Posted in May 13, 2013 - 6:22 pm.by Tami Demayo
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Are quantified benefits the holy grail of B2B customer references?

In its role as a sales tool, a customer-reference case study works best when it provides quantitative benefits, such as ROI, cost savings, improved uptime, or shorter lead times. Numbers lend themselves to comparison of competing offerings. They are seen as more credible and compelling than word-of-mouth testimonials of business success.

So, it’s understandable that some B2B marketers want to see quantified business benefits in every case study. We advise our clients to seek out these metrics early on, when qualifying references for case studies. When we interview client account teams and customers, we probe for any savings, revenues or other quantified benefits that can be attributed to the recent technology implementation. Sometimes, we even ask customers to calculate dollar or percentage figures, when these are pertinent to understanding the business impact of the new technology.

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On the other hand, we’ve interviewed quite a few happy customers who couldn’t provide a single quantified benefit of using our client’s products. Yet they chose our clients all the same and would heartily recommend them to others. Why? Because, the interviewees say, our clients “understood their needs,” “exceeded their requirements,” or “were willing to go the extra mile to make their project a success.”

So how do you reconcile this emotional value with the corporate demand for rational (read: numerical) evidence of business success? What do you do when an otherwise valuable reference doesn’t meet this criterion?

Take a deep breath. Resist hopping on the numbers bandwagon. And stay real. Your prospective customers know that it takes time to realize the business benefits of new technology. They understand that plenty of big-ticket tech purchases have more to do with routine capital upgrades than strategic new applications. They don’t expect every case study they read to have benefits in the order of six-figure savings and 100 percent ROI in two months.

What they do expect is to understand why other customers chose your company. Whether those reasons are rational or emotional, they can make a significant contribution to closing a sale when they are perceived as sincere—as if your customer were talking to your prospects directly.

Keeping it real may not be the holy grail of customer reference programs, but for those of us who produce case studies, it’s fairly high up there.

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