Business case studies are powerful marketing assets for suppliers. But how do you get the go-ahead from a sceptical customer in B2B supply chains? Marketers should convey the benefits of positive media exposure, while addressing concerns about confidentiality and competition. Adrian Tippetts explains how…

Here’s a familiar challenge for B2B marketing professionals: a customer has achieved performance gains after installing your machine, equipment or software – but you’re unsure how to ask the customer to take part in a case study. Perhaps you’re fearing a rejection because ‘there’s nothing in it for the customer’ or a confidentiality clause. Or you’re concerned about wasting the customer’s valuable time and jeopardising relations.

In this blog, I’ll provide tips to help you overcome these challenges, and convince a customer to collaborate with you.

Case studies are very effective at converting enquiries into sales. They:

  • provide proof of a technology’s capability in a real-life context that readers can relate to
  • give credibility to the vendor’s claims.

The challenges of getting the go-ahead on customer case studies

The challenges that marketers face in bringing case studies to fruition include:
• Understanding the customer’s central role in the case study story
• Convincing the customer they benefit from being in a case study
• Overcoming the customer’s concerns, from the fear of losing competitive advantage by revealing the secrets of success, to the risk of breaking confidentiality agreements with their customers
• Making a convincing proposal to the client – at the right time

Let’s address these obstacles in more detail:

Understand the customer’s central role in the story

Your customer’s success is never just about the kit or technology they are using, but also their ingenuity, vision, planning, informed decision-making, creativity, discipline and sheer hard work to meet their own customers’ high expectations. Whether it’s a Lego set, a state-of-the art digital label printing press, software-driven DJ mixing gear or ChatGPT – it’s how we use technology that sets us apart.

This also explains why the case study isn’t about you the vendor: it’s the customer’s journey that must take centre-stage. From identifying a problem, recognising an opportunity for improvement, choosing the right solution for their situation, and using your technology in the best way to serve their customers better – the customer has agency at every step. To convince the customer to participate – and tell a story to inspire other potential buyers, your mission is to make that come across in the story.

How to convince the customer they will benefit

The customer will ask ‘what’s in it for me?’ – well actually, lots, so be proactive about this!

Emphasise how the story will strengthen their reputation

If you demonstrate how a customer has saved costs, cut carbon footprint, improved internal processes, accelerated lead times, delivered repeatable quality – you’re helping that customer position itself as a partner that brands can trust with their business.

Perhaps the most powerful way a case study can boost a customer’s reputation is by telling the story of a company that is continuously, critically looking for improvements. The case study can be evidence of a Kaizen, Lean mindset that top-tier brands value in their ‘preferred suppliers’.

Offer to generate exposure among the customer’s target audience, too!

Editors of trade journals and websites love case studies because they add a human element, and describe a situation their readers can identify with. Focusing on your customer’s challenges and success, the story generates positive exposure for both parties.

In packaging and label printing today, brands take a greater interest in processes: packaging buyers seek assurance of fast, sustainable, quality-assured supply at the best price. A printing line with fast set-up times may cut lead-times; an ink delivery system may enable consistent quality and greater output.

The PR consultant should add the customer’s favoured ‘end user’ titles to the media distribution list – and when writing the story for publishing online, the copywriter should use relevant phrases that will attract buyers further along the value chain.

Offer to share photography, video footage and content with the customer and allow them complimentary use on their own website and social media channels. But be sure not to infringe any exclusivity agreement you have made with an editor.

Positive media coverage is a win for supplier and customer!

Customer concerns – and thoughts on overcoming them

Even if convinced of the benefits described above, the customer may have a number of understandable concerns and objections. These can relate to competitive advantage, customer relationships, reputation, editorial control and competence in producing the story:

Fear of revealing the secret of success

Manufacturing is intensely competitive, and the customer doesn’t want rivals to know about the performance gains that their new machine has enabled. Even if other factors contribute to success, why erode competitive advantage by revealing the technological aspect of it?

• To overcome this, offer to be less specific about improvements, for example in waste reduction or uptime. Give a general impression, using percentage figures or fractions instead of hard numbers.

Risk of breaking confidentially agreements

Suppliers to major brands are often compelled to sign confidentiality clauses as a condition of business. A case study could result in breaking these agreements – with potentially costly consequences.

• The vendor’s marketing and PR team must provide assurance that the customer has full control of all editorial, and that nothing will be published without the customer’s final approval. The copywriter must seek approval to mention the customer’s own customers – and take care not to breach any clauses in photography or video footage.

Fear that publicising internal problems will negatively impact on reputation

The customer may be concerned that revealing a problem, even if solved, is a sign of corporate incompetence, inefficiency or underperformance.

  • To address this, consider focusing on the customer’s foresight, initiative, informed decision-making – leading up to a wise, strategic investment that delivered returns. Maybe give an indication of a company on a mission, of triumph over adversity. Or focus on the positive aspects of user experience, strengthened customer relationships, new revenue streams that are possible. Investigate the many possible approaches by researching the story beforehand, taking advice from sales colleagues.

Reluctance to participate because ‘it will take up valuable time’

The prospect of interviewing, supervising the reviewing draft and any related correspondence – all perhaps in a second language – may simply be too much, especially for small business owners. Try these time-saving ideas to address such concerns:

• The case study production team should save time by researching  and agreeing on the angle of inquiry before the interview. In that way, the interview is more focused on the questions that matter to the story.
• A writer with understanding of the market and technology will be the best choice to get the story ‘right first, time’, limiting review time.
• If it is not possible to conduct the interview in the interviewee’s native language, be prepared to offer interpreter or translation services if necessary.
• It should go without saying – arrive promptly for all meetings.
• Offer a deadline for completing the story and stick to it.

Avoid uncertainty with a case study clause in the customer contract

Agreeing a commitment to producing a case study in the customer contract is an easier way to get the go-ahead, rather than asking later in the business relationship. Consider this approach especially for significant installations.

Should a vendor offer a discount?

Offering a discount or some extra value-added service may also persuade the customer to participate in a case study (although in some situations this is prohibited). But as you’ve learned earlier in this blog, the case study is a win for the customer: the reputational advantages and the increased brand recognition generated by a well-told story surely far outweigh the one-off financial benefit derived from a discount.

And the way to tell that story ‘well’ is to make it about the customer’s journey.

In summary…

  • The story must focus on the customer, and how they overcame their challenge – not only to get the customer’s agreement, but for it to be credible
  • The customer wants to know “what’s in it for me?”. Stress the benefits a case study brings the customer:
    • positive media coverage
    • recognition in the wider supply chain as a problem-solver and ‘trailblazer’
    • promotion of staff quoted in the article as thought-leaders in the industry
  • Some customers will resist collaborating in a case study because they are concerned about confidentiality, revealing secrets of success to competitors, and losing production time
  • Overcome these objections by:
    • establishing formal approval procedures for written, photographic and video content
    • striking a balance between the editor’s need for a good story and revealing confidential information, generalising where necessary
    • researching and preparing in order to get the story right-first-time
    • keeping to deadlines
  • A case study clause in the customer contract saves time and uncertainty of proposing one later in the relationship

Contact us for further advice on case studies and B2B marketing!

If you’re looking for a public relations and marketing content consultant to tell your customer’s success story in a compelling and efficient way, contact us at adrian@adriantippetts.com for more information.

 


Adrian Tippetts, owner of Tippetts and Partners, is a PR consultant with over 20 years’ experience in B2B supply chains.