Have you ever read a case study from Microsoft?  I bet you haven't.  More likely, you've been sent one (it got shifted about on your desk for a bit and then filed in the bin), you've sent one to a customer (but didn't really read it yourself) or you've never thought about it at all.

I'm not having a go at the standard of our case studies (I could but I'm not) - no I want to understand what the point of written evidence is - really - in terms of closing deals.

If you talk to the sales force, what they will tell you is that customer evidence needs to be quantitative.  They want TCO, ROI and if they can't then at least some numbers.  They use customer stories in the 20-60% phase of closing a deal.  At the beginning they use them to open doors to get a chance to talk about the opportunity with a new lead.  Customers like to feel there are other people - especially companies like them, who have taken the plunge and lived to not regret it.

Trouble is that ROI for Microsoft Office is a difficult story to tell because the value is in the Office-as-a-platform strategy.  If you just think about Office as a desktop refresh you will see some good benefits but they are hard to quantify.  Productivity is hard to put a number on - who's to say that with that extra 2 minutes you saved on that PowerPoint deck will be spent on phoning another lead rather than having a chat with your friend about Big Brother?  Mind you if that makes you happier at work then maybe that's good although few companies would see that as a sufficient business case for an EA renewal.

Decent ROI has to look at the wider picture but then it gets tricky because one firm will do Excel Services and another will build an InfoPath workflow, another will just do SharePoint teamsites.  Without the server piece, the case for Office is harder to make - no doubt about it.  Unfortunately it is harder to genercise then though whilst also making it specific enough to be much use.

Whilst a story from the same sector as you is interesting, I also believe that customers are capable of applying the lessons from another industry and in many cases there is more fresh thinking to be gained outside your own patch.  I've found that sector alignment is much less important than scenario alignment.

Also where does PR and evidence interface?  We seem to spend ages getting to something on www.microsoft.com/casestudies before we think to suggest to the press that it is a good story.  If people are just looking for reassurance then maybe we should focus more on live interviews rather than written down stories.  At launch we were able to do press releases about the deployments at QinetiQ, Capgemini, BT and Newham Borough Council and we are still waiting to do the full case study on these references for various reasons. 

It's why I keep doing candid interviews on the blog because people somehow feel free to just talk about what they did when there isn't a three month review cycle with legal and communications/marketing.  I think we should do PR on our stories right away and if the story turns out to be interesting to people, maybe we select written stories on that?  If we do early coverage on a story, we can always go back in 6 months to see what happened.  I believe our evidence would have more of an authentic edge if we did that - less glossy pamphlet and more real world good and bad.

What is your opinion?  What customer evidence have you been influenced by?  How did you hear the story?  What was useful about it?  What specific IW stories do you find regularly stimulate good sales discussions with your customers?  As a customer what would intrigue you enough to talk to your Microsoft account rep?

For some examples of some of our recent Office stories try these: