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Customer Stories

Interviewing the experts: How to launch a highly effective case study program

Interviewing the experts: How to launch a highly effective case study program

When prospective customers visit your website, will they find relevant customer stories that they can relate to?

In a recent SurveyMonkey Audience study, we found 82% of buyers trust the voice of your customers over brand or product copy. And 58% of people said they seek out customer testimonials on a brand’s website prior to making a large purchase.

Clearly, customer stories are as important as ever—so it’s no surprise they’ve become a big focus for us here at SurveyMonkey. We launched our first formal case study program in 2017 and are thrilled with the progress and results we’ve seen so far (check out some of the written stories and videos!).

But building a voice of the customer program from scratch isn’t easy—and we had lots of questions. We started our efforts by interviewing experts to gather best practices from other companies who have built inspiring programs and created compelling case studies. Here are a few things we’ve learned along the way.

You see the value in customer stories. But does your team? And what about your senior leadership? Before you can start getting value from a case study program, you need to get internal buy in. For internal stakeholders and partners, you should reinforce how compelling case studies can help drive business, support Search Engine Optimization (SEO) efforts, speed up the sales cycle, and even inspire existing customers to try out new features or use cases.

SurveyMonkey’s own Chief Marketing Officer Leela Srinivasan, explains why she is a vocal proponent of gathering case studies and customer proof points:

One of the most valuable assets in the marketer’s toolkit today is a compelling case study. When your customer is successful, you are successful. Sharing how a customer has leveraged your products or services to meaningfully drive change at their organization creates a tangible example of the value that your company delivers, and lends credibility to your claims. If done well, it also paints your customer as the hero they are.

While having a case study program owner is crucial, it requires a cross-functional team to make it a success. Take our video case study with Progressive from last year—producing this video required work not only from our Video team, but also from Sales to identify the story, PR to work with our contact, and Legal to secure their permission. Managing all of these resources requires a ton of coordination, effort, and strong partnerships with multiple stakeholders across various teams, so make sure everyone is aligned on goals, responsibilities, and timelines.

As illustrated above, producing customer stories and case studies is a cross-functional team effort. For your program to succeed, it’s crucial to establish processes, a central system of record, as well as templates and checklists to make coordination and execution more efficient—and scalable. The example below shows a helpful resource we’ve provided to our own team. The 1-pager makes it easy for team members to highlight the benefits and options to potential case study participants.

So you’re all set and ready to start gathering customer stories—but how do you identify the best case study candidates? You can start by canvassing your Sales and Customer Success teams for leads on interesting customer stories. But don’t rely on these teams alone. Their priority is selling and cultivating long-term customer relationships; so even though they’re huge fans of using customer examples, they don’t always have time to help you get them. Increasingly, marketing teams are using customer surveys to gauge interest. You can even ask clients to specify what marketing activities they’re interested in participating in—whether it’s as simple as providing a written testimonial or as big as partnering on a webinar. Here at SurveyMonkey, we use our own TechValidate by SurveyMonkey product to identify customer references as well as gather quotes and testimonials directly through the app.

Our comprehensive guide includes tips and tricks to help you master the case study—and avoid common mishaps.

What’s in it for me? It’s an adage most salespeople are familiar with, as it emphasizes the approach of leading with benefits rather than features of the product being pitched to a prospective customer. It’s the same approach for customer marketing. Don’t just tell your customers how much this customer story will help you out—show them what they stand to gain from participating in a case study or advocacy opportunity. You’ll also need your internal stakeholders and partners to understand how they can benefit by supporting your cause.

For customers, it’s all about making them look good in the context of their business. As explained by Amy Duryea, Director of Corporate Communications & Customer Marketing at GoodData:

It’s an opportunity for the customer to get their company and personal name out there. Figure out what the customer wants out of it. Do they want to be seen as a thought leader? Do they want more press opportunities? Do they want to start going on a speaking circuit? Once you figure it out, offer it up. Help that customer realize that a few hours of work can lead to a slew of opportunities for their company as well as their personal brand.

We’re all busy. Respect your customers’ time and make the process and commitment as simple as possible for customers. If it’s too hard or time consuming, customers won’t participate. Also, keep in mind some customers will be willing to commit to more than others—so just ask. Not every customer will jump at the chance to be filmed for a video testimonial, but many would be happy to provide a short quote.

The best customer stories don’t just tout the value of your own products and services—they shine a spotlight on the customer. By reinforcing and elevating the customer’s brand and image, you get an authentic story that’s much more interesting to your audience. It’s a good idea to include a link back to the customer’s website so they can benefit from the published story as well.

Devin Bramhall, Director of Marketing at Animalz, describes her customer-first mentality when creating customer stories:

Customers should be featured in a positive way within their industry, so it’s not just about the product you’re trying to highlight. Make sure to link back to the customer, in addition to any of your products mentioned in the story.

Our words of advice? Tell a story, don’t sell.

Supporting qualitative statements with specific metrics can make your customer stories even stronger and effectively drive home the value of your product (e.g. customer X increased revenue by $20 million). But sometimes, customers will prefer not to divulge this information externally—particularly if it relates to finances. Instead, ask for operational metrics that describe relative impact, as customers are usually more comfortable sharing this information (e.g. customer Y saw a 10% increase in time savings across the organization).

How and where you distribute your customer stories can have a huge impact on their success. To get the most out of your stories, make sure you’re tapping into different distribution channels—a single story can be repurposed for multiple formats. For example, you can start with a video, then publish a supporting blog post and PDF case study, and extract quotes and stats that can be featured across marketing materials, social media posts, and Sales pitch decks.

One of our customers that does this really well is Duo Security. In the example below, Duo featured quotes from a few of their happiest customers at a trade show booth—and attracted a crowd of curious onlookers as a result.

One of the keys to success with case studies and testimonials is making them easy to find when a prospect is researching your brand.

As we mentioned in our case study best practices guide, one of the best ways to do this is to add a client showcase section to your website that’s easily navigable from the homepage. Name it whatever you’d like—“Case Studies,” “Customer Success,” or “Customer Stories,” perhaps—just make sure it’s easy to spot. If you’re looking for inspiration, take a look at these beautifully designed examples:

All of the examples above do an outstanding job showcasing how customers have achieved impactful business outcomes while using their products. Featuring stories like these on your site can have an enormous impact on business by supporting SEO efforts, providing prospects with a purchase validation reference during the sales cycle, and even inspiring existing customers to take action using the platform.

If you’ve ever been inundated with sales requests for case studies, you know how important these assets can be in the sales cycle. Presenting a prospect with the right case study at the right time can be the difference that moves the needle to a sale.

As you build out your library of case studies, you’ll want to keep them in a central repository where sales can easily find them. Otherwise you’ll have a sales team desperate for customer stories and a bunch of case studies that aren’t being used.

For more detailed tips, be sure to check out our case study best practices guide. And tweet us @SurveyMonkey if you have any advice to share!