The single most important ingredient of a successful customer case study is… a customer. Most large companies have entire teams devoted to building relationships with “reference customers,” but if it’s just you or one or two of your colleagues, you’ll have to be a bit smarter and more strategic in tracking down customers who are willing to help you.
1. Hallelujah! Start with Evangelists
Ask Your Sales Team
Start with the most obvious and likely group: people who already love your company and won’t shut up about it. Marketers often call these customers “evangelists,” and they’re a great source of case study material because they’re already preaching the virtues of your products without being asked.
So where do you find them? First, ask your sales team; salespeople are often closest to customers and have their fingers on the pulse of how they’re feeling. This is why large companies with customer reference teams often incentivize salespeople to find willing case study customers and pass on their names to marketing.
Try Your Support Team and Social Media
If you don’t have a sales organization, try your customer support team. If they get unsolicited compliments from customers, these are great openings for follow up conversations that can lead to full-blown case studies.
These days, social media is also a great place to look. On Twitter, for example, people will often tweet about their experiences with companies and products. If you notice customers saying nice things about your offerings, contact them privately about their willingness to talk to you in greater depth (talk about a #casestudywin).
2. Go Fishing with Mass Emails
If you don’t have an army of fans salivating at the mere thought of talking about your company, don’t sweat it. Customer evangelists can be very, very hard to create, and even harder to find.
Fortunately, there’s a solution that can work just as well: mass emails. Now, let me be absolutely clear—I’m not talking about spam. People hate spam, and spamming your customers may unleash a torrent of angry replies, vows to never use your products or services again, and maybe at least one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. Or, they may just delete your emails. Whatever the case may be, it’s not good for your customer-finding efforts.
What I am talking about is a thoughtful, respectful email that lays out who you are, why you’re reaching out, and the benefits that participating in a case study can provide. You’ll be emailing this message to dozens, if not hundreds of people, but the critical difference is that it will be personalized with both a customer’s name and, if possible and applicable, the name of his or her business.
Does this approach actually work? Yes, believe it or not, it does; I’ve used it to snag quite a few reference customers over the years. You may get a few disgruntled responses, but you’re more likely to get replies from customers who are genuinely interested in participating in a case study. But—and this is a big, huge but—this will only work if you give customers something in return.