Here’s a fun story. There is a case study that is currently on the website of a sales technology company. Other than having a mutual client, our company has no affiliation with them, so we’ll just call them AwsumTek. Unless we had systematically dissected all of the claims in AwsumTek’s case study and compared them to our mutual client’s raw sales data, we would have dismissed the study as totally unbelievable. But our examination was thorough. Every single claim that this company makes is 100% factually accurate. It’s really a fantastic story.

The case study focused on a pilot launch of AwsumTek’s sales efficiency product. AwsumTek’s website claims to make every sales rep more effective from the moment they first start using the product. They promise that the technology will: Increase sales! Reduce Cycle Times! Increase Deal Sizes! Remove All Predictability Challenges!

The case study goes like this: AwsumTek’s product was piloted with 1,000 sales opportunities. At the end of the pilot, here’s what they found:

  • The sales team won 898 of those 1,000 opportunities. 102 of the deals lost or were still open at the time of publishing. Allow us to take the liberty of doing that math for you: This equates to an 89.8% win rate. This is especially staggering considering the company’s 5.7% average win rate over the same period.

  • The average cycle time on these 898 winning deals was only 13 days, which compares to the company’s average cycle time of 79 days!

  • The average price discount on these deals was less than 1%! WOW! The company’s average price discount was 12.5% over the same period.

Shortly after AwsumTek published the case study, our mutual client asked us to review their sales data and make sure that the data supported the claims made in the case study.

We reviewed the case study word by word.

At the end of our exhaustive review, we can definitively say that there was not a single factually inaccurate claim on the website or in any of the case studies! Every data point that the company provided is provably correct. We assume that the same can be said of the dozen or so other case studies on AwsumTek’s website. There’s a nice case study library right in the middle of their homepage.

Sign me up, you say? But wait! There’s more! These guys must really believe in their product because they are willing to give it away for FREE for thirty days! F-R-E-E! Zero cost whatsoever and they assume all the risk if you don’t like it!

We sell a mathematics-based sales technology, so we should know a good technology when we see it. We had been searching for the Holy Grail and were sure that we had found it!!

Except there’s one tiny detail that we uncovered (unraveled, really). And – ouch – this was a tough one.

It’s all a steaming pile of BS.

AwsumTek’s case study didn’t directly make any specific factually inaccurate claims. It’s what they didn’t say that is causing the gut-wrenching stench that you are probably starting to get a whiff of.

They didn’t lie. They were just expecting the readers to connect a few creatively placed dots and lie to themselves. Shockingly, it turns out that this happens all the time. Are marketing classes suddenly all teaching from the same text book? Maybe we just weren’t paying close enough attention.

This creative storytelling school of marketing has an unflappable willingness to cleverly use data to convince the audience of the powers of whatever they are selling. In this case study and their supplementary messaging, all the textbook’s dirty tricks are on display.

Comparing Apples and Antelopes:

AwsumTek paints a picture of legitimacy by giving us a few details that one might expect to find in a scientific study. They tell us that they are looking at distinct populations – one of which used the technology (indicative of a scientific test group) and one that didn’t (control group). They never tell us that there are major differences between the test group and the control group (which of course there are); That would obliterate the narrative that they were trying to tell us. Instead, they slyly mention lots of other data point that we would see in a scientific study. The message is, it’s an apples-to-apples, scientific study! Now stop asking questions so we can get to the good stuff!

Of course, they skip over a few details to on their way to the good stuff. Comparing an 89.8% win rate and a 15.7% win rate was totally irrelevant. The company piloted the technology with the renewal managers for a product line that has almost no viable competition. For several years running, the client had successfully won approximately 90 percent of these renewal opportunities…exactly what they produced during this pilot with the new technology. Likewise, the cycle time and price discounting levels hadn’t budged when we look at this product line’s renewal history over several years.

My, What Big Numbers You Have:

Big numbers tend to strike a psychological nerve. 1,000 sales opportunities and the 898 wins feel like big numbers. AwsumTek’s clever marketers hit us with these stats in the first paragraph to ensure that our collective subconscious would be screaming “This is legit!” For most companies in their target market, 1,000 sales opportunities is a healthy subset of the total opportunity pool that they would see in a year. However, this case study was done on a multinational company with dozens of business units and products. 1,000 opportunities represented a drop in the bucket for this company which had tens of thousands of opportunities open at the time of the “experiment.”

Trust us! But if you don’t its free anyway!

By combining these case studies with “free trials,” marketers are encouraging prospective buyers to think that they have nothing to lose. Anyone would be crazy not to try it! But once again, we have to look at what isn’t being said. They’re not accepting your money today, but they certainly aren’t going to take on any expenses either. The free trial business model is a do-it-yourself model. In giving away their products for free, they know that a prospective buyer’s IT resources will be taxed over the trial period. This comes at cost of doing something more valuable for the company over that time. This opportunity cost is still a cost, and they know that many people will be hell bent on making something work when they have made an investment – regardless of the lack of value that has been gained at the end of the trial period.

In the end, AwsumTek’s marketing tactics should draw suspicion. The tactics don’t necessarily prove that their product is useless. That’s for their clients and prospective buyers to decide. However, until buyers start asking tough questions about what hasn’t been stated in the case study and how much a free trial really costs, the tactics are sure to continue.