Customer case studies are powerful promotional tools for a high-tech product or service. Yet convincing customers to participate in a case study can be a long and frustrating effort. It can be equally difficult to motivate a customer to review and approve the story once it is written.

You can reduce this effort and produce higher value case studies by following the essential strategies described here for recruiting candidates and handling the approval process.

Recruiting Good Candidates

It is always tempting to say “yes” to any case study candidate proposed by a sales rep or product manager. But your marketing and publicity efforts will be better served if you qualify the candidate before committing to a case study.

The following questions will help to identify the best the candidates and obtain a good story.

Story appeal. Does the customer have a story you actually want to tell? For example, does the story offer the potential to discuss an interesting problem, solution, or application? Is the company in a particular industry, country, or market you want to target?

Timing. Is the story ready to tell? Is the product implementation complete and does the customer have interesting results to report?

Participation agreement. Have any agreements been made with the customer for telling the story? Sometimes technology companies request that customers agree to a case study as a condition of receiving a beta version or early shipment of a product.

Customer preparation. Has the customer been briefed about the case study process? A standard letter or information sheet can be emailed to the customer to simplify this process.

Contacts. Are you talking to the right person within the customer organization? You may need to talk with multiple people in order to get a full perspective and someone with the right authority to speak for the organization.

PR involvement. Do you need to involve or get approval from the customer’s public relations person before starting the interviews or publishing the case study? Do you need to arrange access to employees and facilities for photography or filming?

Handling Reviews and Approvals

Certainly, an accurate and well-written case study is essential for gaining the customer’s approval. But your follow-through during the review process will determine whether, and how quickly, the customer will approve the case study.

These guidelines will help you develop a good follow-through process.

Internal reviews first. Always complete any internal reviews before sending the first draft to the customer. Customers should never be asked to go through the approval process more than once because of late comments or follow-up questions from your internal reviewers.

Fast turnaround for the draft. Deliver the first draft soon after the customer has given an interview. Delays on your side can send the message that the case study isn’t urgent, which can lead the customer to give the review a low priority.

Send a complete package. Along with the draft text, send any photos, video clips, diagrams, or other illustrations that will accompany the case study.

Use an approval form. The approval form should allow the customer to check the specific approved uses for the case study information; grant releases for all photography, video, and other multimedia elements; and specify any other conditions. Don’t publish the case study until you have received the signed approval form.

Follow-up for approval. If your customer contact is slow about responding with comments or approval, be polite but persistent in your follow-up messages.

Send a thank-you. Send the final case study, thank-you notes, and perhaps a nominal gift such as a company T-shirt to everyone involved. Include the URL for a Web version or printed copies of the published case study.

Celebrate! Promote the case study internally. Giving salespeople a useful story will encourage them to help you with future case studies.

Copyright(c)2006, Janice M. King. All rights reserved; used by permission. Janice is an award-winning freelance copywriter who helps technology companies around the world produce clear, compelling sales and PR materials. Her latest book, Copywriting That Sells High Tech, has been called “a superb guide to great copy for any technology-based product or service.” Learn about the book and find many valuable resources for high-tech marketing at Janice’s site: http://www.writinghightech.com.

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