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Customer Case Studies: Above All, It’s a Conversation

By Martha Maroney, Principal, Trimar Communications

Of the various projects I’ve tackled in my 25-year career as a marketing-communications writer for technology clients, case studies are among my very favorite.

It’s fun talking with customers – hearing about how they struggled with a solution that didn’t work and delighted in finding one that did, how they put the new solution together, persuaded users to adopt it, and wound up boosting sales or market share or employee morale or all of the above.

The stories are rarely told in that order, of course. I sometimes must ask a question two or three times before it’s fully answered, and on the other extreme I’m often treated to long anecdotes that may or may not pertain.

It’s not because the customer is evasive or would rather tell a different story than the one we need. It's because the customer and I are having a conversation, and that’s how conversations go.

The challenge for me is to maintain the rapport of a conversation while gathering a lot of information in very little time. Some case studies are commissioned by a team of people, and everyone wants the story to include details on his or her part of a product.

Some years back I saw a questionnaire that ran to 11 pages. Eleven pages! (Is this an interview or an interrogation?) Filled with questions for an executive who was purported to be “very busy” (and what executive isn't?), who wouldn’t be able to spare a moment longer than the allotted hour, and so forth and so on.

So I set the questionnaire aside. I touched on the very few questions that seemed most important, while explaining that I might be asking for more details during the call.

And this “very busy” executive was gracious and generous with his time and information. He shared some compelling anecdotes. Went on at length about how much he liked the solution. Wouldn’t let me close the call when an hour was up because there was plenty more he wanted to say. And so forth and so on.

That customer was busy, but he was also excited about the story, and by treating our interview as a conversation, I was able to nurture that excitement.

It doesn’t always work out that way, but in my experience of having written nearly 400 customer case studies, it does often enough. And for me, that’s what makes case studies so much fun.

Martha Maroney has been enjoying conversations with case-study customers for 20 years now, most recently on calls in which the conversation is in Spanish. It’s a bit more work, but it’s still fun.

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Casey Hibbard is the founder and president of Compelling Cases, Inc. and author of "Stories That Sell: Turn Satisfied Customers into Your Most Powerful Sales & Marketing Asset." She has helped dozens of companies create and manage nearly 500 customer case studies and success stories over the past decade. Casey is featured in numerous books, articles, and teleclasses. She consults with organizations one-on-one and conducts online customer-story classes.