6 Bad Things That Can Kill a Good Case Study

BY Joel Klettke
December 10, 2020

A surprising number of things can kill a good case study before the finished product finally lands in the hands of your prospective customers.

Case studies are harder to do than most people expect. And a whole lot of things can happen that take them off the rails.

At Case Study Buddy, we’ve created hundreds (maybe thousands?) of case studies for our clients, so we know a thing or two about where things can go wrong.

So how do we keep our case studies on track?

Half the battle is knowing trouble areas in advance—and taking steps to avoid them.

Here are just some of the landmines you need to look out for:

1. Not planting the seeds

You wouldn’t expect the love of your life to burst through your door and propose in a grand romantic gesture… if you haven’t been on a date in the past two years.

So why do businesses think something similar will happen with their customer success stories?


Companies will wait and wait for their customers to spontaneously come forward and beg to have their stories told.


They sit back passively, with no strategy, and hope that these customer success stories self-manifest.

What if, instead, they systematized the discussions they have with everyone who touches their business—from the moment they’re a lead, to onboarding, to the ongoing relationship—to maximize the odds of getting a customer success story (and even making it an inevitable occurrence).

That is what you’re aiming for.

2. Failing to get buy-in and alignment at all levels

Here’s a common problem: You move heaven and earth to create a magnifico case study….and then you can’t get it approved by your customer’s higher ups no matter what you do.

The best way to avoid this type of situation is to get buy in and alignment at all levels UP FRONT.

This is the time to look into securing the proper release forms and finding out if legal needs to be involved.

At the same time, you want to make sure everyone is aligned on strategy.  Aim to get everyone in agreement on the end game so someone doesn’t come in at the last minute with a totally different idea of what needs to be done.

You want to have these tough conversations early in the process to set expectations and put everyone’s minds at ease.

3. Not handing over the keys to the car

Every time you ask a customer for a case study, you need to hand them the keys to the car.

I know, I know. The case study will be uploaded to YOUR website and used by YOUR sales team. It’s yours, right?

Yes, but that doesn’t mean you have final say.

Let the customer know they have control. They have veto power from the outset and can ask for adjustments and changes.

Assure them that you won’t share any sensitive information they’re not comfortable sharing, and they’ll get to review the draft before it goes live.

And put it in writing if needed.


You might think that by handing this power to the customer, they’ll claw back anything remotely juicy. But in practice, the opposite is true.


By acting in good faith from the very beginning, we find the customer is more inclined to continue in good faith—and will let you put more into the case study than you might have hoped.

4. Not getting clear on the ONE story you want to tell

Nothing transforms a great story into a lukewarm story more than watering it down with multiple narratives.

It’s tempting. You had a brilliant project where lots of things went right. So of course you want to share them!

But if you try to jam all those stories into ONE case study, you pour cold water on them all.

Just because SO many good things happened, that doesn’t mean they’re good for the story.

People can’t process nineteen different outcomes or solutions. They can’t track a complex, multi-tentacled story.


Pick the ONE big story you want to tell and tell it well.


Then take another look at those secondary stories and see if you can make new case studies out of them.

5. Taking too long to get back to the customer after the interview

We see this all the time: Everyone pushes like mad to get the customer interview done. And then everyone takes their foot off the gas when it is.

By the time you get around to writing the draft, the person you interview has moved departments, the approval process has changed, or your internal champion has left the company—and now you face new barriers to getting a sign off.

The more time that passes between the interview and sending a first draft, the more likely the case study will be rejected.

Missed opportunity!

6. Failing to consider legal implications

Just because a customer agreed to do a case study, gave an interview, and likes you a whole bunch, that does NOT mean you can skip the process of sending them a pre-published draft to review.

Why? Because your point of contact likely doesn’t have final say—especially if it’s an enterprise customer.

And when you created the case study, you inevitably made decisions about how things will be presented—and they may not agree with them.

And besides, weird stuff can pop up (and usually does). So you can burn MAJOR bridges if you loop them out.

So the solution is NOT to “Ask for forgiveness, not permission.”

Because if you do, you’re gambling with a client relationship. And especially at the enterprise level, legal departments can be trigger happy and pleased to blast you.

You need to go through all the steps. Every time.

You Need a Case Study Creation Process

If navigating this minefield doesn’t sound like much fun, take comfort in knowing that the solution is quite simple.

A clearly defined case study creation process can circumvent all of these issues.

Build it into your onboarding, get deliberate in your KPIs and check in with clients regularly.

And if you’re feeling at all uncertain, working with an experienced partner—someone who’s seen all these things, has a plan to deal with them, and will deliver an excellent end product—is an option for you too.

Because when you take these steps and cover all your bases, nothing bad will get in the way of your great case study.

 

Let’s talk about getting that case study out alive.

Contact us to start the conversation.

 

 

 

 

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