Commentary

The Case Against Case Studies: 3 Ways To Answer The Need, Not The Ask

The meeting is over. Everyone is pushing their chairs away from the table and considering the possibilities of working together.

“Can you send me case studies?” Everyone on the buy side has asked this question; everyone on the sell side has been asked.  Underneath the common question are some real needs that go beyond what often comes across as a request for marketing-approved collateral.

So let’s look at what buyers (marketers, agencies) may really be asking for, so sellers (ad-tech vendors) answer those needs with more than a glossy piece of paper. Here are the three most common reasons why sellers ask for case studies:

1.      You need imagery to put in a deck in order to sell the vendor to your own customer, or management decision-makers. That’s great news. We will bend over backwards to produce any materials that will help you sell us in. And we can do better than a case study slide that may not fully capture the specific value you are trying to promote.

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Is there a particular capability that you think will resonate with your customer or broader team? Are there specific concerns you anticipate having to overcome to defend your recommendation? Let us support you with materials that are compelling and specific, rather than a generalized case study.

2.   You   are more skeptical than you let on in the meeting and want some validation that our product delivers. Fair enough. Until you’re actually up and running with a vendor, you have to take their word that their product delivers the results they say.

But is a case study what's going to give you the comfort that a decision to work with us will be rewarded? 

There has never, in the history of business, been a case study produced that shows a solution failing. Let’s talk about your concern and see how we can make taking the plunge with us safer for you.

3.      You need us to prove something that our prior meetings haven’t yet. This is probably the best reason to request a case study -- but perhaps also the place where they provide the least value.

Here again, it would be helpful to know the nature of what we have yet to prove. Are you concerned about whether or not we have vertical expertise? Let me introduce you to our internal experts who have been in charge of the accounts within your industry, so you can evaluate their understanding and insight into the particular challenges and opportunities of your industry.

Do you have a goal-specific concern? Let me bring in the ad ops or product person that has solved for that before. They’ll be able to take the conversation further than simply saying, yes, we’ve successfully done that -- which is essentially all a case study provides. You can’t brainstorm with a PDF -- but you can have productive conversations with a knowledgeable team.

At the end of the day, when you ask for a case study, you’re evaluating our marketing team’s ability to produce materials, not our product. It may seem easier just to request pre-existing materials, but the chances that those will actually illuminate something for you are slim.

You should also take it as a warning if the seller you are working with falls back too quickly on case studies or one-sheeters. That’s a sign that they either don’t really understand or don’t believe in the product they are selling you. If a seller can give you a polished presentation but can’t have a real conversation about your challenges, past successes and how they were achieved, they’re just an ad tech wind-up toy.

This is critically important to know, because sellers continue to be an advocate for you and your campaigns within the organization, even after the sale. You better make sure they actually understand what they’re talking about -- and no case study is going to demonstrate that.

And now a note for all the sellers out there. At its best, your job is to be a consultant to the client, learning about the challenges they face and guiding them to the best solution. Sometimes this requires pushing back on the client, to understand what they’re really asking for -- and why. A case study isn’t going to help you close the deal, but an informative discussion will.
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