How to Get Customers to Agree to Be In Case Studies

BY Steven Peters
May 5, 2023

How do you get customers to agree to be in case studies?

So you’ve earned a BIG win for your customer — and you want to use that story to convert new customers.

Now, the hurdle: How do you ask your customer to participate in a case study? And how do you get them to say “yes”?

These five simple steps are the key to your success:

  1. Clearly establish what’s in it for them
  2. Proactively solve customer objections
  3. Write a compelling pitch
  4. Promise to protect sensitive info
  5. Facilitate future buy-in

Using these five steps, Case Study Buddy has secured the “yes” from thousands of different companies, many in notoriously tight-lipped industries, like cybersecurity. We’ve helped hundreds of clients successfully navigate the tricky buy-in process and immortalized their biggest wins as case studies and video testimonials.

Here’s the tried-and-true secret to our success.

1. Clearly establish what’s in it for them

In this section, you’ll learn…

  • How to rephrase the ask so it’s not all about you
  • How to use a case study to showcase your customer’s good work
  • How to ethically incentivize participation

Here’s the wrong way to think about case study buy-in:

“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].”

It might be true, but it’s a terrible sales pitch—because it’s all about you. Nothing kills enthusiasm for a would-be case study participant like a selfish ask.

Here’s the problem: Your client might already feel like they’ve done you a favor by hiring you—and now you’re asking for another favor that’s going to take extra time? No, thank you.

Instead of explaining how a case study benefits you, you need to reframe the ask to communicate what’s in it for them.

That means showcasing their business and their success. Make them the hero of the story. You are a supporting character. Your solution is the tool they used to achieve that amazing result.

Here’s what that ask 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.”

You can even incentivize this ask by explaining how both of you will benefit from the case study project. For example:

  • Creating a video testimonial? Offer to let them use some of the b-roll in their own advertising and promotions.
  • Creating a written case study? Invite them to share it too and showcase the big win from their perspective.
  • Creating a whole series of assets? Promise free publicity through website links, social shares, and email campaigns.

We’ve seen this in action many times. For example, Case Study Buddy’s enterprise clients love showcasing their success stories at industry events. That’s free publicity for their customers!

Some industries have policies against material or financial incentives, but highlighting how a case study is a win-win or how you plan to use your case study can often be incentive enough!

2. Proactively solve customer objections

In this section, you’ll learn…

  • Why a customer might not want to be featured in a case study
  • Which fears you need to counter and why
  • How to overcome those objections

Fear is another major barrier to getting buy-in for case studies.

We’ve seen it before: a customer is thrilled by what you’ve achieved together. They’re happy to recommend your product or service to colleagues. Yet, when you ask them to participate in a case study, they say no. What gives? In our experience, it boils down to five very legitimate concerns. You need to understand and be able to counter those concerns if you want buy-in.

The top five reasons customers refuse to be in case studies include:

A. 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.

B. 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. The last thing your clients want is for a competitor 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.”

C. 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. Mention the EXACT parts of their story you’re hoping to delve into.
  • 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.

D. Fear of leaking sensitive information. 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).

E. 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

In this section, you’ll learn…

  • How to construct a compelling ask
  • What a real Case Study Buddy ask looks like!
  • How SOPs can streamline the process

Once you understand your client’s objections and you know what benefit you need to highlight, it’s time to actually sit down and make the ask. Doing these five things will make a HUGE difference:

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

Remember: your goal is to get a customer excited to participate. You give yourself an advantage if you can keep their objections front-of-mind, and address some of them out of the gate (e.g., establishing a firm deadline gives them peace of mind that the project won’t drag on forever).

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 case study 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?”

If you want to make things even easier, both on your team and your customers, we highly recommend establishing case study Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) which will help you be more strategic about your asks at an organizational level.

4. Promise to protect sensitive info

In this section, you’ll learn…

  • How to potentially salvage a story when a customer backs out
  • How to give customers peace of mind ahead of an interview
  • How even anonymous case studies can be compelling

Sometimes, a customer agrees to be featured in a case study only to retract their support upon reviewing the finished case study.

In this scenario, you should try to understand what they don’t like about it. If the issue is with how they’re portrayed or the level of detail in the case study, you can try…

  • Refocusing the story on their business goals and aspirations instead of what they were struggling with
  • Obscuring specific metrics (e.g., instead of dollar figures, use % increases over time)
  • Offering to reword quotes to remove potentially contentious or off-brand language

At Case Study Buddy, we usually try to get ahead of this situation by promising complete editorial control before go-live. It usually gives customers tremendous peace of mind to know that they have the opportunity to reword quotes before publication. We also find that they’re more willing to speak candidly during interviews as a result.

But sometimes, despite every assurance, a client still won’t agree to be featured in a case study. Believe it or not, your story might still be OK! Usually, you can solve their concerns by anonymizing personal information or using percentages in place of concrete numbers.

Varonis is a master at this. Working in the cybersecurity space, its customers are, understandably, reluctant to share major incidents. By anonymizing names and industries, Varonis is able to share its amazing success stories without compromising customer privacy.

5. Facilitate future buy-in

In this section, you’ll learn…

  • Why the best time to ask for participation is at the outset of a customer relationship
  • How to mitigate the risk that a customer’s legal department won’t approve your case study
  • How one case study can lead to more… and more… and more!

Finally, you can make getting client buy-in for customer success stories 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 – The best time to get buy-in is right at the beginning of a new relationship. By making case studies a normal part of your engagements, you lay a strong foundation for future asks.
  2. Create a case study release document in advance – When you send them your contract, include a release document at the same time. A release form like this can help if a customer’s legal department ever takes umbrage with a case study… though there are other steps you can take to keep legal departments happy.
  3. Use case studies to seal the deal – One of the best ways to convince a customer to participate is to show them other case studies you’ve already created! If they like what they see you’re way more likely to get a “Yes.”

Don’t be afraid to ask.

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.

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.

Pssst… want all this, hassle-free? We can help.

With over 1,000 stories delivered for over 300 B2B brands (and counting), we’ve seen a whole lot of what works, what doesn’t, and what the best companies do to make case studies inevitable.

Check out our samples, and if you get a good feeling, drop us a line to connect

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