There are some things in life that you know how they will end even before they begin. The movie Casablanca is a classic example. You know from the start of the movie WHERE the story is going. You just don’t know HOW. And the HOW is what made it a classic.
A case study is like that. Your prospect knows the outcome before they read it – it’s a story that ends happily ever after (well, the client buys your product). Since they already know where it’s coming out, they don’t need to read it! And we all know how much work they are to get written and approved so that’s not good!
On the other hand, we all know that every single significant B2B purchase (or considered B2C purchase) involves an active search to find how other prospects in similar situations have solved their problems… including what products or services they bought and why. Gee… isn’t that what case studies are supposed to do?
Casablanca or Ishtar?
Which brings us to a key point… it’s not (so much) WHAT you say, it’s (even more) HOW you tell it. Or more specifically, the nine ways you tell it. Here are the first five ways to turn your case studies into selling stories. Look for the final four next week.
1. Focus: people vs. product
Let’s start with asking what your story is about… your product, of course!
Actually, that’s a trick question. If your story is about your product, then there’s no reason to read it (because everyone already knows you’re going to say it’s great) and there are easier ways for you to communicate that (like product brochures and demos).
The real answer (and the real question) is WHO is your story about?
Remember that your B2B prospects yearn for information about how OTHERS have solved similar problems. That means they want to hear about the PEOPLE, not just the product.
This means you want to highlight the PURCHASER rather than the product as the hero of your story. So you need to focus on your purchaser’s PROCESS from problem to solution. What were their goals? Their concerns? Their constraints? And that brings us to the next question…
2. Target: identify the prospects to profile
Which clients do you want to portray in your case study? The answer to that question is also the answer to the question, who do you want to READ the case study? The case studies you pursue should be with the kinds of companies and situations you want to attract. You need to start by identifying your target readers.
Similarly, the cases you write about should tell the purchase stories you want to replicate. This obvious point requires that you diagnose your pipeline to identify where the blockages are. What are the challenges you want to help your prospects overcome?
For example, if establishing perceived value is an important challenge for your sales team, you should write up cases where prospects had to address this issue. You should also include questions about value perceptions in your case study interviews so you are armed with more customer reference points on this topic.
3. Length: S / M / L tailored sizes
How long should a case study be? There is no single answer. In fact, there are three.
- First is the full-length version for your most interested prospects who want to know the details of your implementation, adoption, and support story. This could be a multi-page PDF or dedicated website page.
- In the middle is a 1 or 2-paragraph summary version that tells just the highlights. This could be on a website page with multiple client stories, perhaps with a link to the full story.
- Finally, be sure to pull brief testimonial quotes from the case study that can stand alone as validation of “soft” claims like great client support or easy to use features. These can be used throughout your website, on your collateral materials, and even in the pages of the long case study to highlight key points.
By creating three kinds of output, you can get more value from the work required to create case studies. Maximize your content ROI.
4. Voice: Setting the right tone
In the same way that the story about the purchase process is more important than the product, the WAY you tell the story is as important as what you say.
A good case study takes the part of a conversation with a client just like your prospect who gets to play a role you don’t get to play – an objective colleague who found a solution to the same challenge your prospect has. It’s like a live NPS interview – a client who gives you a “10” rating to the question “would you recommend this product or company to a colleague?”
As a result, it’s critical that you avoid drowning your clients’ authenticity in your own self-promotion. This is a simple and obvious point, but… VERY FEW case studies end up sounding like credible client stories instead of incredible product pitches. And case studies are just too hard to write to see their impact ruined this way.
Remember – you have LOTS of other vehicles for selling your product. Case studies are probably the most difficult and time-consuming of all to create. As a result, if case studies are not bringing a distinctive, additional client perspective to your communications portfolio, don’t bother with them.
5. Results: not what you think
Your readers know the last stage in the case study is the results section. But they also ASSUME that you will be featuring only case studies that are dramatic and positive, so it’s no surprise that your results are dramatic and positive.
In our research, we have found that dramatic results tend to be dismissed more easily than compelling stories that readers can relate to. What actually pulls readers in is the story of HOW their client colleagues got the results they did.
In other words, the results your readers want from reading your case study are the lessons they can apply to managing their solution search and working with your vendor company more effectively.
So that’s a good start! Armed with this prospect perspective and these first 5 goals, we hope you will be engaging your prospects with “the beginning of a beautiful friendship!”
*Originally Posted on MENG
In My Face
A colleague recently asked, “With all the data available to us now, what role, if any, does qualitative research play in b2b prospect intelligence? Isn’t that ‘old thinking’?”
Somewhat in my face, and a tad confrontational, but a good question. To answer the question, I had to take a step back. While stepping, I tripped over a memory of the poem “The Blind Men and the Elephant” by John Godfrey Saxe.
