A group of people holding a bar over their heads

Customer Evidence: Raising the Bar – A Template for Success

By Bill Barraugh, ClearDiff Managing Director
May 16, 2019

Raising the bar has become cliché, but is a common theme at year-end management meetings around the globe so it needs to be addressed. By cliché, I mean the call to raise the bar is rarely answered with a meaningful, measurable goal that truly enhances the performance of the group in a way that aligns with the greater corporate strategy producing better outcomes. To many professionals, raising the bar simply means doing more of the same, or sprinkling in a little something different that engages the group’s resources in a way that offers reasonably assured success. However, different does not inherently mean better or does it necessarily raise the bar.

The point of this blog is to offer a contextual look at raising the bar and how it applies to a customer evidence team. Pulling from our own ClearDiff Case Studies service offerings, team workflows, and customer evidence best practices, my goal is to offer a template for success that any customer evidence team can implement to enhance the value of their case study library. ClearDiff has been successfully implementing the changes and best practices offered here for the Fortune Global 5000 for over two decades and have experience working with customer evidence teams at each level outlined below.

The suggestions in this blog are offered at a high level ranging from baby steps such as adhering to new customer evidence best practices – to major changes in the role of customer evidence in the sales process to align to the customer journey and to each persona. While this blog will go wide on this subject, follow up blogs will go deep into each category. If you like what you read here, I advise readers to subscribe to our newsletter to receive the subsequent blogs as they are created.

Know Thyself, Know thy Audience

To address the question of how to raise the bar for a particular customer evidence team, we have to determine our starting point. Are we serving up raw case studies offering features and facts or are there methods in place to ensure compelling audience focused pain points aligned with useful use cases?  Is the content edited, graphics added and polished for readability, branding and messaging applied to be consistent with corporate strategy? Is the content delivered successfully to the right prospect, customer, landing page, and field representative? Is it being used in demand generation campaigns? Are the case studies updated to keep fresh, or key wins spun off into separate mini-studies to offer focused evidence? Are we fully leveraging an enterprise content management system (CMS) or is the library simply stored on a personal or shared folder in case anyone asks?

The graphic below is a framework ClearDiff uses to evaluate a client’s customer evidence team to determine their starting point – from ground zero raw data, to full CRM AI segmentation using tools such as Sitecore. While the graphic provides a useful framework for discovery, the illustrated levels are not black and white. In practice, while the levels build on each other, they do not guarantee perfection of the levels below – so problems below can the affect ROI of each level above. For example, if workflow and best practices are not in place to provide compelling content, the results will be lackluster regardless of editing, layout, branding, and distribution. Since each level is increasingly expensive in time, resources, and investment, it is imperative to get the lower levels perfected first to offer the greatest ROI impact.

See if you can figure out roughly where your customer evidence team fits in this graphic.

ClearDiff Customer Evidence Framework: Start - Raw - Compelling - Quality - Consistent - Distribution - Segmentation

Figure 1: ClearDiff customer evidence team evolution chart.

Choose your Evolution Threshold

Not all marketing departments are ready for their customer evidence team to make radical changes. In fact, some of the changes shown in the graphic above require more of an enterprise level change requiring C-level authorization and interdepartmental coordination. Therefore, as you might guess, it has been rare for our ClearDiff customers to ever raise the bar more than one evolutional level at a time. The majority have opted for baby steps by implementing best practices first to get their customer evidence library in better shape before launching a major content management system (CMS) initiative. As you might have guessed, these baby steps are still aligned with each evolutional level – raw, compelling, quality, consistent, distribution, or all the way at the top with segmentation.

Another important question is how will you measure the results? Do you have access to reporting that allows you to define key performance indicators, or are you using limited data such as online access numbers, or are we simply making best efforts based on limited feedback? Without a clear method of measure, there is no clear way to judge results. In my subsequent deep dives into each suggestion or best practice offered, we will address options to measure results.

Raising the Bar at Each Level

With the self-introspection out of the way, it is time for the fun stuff! 😊 The following sections will describe each customer evidence evolution level and offer both raise the bar options at the grand scale as well as baby steps that can be taken to prepare for such an evolution. This is not meant to be an all-inclusive optimization list for raising the bar, but a summary list of key optimization techniques. In addition, the levels are not black and white – you may be working at level 4 without perfecting the supporting levels below hampering your efforts and limiting your effectiveness. It is critical to start at the bottom and perfect each level on your way to your target level as each step is leveraged by each ascending step. Raising the bar for you may be to systematically perfect each level below to solidify your effectiveness at the level you intend to operate. It is important to note that the changes you make to the lower level have much greater overall performance gains than the later refinements as they are leveraged by all higher levels. For example, in the preamble, if you have zero volume, there is no content for you to segment in level 5.

