Case Studies. They are the new buzzword after "engagement" and "business metrics" grew stale. As social media matures and splits into more familiar territory (customer service, marketing, PR, Sales, recruiting, operations), the cry for case studies is now spoken at every conference, and written in the blogs and tweets of charming consultants everywhere.
Case studies are not science. They are marketing tools written by copywriters to help a client make a sales decision. They are a risk management tool for buyers that can be compared to a reference check on a company. Half the point is to show the prospect that other companies they recognize have paid you, the second half is to prove that you're not just making this all up. Most important, case studies are written to persuade, not explain.
So why the fetish? Why do so many people write blog posts where it's assumed that having case studies gives authority? Mostly it is because they don't understand the purpose behind case studies.
Let's assume you watched that, which I strongly urge you to do. After making the claim, this is the point where I'm supposed to back off it and say that case studies are actually important. I'm not going to do that. I won't deny that prospects often demand them. I won't deny that some prospects have case study requests embedded in their RFP's.
I will state that good salespeople don't need them. If you buy the proposition that case studies serve as an informal reference check, then you can recognize that a request for case studies after a presentation is a vote of non-confidence in your presentation or your company or in you. Asking for more information on how you worked with another company is known in sales parlance as an objection. The case study company is different. It's structured different. It has different communication and market advantages. How relevant is a case study written to showcase your success?
Do you know when case studies are useful? It's when they are written internally as part of an after-action report for a project. Self-evaluation, which includes critical analysis, is as important for a company as it is for an individual. A Case Study that explores where you succeeded and where you failed is of more use in working with a client because it suggests a willingness to learn from past mistakes. It shows an interest in how things get done, instead of a marketing tool intended to ease fear.
In evaluating candidates and companies, my goal is to find out what they know and how they approach problem solving. A case study, like a resume that shows sales numbers without explaining how they achieved them, is only a tool to filter applicants. Let's quit pretending they are more than that.