Elephants and Prospecting
In this poem, 6 blind men go off to find out what an elephant really “looks like”. Each blind man is given an opportunity to touch this strange beast, each from a different angle. Each, per their limited experience, develops their own mental image of an elephant – perhaps a tree, a spear, a fan – and then they talk.
So oft in theologic wars, the disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance of what each other mean,
And prate about an Elephant not one of them has seen!
The argument stops just shy of physical violence. No agreement is ever reached. The point is that data analysis leads to just one view of our prospect.
The Elephant in the Room
The prospect is the elephant in the room, and no one perspective, no one point of view yields a true and complete portrait. There is no monopoly on insight, grasshopper.
A three dimensional view of our prospects can only be achieved by a three-sided equation:
- Data analysis adds an important dimension in recognizing what prospects are doing now. It’s immediate and improves targeting and enables greater efficiency. However, it doesn’t provide depth to the “who” and the “why” of the behavior, which leads us to include Sales’ internal intelligence.
- Internal intelligence – Sales talks to the elephants all day long, every day. They experience how prospects interact with their company. Let’s tap into their real-world knowledge, both of the individuals and the specific accounts. How do prospects articulate their issues.
To complete prospect intelligence Marketing needs more depth on the real people who we are calling prospects.
- Persona research. Creation of a prospect person, or personas, based upon new qualitative research, yields the human insights into the individuals who comprise the buying center, their own values, perspectives, and agendas. It takes the learning from behavioral data analysis and inside intelligence and matches it with motivation.
All of which is to say that one point of view can be true, but not account for the totality of situation. Putting data analysis together with internal intelligence and persona research, we start to get a glimpse of that strange and wonderful beast.
Or, as the great marketer Groucho Marx once said, yesterday I shot an elephant in my pajamas. What he was doing in my pajamas I’ll never know.
The Persona at the End of the Line
Like most marketers, you’ve got “personas” on your “to do” list. You can’t be a self-respecting marketer these days without creating them.
We all have seen the presentations of these B2B or B2C customer types in human form, from Cameron Controller to Pauline Popcorn.
And let’s assume for conversation sake that you’re one of the minority (according to our research) who is blessed with well-built personas that reflect research with actual prospects and uncovers hidden insights that can give you a competitive marketing advantage.
So you can check that box. You’ve “done” your personas. Now what?
Do those personas represent the end of another marketing task (destination) or the start of a journey to new sales and marketing opportunities? And more importantly, how exactly can personas be translated into more effective marketing?
How personas help you do better marketing
Fundamentally, good personas can and should equip you to answer three questions. We will use B2B decision-making as our example since it is more complex (with multiple influencers and decision-contributors) and more in-depth (with multiple layers of messaging at each stage of the consideration process). Here’s where you should apply persona learning:
- Who should we target? The answer to this question reflects the roles you uncovered as most important in the decision process. On average, there are 5.4 key contributors, but this can mushroom with larger deal and larger prospect companies. This is your hit list for ABM (Account Based Marketing) as well as traditional lead-gen marketing.
- What should we communicate? The answer to this question reflects what you learned about what prospects want to hear from a resource such as your company to help them achieve their goals and solve their problems.
- Where / how should we communicate with prospects? The answer to this question reflects the prospect journey you uncovered in the research and the information sources each persona relies upon for each step of the journey.
The output of this process is a three-dimensional plan we call a Marketing Message Matrix both because it’s descriptive (and because I like alliteration). This is where you marry WHAT you say with WHERE (or “when” in the process) you say it to WHOM.
How do make it happen
So now that you know your real destination – marketing that give you a competitive advantage because it’s based on superior persona insights – how to you actually get there?
The key to successful translation is dividing the application into individual steps. There are two processes you should employ once you have your personas in hand:
- identify the best persona-based content to deliver and then
- identify the most effective way to deliver it.
In this article we will focus on the first process; wait for my next post on the second topic or contact me for more information.
You can ensure your brand gets persona-centered messaging that give you a competitive advantage in four simple steps:
- Competitive Message Identification – First we identify the top messages your prospects want to hear to help them solve their problem. A good persona should already identify these. The challenge is to find which messages your company or product can own – the topics where you deliver a competitive advantage. This involves sitting with your product and competitive intelligence SMEs to identify the specific claims you can own and the support for them.
- Message Assessment – Gather your marketing team (and agency, if you have one) to review your current messaging to identify which messages you are and are not yet delivering as well as you should. Focus on the messaging channels most important to your prospects (like your website, event booth themes and collateral, and sales support vehicles). The persona research is a great opportunity to bring people together with fresh input to review your messaging together.
- Message Development – You will discover there are some messages you have not fully developed to your full advantage. Engage your team to create new messages based on the support points you identified in the form most appropriate for each venue. You might want to bring the team together after you have made the additions to bask in your before and after transformation. Good team building!
