Getting customers to approve case studies that provide third-party endorsement of your products and services can be hard. Indeed, when we meet prospective science and engineering clients they often tell us that they have tried doing case studies, but could never get them approved. So they went into the ‘too hard to do’ box. That’s a shame. Because case studies prove that you don’t just talk a great game, you actually play a great game. However, there is no need to despair. Just follow these tried and tested steps and you can significantly improve your chances of approval.
The single most common mistake is to research and draft a case study, and then present it to your customer for review. If they decide not to approve you have wasted a considerable amount of time and effort in the process. Instead, before you write a single word, approach your customer for outline approval. This should be along the lines “we would like to write a case study about the work we have done for you, would you have any problems in approving it”? If the answer is no, then you know upfront. Very little time and money is wasted and you can move on to the next opportunity.
From experience, many customers really appreciate that they have been asked for outline approval rather than assuming that it will be granted. They also like to know why you are asking, why the case study will be important for you and how you intend to use it.
Ask the right people
It is absolutely critical that you seek approval from the right people at the appropriate levels. Of course, it is important to get outline approval from the project managers and procurement people you work with on a day to day basis. Your approval will go nowhere without their blessing. But they rarely have the final say. You need to get your approval ratified by the people ultimately responsible for you customer’s reputation – which will be their communications team.
Detail what you need
Your main aim is probably to create a case study sheet that you can use on your website and as a sales aid. There are though many other ways to use case studies, possibly as press releases, as the basis for feature articles and in brochures. When you ask for outline approval, be sure to detail all the ways that you expect to use the case study in future. That saves having to go back for further approvals.
Also, you will need good images to illustrate the story, so you might need permission to take photographs. And for very important stories video will be needed. Include your needs for photography and video in the initial request.
Sometimes, you will need a case study for a particular event, such as an exhibition. If there is a hard deadline you are working to then let your customer know and they can advise you if approval by then is feasible.
Go the extra mile
It is entirely feasible to research and write a case study from your desk. But I would always recommend, where possible, going to the site and meeting your customer. Seeing the story for yourself will give you the extra detail that makes the story fly. And there is a real benefit in meeting the people who will finally approve your drafts. Once they have met you face to face, and had a coffee with you, they buy into the whole process. And that all helps to smooth the way for prompt and easy approval.
Put approval in the contract
If you are working on a project or order that is really important for you to publicise then consider making the right to carry out publicity an integral part of the contract. The customer can only say no if you suggest this. And I have known this to be a useful factor in the contract negotiation process.
Help nurture an approval culture
I am staggered at the number of companies, often large multi-nationals, who will not allow third-party case studies as a matter of policy. Yet these very same companies have web sites where they proudly feature case studies about their own customers. We live in a world where the supplier/customer role can quickly interchange. Personally, I advise our clients, where possible, to always agree to case study requests. Because you never know when your supplier might become a customer.
Gaining approvals can seem a daunting process. But they can become a joy by following the simple steps outlined above. And the process gets even faster and easier when you work with a consultancy steeped in the case study business like TopLine. Not only can we create a case study from initial research to final approval, but we will also handle the approvals from start to finish. To find out how we can help you with your own case studies please get in touch.
Written by: Andrew Bartlett, Director at TopLine Comms