The hardest part of creating customer case studies? Finding and convincing customers to share their stories.

That’s the bread-and-butter work of the Yesler advocacy team, and it’s why our clients hire us to build or accelerate their reference and evidence programs.

But a recent challenge in our work for the Microsoft 365 team upped the ante. Our job was to project manage and create a robust library of customer evidence, but there was no existing pipeline and time was limited. Finding enough happy customers willing to do public case studies was a feat.

Zero in on moments of happiness

We needed to quickly ramp up with potential customers who might share their stories. Naturally, we began with a list of those who’d previously volunteered to be a reference for the line of products. But that obviously wasn’t enough to get the pipeline we needed.

So then we worked with our clients to identify “moments of happiness and satisfaction” in their evidence program workflow.

In this case, one moment of peak satisfaction in the customer lifecycle was the period following a successful implementation. For our clients, project evaluations with customers and partners at the end of implementation became important for identifying and entering customers into the advocacy program.

An extra advantage for us was that some customers received discounted implementation services for a new product, which meant that they received extra support and care. To get a list of these customers, we worked with the program’s “First Wave” support teams. By tapping into this group, we built out a huge pipeline for recruiting. These happy customers were eager to talk about the support and attention they received and tended to share much more information about their projects than customers typically do. Information such as potential targets, implementation dates, integrations, deployment sizes, locations, contact information and so much more that is valuable to prospective customers who are evaluating evidence as part of their purchasing decision.

Although not everyone will eventually go public by doing a case study—some might give you a one- or two-line testimonial or only agree to participate in private calls with prospects—you get my point: pinpointing moments of happiness and reaching out to your happiest customers first (often with the help of customer support teams) yields participants.

Be smart with your timing

The timing of our outreach and recruitment was strategic. Because we’d worked across teams at Microsoft for years, we knew who to ask, when to ask, and how to ask. We knew to work closely with support engineers who could tell us when a customer had gone through a rocky implementation but had come out very happy at the end. The close relationships we’d forged across our client’s organization made recruiting easier and this benefited the Microsoft 365 program.

We found that it didn’t matter if implementation was difficult or lengthy; what really mattered to customers was the strength of the relationship with implementation and support teams. Being upfront about difficulties, taking steps to resolve issues, and providing good support all built trust. And these stories of triumph make the best evidence.

But finding that peak moment is like the story of Goldilocks and the three bears: Ask too early in implementation and they’ll still be under pressure to complete the project and won’t have success metrics to share. Ask too late and that euphoric feeling after completing a project will have passed. Some signs to look for to gauge whether it’s a good time to approach:

  • A respectful, trustful partnership has formed between the customer and the implementation support team.
  • The customer made positive comments during implementation.
  • The customer offered to be a reference or share their story during implementation.
  • The customer is beginning to see improvements in success metrics.

We relied on insights from the First Wave team to help us identify the right moment to approach. Not only did they help us keep our customer list updated, they shared other data, like whether customers were starting to see benefits from using the new technology. That’s another happiness high point—when customers are excited about results. A solid relationship between marketers and implementation and support teams helps ensure a good customer experience and improve participation in advocacy programs.

Focus on the benefit to customers

Make sure customers see how doing a case study benefits them and their company. When we pitch customers, we emphasize that.

For many on the Microsoft 365 program, doing a case study showed that Microsoft validated the individual customer as a thought leader in their company, their industry, and their region. The customer’s company is validated by extension.

People and organizations enjoy the recognition, and it helps their work shine above competitors. Plus, it helps feed some people’s desire to educate others who are experiencing similar challenges within their business.

Our work for Microsoft 365 led to some great public recognition for individuals and their companies. For example, our St. Luke’s Hospital case study was picked up by the Wall Street Journal. (Read the case study about our work on that program.)

But not everyone sees the same benefit to doing a case study. Some individuals don’t want public attention. Others see it as additional work on top of already full workdays. Yet others are restricted from doing public advocacy by company policies.

In our research into technology buyer preferences we found significant differences between buyers who recommended publicly and those who recommended privately, and that these differences had to do with how they approached information gathering and assessment. Public recommenders tend to seek information from others and are likewise more willing to give it in a public forum, while private recommenders tend to trust their own assessments and select recommendations from third parties and other recommenders. They prefer, as you might imagine, private conversations. Interestingly, both public and private recommenders find case studies to be among the most valuable marketing-created material.

Forrester has a similar take that also informed our approach. They delineate four advocate personas:

  • Educators like to take the public stage and share knowledge, tips, and tricks. They’ll educate others about your brand. 
  • Status seekers are more likely to go public in a big way, giving presentations on relevant topics of mutual agreement.
  • Validators are more likely to stay private. They like to go on record in conversation and may want to serve as a reference for the brand.
  • Collaborators are more likely to be private and participate in small, closed-door discussions, like advisory boards, about how to improve the brand or product.

So, be mindful of the kind of person you’re working with to identify what is important to them. Approach them based on how they prefer to engage.

Identifying customers who seek and enjoy public opportunities will help you find participants for case studies and other public content—especially when you’re under pressure to build pipeline. But don’t underestimate those who prefer to advocate privately. They’re just as important for your program because they’ll support sales teams with private reference calls, speak privately to analysts, and collaborate with product managers. They’ll also connect with buyers who like to engage the way they do.

Truly, many customers you talk to will turn you down for various reasons. But the practices above can significantly increase participation in your advocacy program and help prospective customers with their buying decision.

Trying to get a customer evidence program off the ground? We’d be happy to help. Read more about Customer Advocacy at Yesler, or just get in touch.