- Messaging Refinement – We have found a final step to be instructive and powerful, especially if you are launching a new offering or you are about to invest heavily in a marketing effort. In this situation, I recommend you check back with your best persona research participants to share the content you have created based on their input. This has several benefits:
- It helps you fine-tune your messages before you put a lot of effort behind them. We always find there are ways to hone our messages further.
- It provides great prospect support for your efforts. It’s always helpful to have lots of enthusiastic quotes for your sales and product teams that come from real prospects about the marketing you are about to begin. Our favorite is “I wish someone had been saying this when we were in the market!” or “I will look for this the next time we buy!”
- Finally, this research is not only good, it’s fast and cheap! Your prospects are already identified and will appreciate seeing the impact of their input had. And it’s true that some of these have turned into actual customers for our clients!
Got a persona-application story you want to share? We might promote it for you. Feel free to contact me if you are stuck with your personas in the marketing mud and would like an outside perspective or some free ideas.
Some B2B websites are treasure troves of great content just stacked to the ceiling. And the librarians need not implore visitors to whisper… because there are so few visitors anyway.
What does it take to get your website humming like a cocktail party?
The Five Jobs
To get it working for you, you need to understand the five jobs your website needs to perform for your visitors:
- Potential Solutions: Prospects need help learning about or solving a problem so they know what kinds of solutions might be available for their issue.
- Potential Fit: Prospects need to know what solutions might be appropriate for their particular situation
- Priority options: Prospects must identify the best competing solutions in a sea of sound-alike claims
- Proof: Prospects must have evidence to present a strong case internally for their recommended solution and outside vendor.
- Partnership: Prospects considering significant B2B investments don’t just buy a product; they seek a long-term company relationship.
Get Your Website on the Job!
With that framework, today we get to the fun action part – the 12-step program to quickly engage your internal stakeholders to identify and commit to making improvements in your website. The best part is that the whole process is anchored in helping your
prospects make progress on their consideration journeys in a way that favors their including you in it. Besides, it’s kind of fun. But you can tell your team it’s part of your effort to “introduce gamification to the website development process”. It sounds so impressive.
- Gather: Collect a group of your colleagues (and whatever beverages help them think and share freely) for a 2-hour experience. There should be at least as many participants as you have personas. They should come from a variety of departments so you get a variety of perspectives and don’t appear to exclude any customer-facing internal group. This is important.
- Personas: Each selects one of the personas your website needs to win (Feel free to email me if you need help with this).
- Stages: Identify top 1-2 journey stage(s) when your persona tends to use vendor websites (Feel free to email me on this too if you need help).
- Visit: your #1 competitor’s website as your chosen persona in the stage when this persona tends to check vendor websites. Adopt their issue and try out the website as a way to gain help with it.
- Register: sign up for their newsletter with a personal address. See what kind of response, if any, you get. See what they are sharing with their prospects.
- Rate: Give the website ratings on how well it performs each of its 5 jobs. Use a simple 5-point scale and total points.
- Critique: Note the ways that website does or does not help you accomplish your goals
- Repeat: do the same for your #2 competitor website. Stay in character.
- Return: Now that you have assessed two other sites as resources, visit YOUR website. Be sure to stay in your persona and not slip into a defensive “insider” mode. Act as though you had never been to your own site.
- Compare: Now assess all three websites as potential resources for your persona. Identify the competitive strengths that you can apply to your website as well as your weaknesses you want to change. Focus on the top 3-5 changes.
- Plan: Create an achievable, simple implementation plan for the key changes. Benchmark the metrics that will reflect your improvements.
- Repeat: Great job! But keeping your website competitive is not a one-time adjustment. Plan to repeat every 6 months so you always stay competitive, aware of your competition, and thinking like your prospects. Keep coming back – it works if you work it!
So there it is! A simple, fast, and effective to focus your improvement efforts and make some progress now! You know, one day at a time.
What we’re not saying
What’s not to like? There is one challenge (of course). You may have noticed that steps #2 and 3 assume you know your personas and their journeys. But many B2B marketers do not. Or worse, they assume they do, but they don’t really – because they have never done real persona research… you know, talking with actual prospects about why they are not (yet) customers and how they made vendor decisions.
Persona research is NOT a two-hour project, but it is surprisingly inexpensive and timely… and remarkably powerful. (Contact me
for guidelines). If you have NO time or money, then start with your best guesses. But recognize that 99% of the time this contains important errors and costly blind spots if you don’t supplement it with real conversations. (Just ask your spouse about projections vs. conversation). But first things first. It’s about progress, not perfection.
Measuring Program Impact
As a result, you can expect to see 10-20% lift in three categories of metrics:
- Visitation metrics such as session duration, # pages/session, and bounce rate.
