Not all B2B case studies go well. Here’s a cautionary tale.
Our product manager told me, “We need you to interview the VP of Marketing at Zog Systems and write up a case study on how they use our software tools.”
Fair enough. But.
“Wait. Why interview the VP of Marketing if you want a technical case study? Why not a VP or director of Engineering?”
“The VP of Marketing is the interview we can get. Make it work.”
Some marketing VPs are technically knowledgeable. They read constantly, tinker with the product and can keep up with engineers. And, they don’t mind that technology is made up of the cut-up dead chicken parts that engineers use to describe things. They know that their job is to turn those chicken parts into “finger-lickin’ good” marketing content.
But most VPs of Marketing don’t think that way about B2B case studies.
So, when we got the VP on the phone, he spent most of his time telling us about Zog Systems. He talked about Zog’s 24-carat, ironclad commitment to customer satisfaction, instead of how they use our software tools.
I gently guided him back to talking about our tools, but I could tell he didn’t know much about them.
I asked how Zog had used our tools. He said they used them in products that were “mostly consumer and high-tech electronics,” but he wouldn’t elaborate.
I asked him how our tools helped Zog make its customers happy. He said he couldn’t tell us about his customers (“too confidential”).
Our product manager was on the call, and she tried to pry some information out of him. But the VP misinterpreted the interview for a focus group. First he told the product manager how to make the tools better. Then he educated us on how we should position our tools against our competitors’ products.
45 minutes of almost nothing
After the call, the product manager said to me, “I thought that went pretty well, didn’t you?”
“No,” I thought.
“Sure,” I said.
The interview had left me with little more than a bag of rocks, but I was pretty confident I could make something of it.
So I wrote up the case study based on other information I had found, plus a few bits from the interview. The product manager liked the draft. She asked me to send it to the VP at Zog and to get some graphics from him to include in the piece.
That was in September. I reached the VP by phone in late November. “I’ve got too many things going right now and I can’t focus on that until next month,” he barked.
With every week that a customer doesn’t review a case study, it becomes less likely that it will ever see the light of day. In February, the product manager finally talked to the Zog VP, who gave her approval on the case study along with a graphic.
It wasn’t a disaster, but it certainly wasn’t a model of successful B2B case studies.
Moral of the story
- There’s something about VPs of Marketing as subject-matter experts that doesn’t always work to the writer’s advantage.
- Record your interviews, because if you can’t find any meat on the big bones, you need to be able to pick through lots of small ones to salvage a decent story.
- Inform any of your co-workers on the call that the objective is to get a story, not to collect product requirements.
And try to interview somebody with a technical background. They may not always enjoy briefing people, but it’s easier to write a story around the things they say.