Case histories can play an important role in the selling process by establishing vendors' ability to provide specific capabilities and benefits. For example, one vendor of computer-controlled routers increased the close rate of prospects who visit their demo centers from under 40% to 70%—by using case histories to highlight the success of customers with applications similar to the prospects'. More on this later.

Yet many companies have found difficulties in establishing a process for developing case studies, in some cases because they weren't able to gain customer cooperation. Other companies have created case studies that have relatively little impact, often because the testimonies they produced didn't prove that their customers obtained a substantial return on their investment.

A successful case-history development program begins with making the case to your customers that they have something significant to gain through their participation. It continues with an interview process that obtains the information needed to produce a substantive article, including (whenever possible) the actual monetary benefits gained by the customer through the implementation of your product.

Convince Customers to Cooperate

Case-history articles, also known as application stories or testimonials, feature real customers talking about how your product or service solved a real problem. Their credibility is unmatched, and they offer the additional benefit of being frequently solicited by most trade journals; therefore, they can be used to easily capture space and sales leads that might otherwise cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in paid advertising.

However, many companies have difficulty getting their customers to cooperate with their article publication efforts. When they ask their contacts for assistance, they are often told something like this: “I'd love to help, but I don't have time,” or, “We can't release any information on what we are doing because we are way ahead of our competition.” It's easy to get discouraged.

But a different approach can get positive results most of the time. Try approaching your customers not as if you are asking for a favor but as if you have something to offer them. Try this: “We see the opportunity to get some favorable publicity in major trade journals for both of our companies based on the success of this application.”

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jerry Fireman (jerry_fireman@strucinfo.com) is president of Structured Information (www.strucinfo.com), a company that provides marketing communications services on a project basis.