- Engagement metrics such as downloads, signups, repeat visits, and average # pages viewed.
- Response metrics outside the website such as # meeting requests, lead conversion rate, and… sales!
Make progress! Keep it simple. One day at a time. Let us know
how it goes!
Let’s just say you landed a job as the new CMO at a really great growth company. And not just ANY company. You just snagged a role at a really hot start-up. Pre-IPO stock options. In-house chef. The works.
But wait – there’s more! Your product (or service) is not an “also-ran” entry in an undifferentiated commodity market with nothing to talk about. No, you’re marketing a true leading-edge product with demonstrable superiority. A product (or service), they say, that practically “sells itself”. You nailed it!
The Scariest Words In Marketing
That’s the good news. But it’s also the bad news. It means that you face seven real obstacles that your predecessor likely did not overcome:
- No one has identified the “situation” as a “problem to be fixed“.
- No one knows how much it is costing the company.
- No one person has the responsibility for managing it.
- No one has a budget for managing it.
- No one has it anywhere on their priority list.
- No one has successfully advocated for trying this new untried solution.
- And it’s likely no one wants to be the first to try…
Ironic, isn’t it? The scariest words in marketing just might be “we have a product that sells itself.”
Come to think of it, why do you think that CMO position was open? Unless you come up with another way to sell it, that “piece of cake” assignment just might be the “kiss of death”!
This is not a fantasy. I recently worked with clients in three completely different industries. Each had superior solutions to real problems. And each was stuck in the mud.
The problem was that, in their enthusiasm for their newly-found superior solution, they failed to own the solvable problem. And identify who in the prospect company really suffered from it. And who in the company had the budget to solve it.
They all were suffering from invisibility… that is, their prospects needed to see a problem that should and could be solved before they could see buying a solution. Until then, the “problem” was just “fact of life”, like breathing… which leads me to a story…
The Challenge of Selling Air
I recently had the opportunity to hike Mt. Whitney, which at 14,505 is the highest peak in the contiguous US. I was pretty excited about it… except that I know I get fairly severe altitude sickness (don’t ask).
So one of the things I was encouraged to bring was a can of oxygen. Yes, I bought a can of… nothing.
Except that at high altitude, nothing becomes SOMETHING. Something very important. An invisible element we never think of becomes a VITAL ingredient. Canned oxygen becomes the solution to altitude sickness.
To make the point even clearer, there was a label on the can advising me that, yes, the can IS light and yes, it DOES feel empty, but no, this is not an “empty” can of nothing… because oxygen IS light! (You can imagine how many customer service calls led to that notice).
In the context of my three clients, they each were focusing on promoting the solution of “canned oxygen” (who needs that?) rather than the problem of “altitude sickness” (I’ve got that!).
The First Big Problem of “Problem Marketing”
The first really big problem in marketing true innovations is naming and transforming the “fact of life” into a “problem you ought to solve”. That means prospect education through four stages of “problem messaging”:
- The “condition” prospects face is, in fact, a costly problem that ought to be moved up their priority list.
- It is possible to reduce or eliminate the problem, and companies that do reap great rewards.
- The method for getting from #1 to #2 is exactly what our product does and why we started our company.
- There are proven ways for individual champions to advance this solution at prospect companies. We call this “champion marketing“.
The Second Problem is the Really the First
So the first step in successfully selling a product that “sells itself” is selling the problem, not the solution. But there is a problem in making problem marketing your top priority. It’s the company that hired you! Oh, no!
Think about this. Who are the people in all the world who have the hardest time seeing that the problem is invisible? Right – it’s the founders of the very company that was formed to solve it! They are the very people who first saw the problem clearly enough to invest in creating a solution!
This is tricky. Everyone else in the company naturally is excited about getting the story out about their great new product! Everyone else is an evangelist for how clear and compelling their solution is!
In fact, it’s not unusual to hear sales or engineering teams getting frustrated with prospects who are “too dumb” because they “can’t understand our product”.
And now the marketing team is telling them they have to devote most of their energy to talking about the problem and not the solution? I don’t think so! Maybe marketing doesn’t get it either!
So you can see how this becomes a fundamental cultural issue. But if the marketing team buys into the internal culture, they are dead. That’s because the marketing team needs to be the conduit between “outside” people and “inside” people… without losing the connection with either.
Clearing the Air
The path to progress – and that successful IPO – is to address the two tasks of marketing innovation – or problem marketing – in the right order. Make sure internal management buys into and supports the need to evangelize the problem before you can evangelize the solution. And then walk prospects through the steps to seeing the invisible. It will be a breath of fresh air. And everyone – including you – will breathe a lot easier.
This article was first posted on the MENG Blog.
Wayne founded B2P Partners to make B2B marketing more powerful by making it more personal. His passion is to help companies and individuals more effectively and enjoyably serve the people who are their clients. Read More