October 26, 2005, 9:37 AM — One of the services we provide to clients is the crafting of case studies, those glowing 1,200-word essays that shine a spotlight on a customer of the client's products or services. And it made me wonder. Do you shine a spotlight on yourself?
For one client, we're writing a series of nearly 30 case studies. Each provides a brief background on the customer company, the business challenges it faced, the solution it chose, the benefits that have accrued with the solution deployed, and what lies ahead. Perhaps you've had case studies written that profile some of your own customers and the benefits gained through your products or services.
Then this client did something very interesting. We were asked to write a series of case studies highlighting how the company uses its own products. It's a great idea, one from which we all can benefit.
The company isn't planning to publish these internal case studies for public consumption --- at least not now. The intended use primarily is to educate the company's own sales force and arm them with a dozen very different scenarios of how the company uses its own products to run its business, save money, speed processes, and enhance productivity.
Equally interesting is the internal case study that another client opted not to do. Though anxious to have a portfolio of case studies with customers extolling the virtues of a particular product, that product's use internally apparently has been something of a less-smashing success. Perhaps this company has deeper soul searching to do.
It's obvious that Apple uses Macs and Microsoft runs Windows. But it's less obvious when it comes to an integrator selling SQL Server, Oracle, DB2, a particular network management suite, accounting software package, or backup solution.
"Do you actually use these products in the day-to-day operation of your business. Yes? Tell me more! No? Well, why the heck not?" Do you hear your customers or potential customers asking these questions?
Sure, it's not always feasible. An integrator that specializes in medical practice-management software isn't likely to use the product in a production environment --- unless it's supplementing the revenue stream by doing appendectomies in the back room. But it's not reasonable to have the product running in a near-real-world demonstration environment.
If you're selling accounting software, however, it's a pretty sure bet that a potential client will ask if you use it to run your business. And if you sell two or more accounting packages, be prepared to explain why you entrust your business to one but not the others.
Case studies are referrals. They demonstrate that your business gets the job done and that your customers are willing to talk about it. But it also makes sense to look within. After all, you are your own customer, too.