Marketing and Sales worked hard to find the opportunity and close the deal. The people in Operations knocked themselves out to deliver above expectations. It's been a year or more since the relationship began, and your client is patting himself on the back for taking the risk to invest into your solutions.

As you say to yourself "I told you so," are you wondering how many other companies have the same needs as this client? Similar reservations?

Moreover, are you missing other sales opportunities because some of your most promising prospects don't know about all of your services—or don't fully recognize the value to their businesses?

Would these companies be more likely to buy if they knew how others have benefited from your services? If so, maybe it's time to tell them.

Better yet, let your current clients do the talking. But make it easy for them to share their experiences with a wide audience. Launch a customer case study program.

What Is a Customer Case Study?

The goal of a case study is to demonstrate the success that your customers achieved as a result of deploying your solution. A typical case study includes a description of your customer's business, the crisis or opportunity that caused this organization to seek out your company's services, and a detailed account of the particular use and results derived from your product or service.

Far from being a mere listing of your product's features and benefits, a good case study truly focuses on the customer. As the name suggests, a case study is a business case justifying an investment in your solution from the customer's perspective.

It is also a story that brings to life a specific business situation that your product or service aims to address.

How Customer Case Studies Shorten the Sales Cycle

Whether published on your Web site, printed as marketing collateral, or featured in your company's newsletter, a well-written case study works hard to bring about new opportunities and remove obstacles to a sale at every step of the sales cycle.

Early on, customer success stories help raise awareness of your firm's services. They can elevate your company above the competition by associating your brand with the brands of your high-profile customers.

Customer success stories attract media attention because they are easy to turn into meaty articles. Reporters especially like that you have already identified sources willing to speak on the record. Case studies also attract Web traffic, because they are rich with the keywords that your most-promising prospects enter when searching for solutions like yours.

In addition to raising awareness of your company, customer case studies help prospective buyers recognize their need for your services, especially if the industry, function, business dilemma, etc. described in the story is similar to theirs.

Placed in newsletters—or posted in your practice's blog—customer case studies also help keep your firm top of mind until prospective customers are ready to buy. Customer case studies can also create a sense of urgency about buying when they cause prospects to worry about keeping pace with the competitors featured in your stories.

Finally, customer success stories remove obstacles to the sale. They build confidence that your solutions work as promised. Effective case studies translate the technical merits of your product into dollars and cents for the customer—which in turn makes it easier for decision-makers to justify an investment in your services.

How a Case Study Helps Your Customers

After your company has worked so hard to land and satisfy a customer, it takes only a small investment of time and resources to write a case study that will allow both parties to learn from and publicize their success. Yet many companies hesitate to launch customer case studies because they worry about imposing on their best customers.

To their delight, however, companies often discover that decision-makers are happy to discuss their experiences and look forward to being featured in an article that positions them as a leader in their industry.

To a degree, case studies actually save your customers time when it comes to references and referrals—when the study addresses the key concerns of a prospective buyer. Moreover, the process of writing a case study—which includes an in-depth interview with the decision-maker—strengthens the relationship between the two organizations.

How to Get Everyone to Say "Yes" to a Case Study

In the best case, the customer company's policies support vendor case studies, so that the approval is just a formality.

Nevertheless, it is important to realize that multiple departments may need to approve the release of a customer case study. Even though your main contact may be supportive, Legal or PR may have policies that prohibit the use of the company's name to endorse others.

Therefore, it may be helpful for your company to ask the customer to sign a conditional release of the case study pending any changes they wish to make after the case study is written. That way, you only expend efforts on case studies that you know will win approval.

If the customer company does not automatically sign off on your case study, it is your salesperson's job to enlist the internal champion to "sell" the study to everyone inside the company who may say no. This is best done before the study begins.

Prepare and educate your internal champion—the individual featured in the story—on the benefits of the project to his or her firm. Then, provide the tools needed to argue your case: case study samples and a document describing the process for writing and editing the case study and how the case study will be used by your company.

Case study writers take steps to facilitate easy approval. For example, case studies typically draw on existing company materials to describe your customer's business and its competitive advantage, because this content already has the customer's approval. Then, as an additional assurance, customer companies have the opportunity to review the case study—and make revisions before it is published. They also have a say in how you use the finished case study.

How Customer Case Studies Keep on Giving

Companies that use customer case studies discover that their decision-makers value the relationship even more as they come to reflect on the benefits they derived. Furthermore, just as your customers gain a deeper appreciation of your work through participation in your case studies, your firm will almost invariably gain a deeper understanding of the customers' requirements.

Fresh insights often lead to additional opportunities to serve the same customer, refine sales tactics, or even discover a new market.

Why You Can Never Have Too Many Customer Success Stories

Customer success stories work by matching your prospects' goals, titles, problems, company characteristics, industry buzzwords, and so on to those of your successful customers.

That's because customers believe that their situations are relevant to companies that are just like them. Not only do your prospects like to see their specific situation resolved in the case study, they also like to see that it happened recently, and to someone they know. Each satisfied customer is a key to several others who are similar, want to be similar, or simply know of your customers. Can you afford to have them keep their story to themselves?

As a start, your customer case study program should include at least one success story for every service you provide in each industry that you serve.

Not convinced? Ask your salespeople how they would like to get continuous referrals from every good account they ever sold... without having to ask.

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Barbara Bix is managing principal of BB Marketing Plus, where she helps companies enhance their brands by capturing and enhancing the customer experience.