Preamble – Optimizing Volume

The greatest cause of poor case study results is the lack of quality case study candidates to choose from. While this is understandable with a brand new company, an established brand shouldn’t have this problem. Case study volume issues are typically related to poor requirement communication, undefined workflows, and a lack of sales and client incentives. While a proper case study volume is relative, a good rule of thumb is to have the ability to turn down a third of the candidates and still meet your goals. It is also critical to account for potential delays or drop outs in this volume to ensure that you can still meet your goals.

Getting to the next level:

  • Establish a Realistic Quota: Collaborate with management and your field to establish a realistic quarterly quota for case study candidates that each are comfortable managing. In low volume environments, a single large client may be the source of many different case studies focusing on different products and use cases.
  • Produce Client and Field Incentives: Work with management to create incentives for the field and clients to drive your quota. Clients may be offered additional support or a flat discount while the field may get additional compensation or have requirements that they must hit to unlock their bonuses.
  • Define Candidate Criteria: Not all case study applicants are the same. Some are politically incorrect, some too small, some too big, some too different, and others have a high likelihood of extended delays. Be specific in what you are looking for and the support that they will need to provide to be successful.
  • Maintain High Value Targets List: Case study libraries are seldom in balance with some key benefits over-represented and others offering little evidence. If verticals play a part in your solutions, then this issue gets bigger as you need balanced evidence between use cases and benefits as well as a vertical distribution. It is important to define and advertise high value targets in all these cases and perhaps a larger incentive for those that fit. 
  • Produce an Optimized Workflow: A workflow needs to be introduced that keeps things orderly, or logistics can spin out of control making it an unpleasant experience working with the customer evidence team. Workflows work best when documented and even better when digitized for collaboration and collection.

Ground Level – Raw Content

With optimized volume in place, the library is filling up, but the content is not that compelling. Facts are captured accurately, and aligned with features, but the conversation is about your functionality and not your customer’s needs. Is the story ho hum…missing some spice…everything is there but it bores the reader? Compelling content must be from the point of view of the audience in terms of their values, not yours – and of course, expressing benefits, not features.

Getting to the next level:

  • Target your Audience: Understand your audience pain points and desired outcome to turn your features into benefits.
  • Offer Use Cases: Define the major use cases for your product and optimize the product or service to solve that problem.
  • Deconstruct: Sometimes an all up end-to-end case study hides important proof points – consider branching off the original with focused short summary studies on individual important value points. Perhaps several focused studies and an overall case study.
  • Early Adopters/Focus Groups: Partner with early adopters to dive deep, discover new value, add new feature/benefits – improve early case studies. Trade discounts, support, personalization for feedback and case studies and you will get a more compelling, better baked product launch.
  • IT Showcase: Offer internal case studies, how your own company uses your product. Go deep and wide, easy access customer – full discovery.

Level 1 – Compelling

The content is compelling, focused on the audience and their needs, but it is a hard read that requires a lot of explanation. It has a lot of block text and few graphics to assist and no bullets or headers to offer easy document scanning. Even worse, the obvious typo here and there or poor layout and design gets more attention than the content. The case study, while raising interest, often gets put in the oversized “to read when I get time” pile.

Getting to the next level:

  • QA Optimization: Many case study vendors offer a lone junior writer leading to non-compelling collections of facts and features with poor grammar and misspellings. The most critical step in raising quality is to have a separate professional editor oversee the corporate voice and messaging for all case studies who finalizes each deliverable. Even better, include internal reviewers (marketing and or an industry specialist) along with graphic artists and layout experts to take the quality to another level. The more formal, transparent, and digital the workflow becomes – the higher the quality will rise and the more consistent improvements will become.
  • Field Assist: Talk to the field to see what case studies they need or what benefits are compelling to which audience.
  • Portfolio: It is important to look at the library as a portfolio of customer evidence and to identify any gaps. Does your solution offer five key values, but the evidence only is available for two out of five? It is important to prioritize your efforts to fill the gaps and perhaps change the interview questions to draw the other points.
  • Corporate Voice: What attitude embodies your company – are you a suit and tie or shorts and flip-flop type of company? Are you serious and sincere, or sparky and fun? How can you make the case studies sound like they were written by the company rather than a variety of personalities? By offering a corporate voice, you generate a familiarity with your audience that translates into brand champions – think about all the Apple groupies, you may be one of them. 😊
  • Graphics: A picture is worth a thousand words…so don’t make your readers read those thousand extra words – simplify their journey with graphics, figures, and charts that create that “Ah Ha” moments. The figures should be good enough that they can get the context of the paper from just viewing the figures.
  • Ease of Read: Like the graphics, the headers and bullet sections should offer a complete read for skimmers so that they can understand the case study without having to read each word. Bullet lists should have headers so that your audience can just scan the bullets. Headers should be compelling enough to inspire readers to engage each section. Quotes on each page should support the most compelling heading on the page. Complex ideas should be bulleted for easier consumption. Finally, if your audience are comprised of mostly 300 level readers, lower the readability level to at least a level below to increase readability. That requires the removal or defining of all jargon to be replaced with simplified terms or benefit statements.
  • Quotes: Not only do we want the quotes to pop on each page of the case study to support our text, we want to offer more than would fit to create a library of quotes that can be used outside the case study. In addition, we want to quote the client for any boasting in the paper so it doesn’t sound as if the company is bragging. In fact, there should be quotes throughout so that it appears that most of the text is in the customer’s words, not yours.

