How to Get Clients to Agree to Be In Case Studies

BY Steven Peters
January 21, 2019

So, you helped a client get a big win…

Now, you can’t wait to share your exciting results with the world. You want to write a case study. But how do you get client buy-in?

The best way to get clients to agree to be in a case study is to address their fears and lay out the benefits the case study will have for their business. Try putting yourself in their shoes and preemptively answering the questions you’d be asking in their situation.

This article will get you started by discussing:

  • What are the most common objections to being featured in a case study.
  • How to counter and/or solve those objections.
  • How to write a great pitch that piques client interest.
  • What to do when, after everything, a client still says “no.”
  • How to make getting client buy-in easier for the next case study (and the one after that).

Without further ado, here are five simple steps for getting an enthusiastic “yes!” the next time you ask for client buy-in.

1. Clearly establish what’s in it for them

Most people who say they can’t get client buy-in have given up before they’ve even started. They’ve decided it won’t work, and in a self-fulfilling prophecy kind of way, they’re right. In fact, even companies that produce consistently amazing results and have an outstanding rapport with their clients often fall flat on their faces when it comes to securing buy-in.

What these people don’t understand is that if they tweaked their pitching process just a little bit, getting client buy-in wouldn’t be like pulling teeth.

The problem usually boils down to the way they’re thinking about case studies. It usually goes something like this: “We helped client achieve [amazing result]. We should share [process] we used that led to [amazing result]. We can use the case study to accomplish [goals].”

And while that way of thinking might be true, it’s a terrible sales pitch—because it’s all about you.

Some of your clients may already feel like they’ve done you a favor by hiring you—and now you’re asking for another favor that’s going to eat up their precious time? No thank you.

That’s why, instead of explaining the benefits a case study will have for you, you need to clearly communicate what’s in it for them. Celebrate the victory with them and lay out the benefits a great study has for both of you.

Here’s what that might look like:

“We’re so excited that you’ve [achieved a result] with our [product/service]. We want to showcase the good stuff you’re doing—to show people what you’ve accomplished in your space.”

One or two simple lines like this establish your client as the hero of this story. They’re the person or company doing exciting and innovative things. You just helped grease the wheels.

2. Anticipate and pre-emptively solve client pain points

Fear is another major barrier to buy-in.

We’ve seen it before: clients are stoked that you helped them achieve amazing results. They might even happily recommend your product or service to colleagues. And yet, when it comes to the dreaded case study interview, they’re suddenly gun-shy. What gives?

The bad news is that there are a number of very legitimate concerns and pain points clients might have when it comes to your case study.

The good news is that all of these concerns are easily solved with a little proactive consideration on your part. All you need to do is figure out why they’re hesitant and then alleviate their fear.

The most common obstacles to client buy-in include:

Fear of losing their competitive edge. When you help a client achieve amazing results, you often become the secret ingredient that’s giving them a leg up over their competitors. Your clients don’t want to lose that competitive edge and they don’t want to give competitors any inkling as to how and why they’re suddenly doing so well in their niche.

You can counteract this fear by:

  • Promising to anonymize any data that will make them feel more comfortable, such as the name of your interviewee, their role, and the name of their company.
  • Assuring your client that you’ll talk about the results you achieved and very generally how you accomplished those results without diving into any specifics their competitors can poach.

Fear of how the case study will be used. A related concern is the fear that you’re going to use your case study specifically to pitch their direct competitors. Your clients don’t want you using their win as a honeypot that you use to attract their competitors. And they really don’t want their competitors to hire you and get even better results than they enjoyed.

You can counteract this fear by:

  • Offering to anonymize any sensitive data that may tip their hand to their competitors.
  • Telling clients how you plan to use the study (e.g., if you plan to use it only as a final piece of compelling proof to land warm leads who are almost ready to close a sale).
  • Agreeing to sign a non-compete agreement in exchange for the use of their quotes and company name. That way they don’t worry about competitors stealing their “secret weapon.”

Fear of what will be written about them. Another perfectly understandable fear is that a case study might make them look bad. Presumably, your client hired you to fix a problem or solve a need. Now that it’s fixed, they don’t want to advertise the problems they were having. They can’t afford to look stupid or incompetent and if your case study is going to make you look like a savior swooping in to solve all of their problems, that’s not going to fly.

You can counteract this fear by:

  • Guaranteeing that they’ll be the big damn hero of the story. Tell them how excited you are about the work they’re doing and the small role you played in their results.
  • Painting a picture of why you selected them specifically from among all your clients. Line up the benefits the study will have for them and why their story is uniquely worth telling.
  • Ensuring them that nothing will be published or shared before they’ve had a chance to review the case study and request changes.

