Internal case studies are an unavoidable side effect of the modern reference programme; even the most efficient programme can’t avoid the customer’s comms department’s last minute change of heart.

This article offers some advice on how to get some value from an internal case study rather than just shelving months of hard work

We all know the scenario: you’ve got a Fortune 100 client to agree to be a reference, they’ve said ‘yes’ to a case study, everyone is waiting with baited breath to get their hands on the finished reference, then at the last minute the customer’s Comms department pulls the plug on the whole project.

It’s frustrating but it happens all too often. Maybe its because your IT contact wasn’t aware of corporate policy against providing third party references, or because the Comms department is reluctant to share the ROI details that make the reference so powerful, or maybe the customer just loses their nerve at the last minute at the prospect of the potential media attention once the case study goes public. Whatever the reason, at this stage too many resources have been invested to just shelve the reference altogether.  So what are the alternatives?

Go internal
The first option is to simply mark the completed case study for internal use only. This means that all of the content can still be used, including that ROI data that everyone is so keen to see, but no matter how clearly marked the document is, it only takes one sales person to ignore the ‘internal only’ branding and pass it to a prospect or client, leaving you with a potential disaster on your hands.

Best practice
If you’re worried about the information getting into the wrong hands, then changing the purpose of the copy could be a good option. Sales people are always keen to hear how their colleagues won their last big deal to pick up any tips and tricks they can use themselves. So why not turn the case study into an internal document that talks about how the deal was won. That way the end user is designed to be someone internal so there’s less of a risk that the copy will be passed externally.

Defined usage
Depending on the customer’s reason for not wanting to go external with the case study, you may be able to persuade them to go ahead with the document, agreeing to approve its use in a certain scenario. Maybe they will agree to the case study being used in a closed sales environment or ‘only by analysts’ – this way you still have a usable document that will still have a lot of value, however once this specific usage has been agreed it will need to be carefully adhered to.

Case by case
The other option is to reassure the customer that the case study will not be used unless they have given express approval. This will involve checking with a nominated customer contact every time someone wants to use the case study which can be a difficult and time-consuming process to manage, but will ultimately mean the content is usable externally, albeit with restrictions.

The other option is to remove any reference to the customer name altogether and just talk about ‘a global accountancy firm’ for example. You may think that this loses credibility when placed in front of a prospect, but if the case study is full of powerful business benefits the reader will be more interested in the hard facts, than the actual name of the customer.