Level 2 – Quality

You have a quality assurance process in place to perfect and publish compelling case studies. It has a common corporate voice and is meeting the needs of the field and driving sales. However, the messaging is inconsistent and not aligned with corporate strategy. There is no cohesive surround strategy leading to a larger solution. There is no clear call to action that drives sales in a prescribed manor. There are also missed opportunities that could have been leveraged such as expanded quotes, competitive intel, newly discovered needs, or company feedback that can nurture existing customers into further purchases. The shelf life of these case studies are short as there is no attempt to update them or pull additional benefits once the client has had more of an opportunity to enjoy the solution.

Getting to the next level:

  • Messaging: Are you on point with the corporate, solution, and surround messaging to encourage a larger customer commitment or is your messaging conflicting and confusing?
  • Strategy Drafts: The client interview is typically the key limited resource in a case study workflow. A bar raising strategy can be to pre-write the content based on your field team to develop a perfect storyline and outcome with perfect quotes before interviewing the client. This allows the interviewer to direct the outcome and question in a way to capture optimized content in the client’s words. Clients appreciate you creating intelligent quotes for them to shine vs. recording their best effort quotes so offer them starter quotes to adopt or revise.
  • Next Step: Offer clarity in the next steps the client should take immediately to work with your company and a compelling offer to start right away.
  • Updating Case Studies: Case studies often are created too early losing much of the potential value and become stale quickly. Consider updating each case study on their anniversary to enhance the value and extend its shelf life. This is also another way to nurture existing clients into further upgrades.

Level 3 – Consistent

You now have a nice volume of compelling quality case studies that have consistent messaging and offer a strategic view of the surround corporate offerings. It is set up to drive sales with a clear call to actions and is updated on a regular interval to extend the life of the case studies as well as nurture existing clients into further purchases. However, your effectiveness is limited by limited distribution and a lack of visibility to your field and the clients.

Getting to the next level:

  • Portal: Create a searchable portal that is open to your field and partners that they can use to find the correct case study for any prospect as well as contact you for specific needs, submit opportunities, or even make requests for specific scenarios. This portal should highlight new or trending case studies and offer filtering for tech, vertical, region, or even audience focus – C-level, business unit, technical, etc. The portal should also be open to customers with internal or field specific materials and content hidden behind a login secure environment. Being open to the public offers organic search availability to find new prospects as well as self-service opportunities to existing customers.
  • Repackage: Common field requests can be handled by repackaging existing case studies with a new scenario focus that meets the field needs in an area that is yielding competitive results.
  • Field Newsletter: Create or collaborate with an existing field or partner newsletter, email list, or blog portal to offer a view into the best and newest case studies to drive case study library use effectively.
  • Customer Newsletter: Create or collaborate with an existing customer newsletter to showcase related case studies that contextually highlight new use cases and even surrounding solutions to extend existing customer solutions. By adding commenting capabilities, you can also build community to nurture existing customer relationships, build community, and drive new business.
  • Community: Building a customer community portal for seeking help, sharing ideas, and optimizing solution utilization, a stream of case studies can drive conversations between the field and their clients to improve satisfaction as well as increase spending.
  • Feedback: Now that distribution is being considered, developing a feedback loop with the field would be in your best interest. This will point out any missed errors quickly, offer further insight that may help to improve the case study in question or all case studies, and it encourages participation in the process. This open communication if done right will yield significant benefits for your customer evidence team as well as the field that they serve.

Level 4 – Distribution

Your case studies are widely distributed and making an impact on the bottom line. Your readership is consistently improving and your communications are now two way between the customer evidence team and the field. You have developed an appetite for more studies and even drives suggestions and opportunities to produce new ones. However, your results are limited to existing customers and those prospects that the field reaches out to specifically. Organic search results are minimal due to a lack of SEO optimization and social media engineering.

