new people (such as the PR person if you are also doing a press release), but make sure the point person and is copied on every message.

Be prepared during every interaction
Yes, you should be ready for any meeting, but it is especially critical to be prepared whenever interacting with the customer. You always want to leave them with a favorable impression, be it an email, phone call or the actual interview.

Understand everything you can about the customer
Before talking to the customer, understand everything you can about their business: specifics about their company, their industry, what your contacts' roles are in the company, etc. Also check with account managers, product managers and help desk personnel to make sure there are not any issues before calling into the account.

Have a plan for what data you want to highlight
I get the best results from a case study when I know exactly what information I want to focus on before the interview. In one story I worked on that was especially well-received by sales, the account manager had worked with the customer to quantify their savings. He made sure everyone involved in the story - both at the customer site and at corporate - knew exactly what data we wanted to highlight. The interview and approval process went smoothly as a result.

Understand the customer's motivation for working with you
While the customer has had a positive experience with your company, there is likely a reason why they have agreed to work on the story with you, such as getting positive press about their organization or becoming a "trusted advisor" at your company. Understand their motivation and make sure this specific requirement is met.

Set expectations and help customer be prepared
Let the customer know what you are doing every step of the way and what you expect of them so they are never caught off guard. For instance, when asking for the story, be specific about the process, what you will be asking of them, and how much time you expect it to take; send the questions before the interview so the customer can prepare; and let them know when they will see a first draft after the interview.

Make the case story a priority
Once a customer agrees to work on a case study with you, make this story a priority. This may sound obvious, but it is startling how long it can take some organizations to deliver a first draft to the customer. The first draft should be written quickly (within a week or two if possible) and internal reviews should move swiftly. The faster you can deliver a draft, the fresher the interview will be in the client's mind and, hopefully, the faster they can approve it. I have also worked on stories where the dynamic at a customer site has changed (people we interviewed had left or moved to other positions), which has substantially elongated the review process.

Be respectful and pleasantly persistent
One of the frustrations of working on case studies is that the review cycle with the customers can take a long time. While you should follow up on a regular basis to get a status, you need to ALWAYS respect the customer's timeframe and work within whatever requirements they have.

Show your appreciation
Always thank customers for their time and provide them with something to show your appreciation. While it is perfectly nice to provide them with a shirt or golf balls with your logo, ask the account manager or someone else familiar with the account what the client likes and try to customize your thank you. Also be cognizant of any policies a customer has able receiving gifts from a vendor. If they can't receive any gifts, at the very least provide a hand-written thank you and copies of the story.

Think like the customer
This is somewhat of a conglomeration of the ideas above, but put yourself in your customer's shoes. If you were them and they knew little about your process or organizational structure, how would you want someone to interact with you? What details would be important and what would be too much?

What other tips do you have for working with customers during the case study process?

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