Making the Case for Case Studies: Satisfied Customers Are Your Strongest Assets

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Brochures and other promotional materials have their place in the sales process, but for building relationships that win the hearts and minds of prospects, try case studies. They are much more effective because they offer quantifiable success stories told from the perspective of current satisfied customers.


In a cluttered, "me-too" marketplace, prospects require vendors to establish themselves as credible experts before they take them seriously -- much less take their calls or return their e-mail solicitations. One of the best ways to demonstrate credibility is through case studies co-developed with existing customers. These become de facto letters of reference and strong referrals.


While sales sheets are ideal for highlighting specific services or products, case studies allow businesses to tell a compelling story that resonates with prospects without being overly promotional. Case studies also shift the focus from "it's all about me and my company" to something that is more educational in tone and content, and they highlight tangible situations prospects can relate to. This subtle approach is typically more effective and leads to a deeper connection with potential customers than in-your-face ads and brochures.


Today's prospects want documented proof that your company has brought success to businesses similar to their own. Case studies create parallels in the minds of your prospects between their own business needs and those of similar customers you've already successfully served. Here are some ways you can use case studies to get in the door with potential customers:


Showcase your industry-specific expertise. Make sure to profile customer success stories that are relevant to your current prospect pool. If you are targeting businesses in the banking industry, develop a case study with a customer in this sector. The closer to home you can make these anecdotes, the more effective they will be at persuading prospects that you would be a strong business partner.


Demonstrate that you keep good company. By highlighting well-known customers, you can enhance your company's credibility. Ideally, choose customers with recognizable names and strong reputations -- businesses that your prospects may want to emulate. In pairing your company's name with proven industry leaders, your company becomes a winner by association. If recognizable companies are not yet among your customer base, then highlight quantifiable success stories that illustrate your company's value and strengths.


Speak your prospects' language. Case studies are "been there, done that, got the results" tales of exactly why your company is a good fit. They allow you to resonate with prospects by speaking to them in their language and from their perspective. For this reason, the customers you choose to feature should be as similar to your prospects as possible.


Profile successes of current customers who:


· Are of a similar size organization as your prospects (i.e., small business, middle market or enterprise).


· Espouse similar objectives as your prospects (i.e., cost savings, revenue generation, efficiencies).


· Operate in the same or similar industries as your prospects.


· Face similar challenges as your prospects.


Focus on your prospects' business goals. Before writing case studies, think carefully about your prospects' needs and business objectives. This will let you speak directly to those challenges. Case studies can demonstrate your company's expertise in:


· Specific service areas.


· Meeting specific industry regulations (i.e., HIPAA, Sarbanes-Oxley or Gramm-Leach-Bliley).


· Forging business partnerships that offer greater, more lasting benefits than the traditional vendor relationship.


Quantify the successes you create. It's not enough to say that your company has helped a business be more successful. Effective case studies include quantifiable metrics and measurable results, such as:


· New revenue generated.


· Amount of sales increased.


· Faster time to market.


· Cost savings achieved.


· Operational savings or efficiencies realized.


· New markets penetrated.


Extend the value of your case studies. To reach as many prospects as possible, extend the value and shelf life of case studies by leveraging them in a multitude of formats:


· Post them on your company's Web site to highlight quantifiable customer successes.


· Include quotes or results in brochures, sales sheets and other marketing collateral.


· Offer them as tangible examples of your work in proposals.


· Fulfill reference requests with a case study and contact information.


· Use them to enhance award applications.


· Submit them to local newspapers and trade magazines for extra exposure.


Satisfied customers are your strongest asset in winning new business. Use your company's past successes to generate new leads. Before your sales staff calls on a prospect, position your company to be viewed as the expert in its field. Give prospects real-world examples of how a partnership with your company is the quickest route to success -- give them a case study.


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