Fear of leaking sensitive metrics. Sharing confidential success and performance metrics is another concern for many businesses. Even if they’re proud of their results, they’re wary about how competitors could use this information against them.

You can counteract this fear by:

  • Offering to change metrics to a less sensitive format (e.g. raw revenue figures to percentages).
  • Offering to remove data in exchange for quotes about their experience that you can use to boost credibility (you can even read about a persuasive case study we wrote with no numbers).

Fear of wasting their time. Finally, a lot of businesses simply feel like they don’t have the time to be interviewed. They don’t want to be on the hook for a case study (even if you’ve established a clear benefit) that will require them to be hands-on. And they really don’t want to commit to a project that’s going to drag on-and-on for months with no end in sight.

Methods you can use to counteract fear:

  • Giving a solid deadline that tells them when the study will be published (this adds urgency and addresses concerns that the project will drag on and on and on.
  • Putting concrete times to interviews (ideally no more than 30 minutes).
  • Promising that you’ll do the heavy lifting when it comes to writing, editing, and distribution.

3. Write a compelling pitch

Once you understand your clients’ objections and you know what benefit you need to highlight, it’s time to actually sit down and write your case study opt-in pitch, by following these five basic rules:

  1. Thank them in advance
  2. Establish benefit/overcome objections
  3. Share why you’re writing the study
  4. Keep it short
  5. Give a deadline

For example, by combining the sample lines from step #1 with some of our pain point-solutions from step #2, we might create a sample pitch that looks something like this:

“We’re so excited that you’ve [achieved a result] with our [product/service]. We want to showcase the good stuff you’re doing—to show people what you’ve accomplished in your space. We’d love to schedule a time to interview you for a case study.

You will always have the final say. Nothing will be published without your approval. All we need is 30 minutes of your time. And we’ll make sure you look like a rock star.

We’d like to get this case study published at the end of next month. Can we count you in?”

At Case Study Buddy, we prefer to have this conversation over the phone. Whether you use a phone call, email, or maybe even a face-to-face pitch will depend entirely on your relationship with your client.

4. Using a case study when they still say no

Sometimes, despite every assurance, clients still refuse to be featured in a case study. When this happens, start by identifying their specific objections and countering their fears. (Pro tip: if you’re not sure what they’re concerned about—it’s OK to ask!)

Other times, a client will agree to be featured in a case study only to retract their support upon reviewing the finished case study. When this happens, ask them to flag offending areas and ask what you can do to address their concerns. (Also, you may want to check out this post about how to get client approval for studies you’ve already written.)

Usually, you can solve their concerns by anonymizing personal information or using percentages in place of concrete numbers.

This happened to one of our clients: Brain Traffic wanted to showcase some pretty outstanding results that they’d helped a Global Financial Services Company achieve. The catch? The client didn’t want their name used in the study. So we offered to anonymize the company name and give our interviewee a pseudonym. They approved the study. And Brain Traffic got an amazing success story that didn’t compromise the client’s wish for anonymity.

But what if that doesn’t work. What if they STILL say no?

In extreme situations where your clients absolutely refuse to allow you to create a public-facing case study, there is one final alternative: creating what we call a “campfire story.”

These assets are internal assets only. Instead of using them to nurture leads and close sales, these stories are used exclusively for training, motivation, and internal examples. Campfire stories might not show off the big win in the way you were hoping to, but they’re great for making a splash with key stakeholders during your next board meeting without sacrificing your clients’ trust.

5. Pave the way for future case study buy-in

Finally, you can make client buy-in 1,000x easier if you pre-plan for case studies. Whenever you think you might have a big success story on your hands, you can bake a case study clause into your initial agreement. That saves you from having to cold-pitch your clients once your business together is over, and it saves your clients from a “surprise” case study interview after the fact.

Here’s how you set yourself up for success at the outset of a new client relationship:

  1. Include a “case study clause” in your contracts – Use this opportunity to cinch client buy-in and assuage their fears by assuring them that no sensitive business data will be shared without their express permission and that they’ll have a chance to review and approve any case study.
  2. Use case studies to seal the deal – Spin case studies as a positive benefit when you’re talking to your prospects. Tell them how you love featuring your successful clients (and show them examples of the case studies you’ve already created if you can).
  3. Create a case study release document in advance – When you send them your contract, include a release document that you can use to secure buy-in should you want to publish a case study after achieving some noteworthy results.

Now it’s time for the fun part!

For many businesses, gaining client buy-in is one of the hardest parts of writing a case study. Hopefully, this post will help you overcome those objections and get your foot in the door, so you can start creating beautiful pieces of persuasive proof of your very own.

Now it’s time to start thinking about the next steps: interviewing, writing, and distribution. You’ve gotten client buy-in—now it’s time to make sure you deliver something worth their trust.

Ya, you like that? Well, there’s more where that came from!

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