How to get great case studies and testimonials from customers…

Case studies are hard. It’s so difficult to get a customer to agree to write a case study, generate a description of how they are benefitting from your product or service without revealing confidential information and then get approval from the customer’s legal team, or whoever is the gatekeeper of supplier endorsement.

But case studies are so important. They showcase your products in action, bring benefits to life and have an implied endorsement from the customer.

So if case studies are so important, how do we overcome the challenges? It’s not easy, but in our experience, there’s a lot you can do to make the process a little easier.

Put Yourself in the Shoes of the Customer Doing the Case Study

A customer is committing a lot when they agree to a case study. It’s not just the time to write it, it’s what the case study means for their future relationship with you.

The customer is going to tell you all the benefits they got from your product. They’re also going on the record saying that you are the best supplier. This is not what tough negotiators would recommend if the customer is to be in a strong position when trying to get a discount off next year’s maintenance or a repeat purchase. So customers feel they will be indebted to you.

Perhaps more importantly, customers are committing to you as a vendor. If your product fails, there is no way that they won’t get blamed if they allowed you to produce a case study. So not only are they weakening their organisation’s position for future negotiations, they are risking their own career progression.

Fortunately, it’s not all bad news. Case studies are a good way of promoting an organisation, and the individual you work with will raise their profile both inside and outside of their company. There are real benefits to case studies for both sides.

Think about the benefits, drawbacks and risks from your customer’s point of view and try to create as safe a situation as you can. A simple approach is to focus on what using your product or service has already achieved, rather than trying to make the case study about potential future benefits: less risk for your customer and frankly the story will be more compelling.

Good Salespeople Shut Up

We all know the image of the fast-talking salesperson who won’t keep quiet, but this is not how great salespeople operate. Once the customer has committed to the order, the salesperson knows that the customer can still change their mind and go somewhere else. So good salespeople avoid doing things that might make the customer reconsider their decision, and asking for a favour – i.e. time and endorsement for a case study – is one thing that many salespeople sensibly avoid.

There are ways to remove the real concerns salespeople have about case studies. Put a requirement for publicity into your contract. Wait until after the product has been deployed and has been used for some time (although this can be difficult as people move around and you might not know who actually uses the product). Or simply divorce the request from the sales process by getting someone external to ask: a good agency will be able to advocate for the benefits of getting publicity to your customer and there is obviously no opportunity for that customer to ask the agency for a discount on the original product or service.

[Almost] All Case Studies are Good Case Studies

There are always those big blue-chip logos you really want to see associated with your product. These customers are just so impressive. The only problem is that often their case studies are dull, and the work to get anything approved is immense.

When you get a case study or testimonial, you are borrowing some of the brand equity from your customer to promote your brand. Big customers instinctively know this, and if they are a much stronger brand or larger company than you, they’ll feel the balance is wrong.

So big customers are very, very careful about who they will partner with on a case study. They’re very, very careful about what they allow you to write. And they are very, very careful about having many people check and re-check to make sure they are not saying anything too positive. The process is painful, and the result is often bland.

Smaller customers are different. They see the benefit of being associated with you. They have much less to lose and much more to gain. They’ll tell you more about their use case, and will usually take much less time checking and getting approvals. You’ll get a better story with less effort. Of course, if the smaller customer has used your product or service to beat an industry giant, everyone will love the David vs Goliath narrative.

Our recommendation is not to focus on the one amazing logo, but to try to get many different stories from interesting users who love what you sold them. Don’t forget about the big guys, but equally don’t spend too much time on them.

One final point: there are a group of customers whose business is lending their brand equity to [paying] partners. Formula One teams do cool stuff at racetracks, and companies readily pay to be associated with the high-tech, exciting and glamourous F1 brands. In fact, the business of F1 is based on paying sponsors, so don’t imagine that they are going to be keen to endorse your product, even if it did help win the last Grand Prix. Unless, of course, you are a sponsor and have been smart enough to ensure that a case study is part of the deal.

Case Studies Should be Stories

It happens too often: an organisation writes about a customer and the resulting text reads like a mash-up between a brochure and a data sheet. Case studies are not sales pitches, and they should not focus on your product or service: case studies should tell a story from the customer’s point of view.

There are lots of good books on storytelling, and it’s definitely worth spending time educating yourself on how stories are written. If you want a short-cut, then checking out the seven story architypes is one approach (yes, some academics believe there are only seven types of story).

Most case studies are a quest or “hero’s journey”, which is defined as: The protagonist and companions set out to acquire an important object or to get to a location. They face temptations and other obstacles along the way. In our case, the goal is unlikely to be an object or location, but rather a business objective.

It’s important to remember that good stories have problems and challenges that must be overcome. Star Wars wouldn’t have been the same if Darth Vader had simply said, “Oops, my bad. I’m on the wrong side and will switch my allegiance immediately to the rebel alliance,” when he first met Luke Skywalker. The best case studies have obstacles, setbacks and even problems with your product or service, although it’s always a good idea to overcome those issues before writing the case study!

Don’t Forget Video and Images

We shouldn’t need to mention this but have seen several projects stumble because no one thought about how video and images make any customer endorsement more compelling. Seeing one of your users talking on video will have much more impact than simply inserting a sanitised quote into a description of how you helped them. Make sure you’re getting as much visual content as possible to bring the application to life.

Preparation is Everything When Interviewing Customers

The most important step of any case study or testimonial project is the time you interview the customer to find out why they are so happy with the purchase they made. Not only do you need to ensure that you dig down to find the real story, it’s a crucial time to enthuse the interviewee so that they push the project through legal and other internal hurdles to get it approved.

There is no substitute for experience, which is why agencies like Napier have a specialist writing team who have many years and hundreds of case studies behind them.

Don’t be Disheartened: Case Studies are a Numbers Game

People will say no to your requests. A lot of people will say no. But you’ve got to think like the optimistic door-to-door salesperson who believes that every no is one step closer to a yes. It’s not uncommon for companies to give up quickly on case studies when they have their hopes of an enthusiastic endorsement dashed by a risk-adverse customer. The companies that do have great case study programmes have failed many, many times but have the resilience to continue asking until they hear, “Yes, I’d love to work with you on that!”


I started this post by saying how difficult it is to generate case studies and testimonials. That’s never going to change, but by understanding why there is such reluctance on the part of your customer, knowing how to make the process smoother and being able to deal with the inevitable rejection, it’s possible to set up a great case study programme. I’d also recommend getting in external support: by using a skilled agency you will not only get access to the best writers, but you’ll also be able to remove some of the power dynamics from the negotiation, making it easier for the customer to engage. Good luck with your case study campaign and please do let me know how it goes.