Getting to the next level:

  • Persona Versions: In some cases, a wide variety of personas read the case studies with differing pain points, interests, and values. There may be times that it makes sense to offer modularized sections to fit the requirements of the reader. While this is more effective with the correct technology – Sitecore, etc. – there can be multiple persona copies of the same case study offered internally to manage that need manually.
  • Social Media Engineering: Many case studies are in traditional PDF printable formatting with enhanced layout. While this serves its purpose, it should be also optimized to be uploaded on a website as HTML and perhaps simplified to be appropriate for a blog. Social media is an internet sensation built on links and ease of use so the content should be optimized as such providing links to definitions, resources, product pages, client solutions for which your solution was applied, and even customer websites and resources. The social media outreach will link to this material and may occur in any channel from mobile device or phone to PC / web requiring it to be optimized for each. Remember….mobile first.
  • Social Listening: Social listening tools offer a new view into online discussions allowing your team to engage at the source of the conversations. The resulting intel provides insights into influencers that deserve attention as well as topics of interest that drive your key words or product name. If you can determine what those core conversation are, why not own them by optimizing your content to address those needs and answer those questions. Retitle your case study to be an easy find for those that search those keywords or hashtags to drive immediate volume to your document.
  • SEO: Leveraging the social listening and internally generated lists of key words, sprinkle those words into your content, metadata, and alt text as well as other SEO optimization techniques to drive organic search engine traffic.
  • Blogging: Blogging and video blogging have become popular avenues for receiving targeted in formation providing viewers with much more personalized information options from their favorite sources. Blogging also generates favored SEO context as it is new, lively, and link laden bring your content to the top of organic search results. All anyone has to do to see this is to search on a question and view the number of blogs that show up on the first few pages of search results. Video blogging takes it a step further, but requires a higher investment in time and resources.

Level 5 – Segmentation

You have reached the current pinnacle of customer evidence effectiveness and are now limited by the current state of CMS technology and its ability to automate the segmentation of your prospects and clients. Your biggest opportunity to raise the bar is to go back and perfect all the levels below which is leveraged by this level. However, as the CMS technology progresses, there may be opportunities to improve the status quo.

Getting to the next level:

  • Technical Advancements: At this level we are limited by technology and integration. As efforts are made to fully integrate your systems and automate your efforts in your digital transformation journey, opportunities to advance your effectiveness will present themselves to those that remain aware.
  • Automation: The key supporting technology to effectively scale segmentation is to automate each level of personalization. Improvements in this area are paramount to future scalability and effectiveness.
  • Focus Groups: Testing your assumptions through focus groups offer key insights and often lead to unexpected opportunities.
  • Dashboarding: Dynamic management of your efforts based on real-time results will dramatically streamline your efforts and maximize resource utilization. Why waste time and resources on an ineffective strategy. Those resources can be diverted to areas that show promise.

Putting it all into Perspective

These figurative levels are not etched in stone, but are an illustrative view into how ClearDiff evaluates and raises the bar on its client’s customer evidence team workflow. It all starts at the beginning with obtaining a volume of case study opportunities with each following level based on the prior building a foundation going forward. This cumulative effect means that the earlier disciplines are significantly more important that the later. A crappy ineffective case study is still a crappy ineffective case study no matter how widely distributed or segmented for each audience. In fact, distributing a crappy case study is likely to shake the confidence of your customers and lose sales which is exactly the opposite of your intentions…..so don’t do that. 😊

To raise the bar with your customer evidence team:

  1. Determine Starting Point: Study the framework graphic above to determine where you are and where you want to go.
  2. Access Underlying Levels: Access the quality of your foundational levels to determine areas that require work.
  3. Prioritize Fixes: Prioritize your goals beginning with the lower level fixes prior to the more ambitions leaps.
  4. Implement a Game Plan: Based on your priorities and your future goals, create a detailed game plan including dates and measurements to evaluate progress.
  5. Dashboard Progress: Dashboard your progress as much as possible to offer real-time visibility into progress to allow dynamic steering to maximize results.

While this methodology is available for anyone to raise the bar for their customer evidence team, sometimes it is better for a fresh objective set of eyes to access and assist – that is what we are there for at ClearDiff. Feel free to take advantage of ClearDiff’s free consultation if you would like additional assistance. If you are just looking for a vendor to create case studies for you, we can do that too. Regardless, we would love to hear your thoughts and experiences in implementing these techniques in our comment section. If we missed anything that you feel is important, please comment and we will add as appropriate. If you would like to see more of this type of content or have suggestions for specific content going forward, please feel free to make suggestions and make sure that you sign up for our newsletter to get each additional blog entry.

This  “raise the bar” system summary is written at a very high level to give us a general direction for how we can improve. In future blogs, we will take a deeper dive into each level and discuss specifics on techniques to raise the bar from there. Our blog posts will start at the beginning diving deep into the lower levels and work forward to build a good solid foundation first. Until next time, I will be hanging out in the comment section below.

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