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Not just another B2B case story

Does your B2B case story allow you to speak the truth?

How often have you read a B2B case story and thought that you’d seen it before, just from another supplier? Same old, same old.

I’ve seen it often. You realize that what you’re reading is another product brochure disguised as a customer case story.

I was recently involved in what could have been a very interesting story, covering the journey traveled by the company and customer. It was a journey describing a strong, long-standing relationship and the use of market-leading technology (sorry about the propaganda), careful attention to detail, and excellent customer service.

But, most interestingly, it also covered how the company solved unexpected challenges that arose during the implementation of the solution. For me, this was the essence of the story. This was where the story came to life. It described how the solution provider set itself apart from competitors, showing the real value delivered to the customer.

The problem was that by the time the story had passed through many pairs of eyes for approval, the essence of the story had been lost. All the real-world challenges – and their highly relevant solutions – had been removed. Why? Probably out of fear.

Credibility: the essence of the B2B case story

Two of the most important aspects of the B2B case story are credibility and truthfulness. This means dealing openly with difficult issues and not brushing them under the carpet. Most people can see through issues that are explained away as an attempt to hide a potentially difficult situation.

Some companies are petrified of hinting that their solution may not have been the exact answer to all the problems met along the way and that the implementation did not progress 100 percent according to plan. Yet to think otherwise is unrealistic – it’s the real world we’re talking about.

Particularly in multi-million dollar installations that may take thousands of hours in implementation, will anyone really believe that the whole project went swimmingly well? Really, to suggest otherwise is an insult to the reader’s intelligence. But how often do you actually see case stories that open up about this?

Masking the truth

“We can’t admit to our competitors that we may not have got this right,” is the common argument, mostly by a sales manager. What normally happens then is that the issue is written and rewritten in several iterations – each iteration becoming more and more vague, until finally the entire section is cut from the B2B case story altogether. And with that, a perhaps key differentiating feature is omitted, the story has lost its magic, and, most unfortunately, credibility is shot.

The B2B case story can too easily become just another piece of company propaganda. One CEO said to me recently that he did not want yet another ‘Microsoft-type’ story of an ideal solution that was perfectly implemented. He wanted it to be real.

Wise words. This may be what the CEO wants, but the sales team usually has difficulty coping with this when it comes to the crunch.

Put the reader first

Above all, the B2B case story needs to be created for the reader – potential customers – and not to allay the fears of the sales team. Perhaps what it takes is a more visionary approach and a willingness to challenge by the marketers who are usually responsible for producing case stories.

Regardless, we should not neglect the opportunity to tell a story that will truly engage and make a difference. A story has a beginning and an end and goes through a journey. That journey may have ups and downs, but it is the resolution of the issues along the way that make the journey unique and, quite simply, a better story.

How to write a B2B case story

There is plenty of advice out there on how to approach B2B case stories. Here are a couple of articles to get you started:

A B2B case study template by Econsultancy

Inspire customer creativity with innovative case stories

And here’s a comprehensive collection of over 150 case studies from well-known brands – it’s well worth browsing the list.

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David Hoskin

I've helped B2B companies create and implement international marketing and communications strategies since 1999. I've been fortunate enough to work with some great companies and highly talented individuals during the years. But the game's changing fast. Although my aim is always to create pragmatic solutions that produce measurable results, there are always new challenges to overcome. I studied engineering and music and I have an Executive MBA (with Distinction) from Henley Business School, University of Reading (UK). Today, I'm a partner at B2B marketing agency cylindr and BBN International. Here on Integrated B2B, I want to share my personal opinions and perspectives on the changing face of B2B marketing. I hope you join in the conversation, too.

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