Social proof: the value of customer case studies and testimonials

Business and government buyers need what we all need when spending a lot of money on something unfamiliar: plenty of reassurance that it won’t be a horrible mistake.

That’s why customer case studies and testimonials are such an important part of your commercial value proposition, your pre-sales collateral and your proposal toolkit.

Think of customer case studies and testimonials as the shop window of your proposal. They help prospective customers decide you are worth a look. They engage interest by telling stories, rather than just relating facts and figures. They convince prospects to buy, without you needing to sell to them. And they showcase your value from the only perspective that really matters – another customer’s.

Why we value social proof

Human beings are, by nature, tribal. We have always trusted the recommendations of people who are like us, over anything that an organisation might want to sell to us.

This search for ‘social proof’ is baked into our buying pathways. We ask friends and family for recommendations. We search online for reviews and opinions. We are easily swayed by the experiences of others.

The explosion of product review sites over the last few years shows that social proof is more important than ever.

A study by Socialnomics found that 90% of people using social media trust peer recommendations, but only 14% trust advertisements. Another, by Social Media Week, discovered that we trust the recommendations of website reviews (54%) almost as much as the opinion of professionals (58%).

The problem with case studies and testimonials

Unfortunately, most organisations that sell to business and government struggle when it comes to developing customer case studies and testimonials. The problems fall into three main areas:

1.     Volume – there simply aren’t enough customer case studies or testimonials in your toolkit.

2.     Value – what does exist is out of date, is too dry and technical, or doesn’t relate to the kind of business you are pursuing now.

3.     Validation – Case studies talk too much about what you did, and not enough about the impact of your work from the customer’s perspective.

Three problems, with three simple solutions

What best describes the challenges you and your team are experiencing with customer case studies and testimonials? Is it volume, value, validation, or a bit of all three?

Here are three simple things you can do to resolve these problems, and to build the social proof that helps you talk about what you do so people want to buy it.

1.     If your problem is not enough case studies (lack of volume), start slow to build momentum. Stop trying to get 100 case studies done at once. It simply isn’t going to happen. Instead, ask each member of your team to deliver only one case study, and arrange a report-back session in a week.  The goodwill generated from sharing these success stories will build an appetite for more.

2.     If there’s insufficient value in your case studies, define the progress you helped each customer to make. According to Harvard Professor Clayton M. Christensen, architect of the theory of disruptive innovation, customers don’t really buy products and services; they ‘hire’ them to make progress in their world. When you can define each customer’s progress goal, you will create a more compelling context for describing what you did, and therefore the value of your results.

3.     If your case studies lack customer validation, make it easier for customers to give it to you. Asking customers for testimonials and outcome data can be tricky. There’s the issue of picking the right moment; should you write a testimonial yourself if they ask you to (no); and how to get them to follow through when they do agree. Here is a better way.

Choose a good time, like the end of a project, or where you’ve just done something you know they appreciate. Write a list of three things you’d like the customer to talk about, including the outcomes you’d like them to validate (would you say that this project was delivered five days ahead of schedule/what you were expecting?). Ask for five minutes of their time over the phone for an interview. Put them on speaker, and record what they say using the voice memo or your phone, or an app like www.rev.com. Have the interview transcribed, edit out anything unnecessary, and send it back to them to see if they would like to add anything (not for approval – they already gave that when they agreed to be interviewed). Done – and onto the next.