So I’ve been at this B2B technology game for a long time, and I know what you’re thinking when you see writeups on customers—what we refer to as “case studies” or “customer success stories” in the tech biz. In a phrase, you and I are thinking the same exact thing: pure and unadulterated bullshit.

You’re a skilled and savvy technologist, smarter than the average bear, and you can smell the “vendor puke” from a mile away (credit to Dave Vellante from SiliconANGLE and formerly Gartner for that gem of a term). And like you, I break them down into two buckets:

IT Fantasies: These types of studies are about onboarding a new technology to solve an IT problem, getting it up and running, and getting some benefit out of it. Vendors have marketing people turn the crank on these benefits, labeling them with fancy-pants, multi-syllabic terms and often ascribe value returns in such astronomical proportions so as to be outlandish, like the following: “A 100X return in multi-dimensional and comprehensive AI/ML-based automated recognition for disruptive scalability, democratization, and transformation from the Cloud to the Edge through Internet of Things (IOT)-based Apps that are revolutionizing industries and the core of digital transformation.” Seriously? When did John Chambers from Cisco get back in the game? At least that statement was confined to IT. Oh, and if the meaningless term “digital transformation” were not included in every other sentence, it means that the writer was not smart enough to win this week’s rendition of Buzzword Bingo and watches too much of Jim Cramer on CNBC (come on).

IT Sob Stories: Well, they’d be sob stories if I weren’t laughing my a$$ off. How many times have you seen crap like “[Vendor Name] is helping [Customer Name] Save Lives, Save the Amazon, Feed the World’s Poor, and Solve World Hunger?” Is there no shame in this age of Facebook-induced relentless hyperbole? What a load of crap. Technology is a tool that helps get the job done – period, end of story. We are not saving lives here, people. Even if the technology helps healthcare companies process genomic sequences, it is still a “digital chisel” in a skilled artisan’s hands. You want to save lives, then Godspeed – go be a doctor, nurse, scientist, EMT, physician’s assistant, etc. or go teach the next generation and pay it forward. Technologists are not saving the Amazon or ending world hunger, but if those work for you as bedtime stories to make you feel better, I’d recommend a quick scan of the VMware, NetApp or IBM case study web pages. We all know that the sob story format is simply a way to get you to look at the sobbing while obscuring a lack of any interesting technology or IT Fantasy.

Regardless of the flavor, these stories sure ain’t bound for the NY Times bestseller list or up for a Pulitzer. So, as you can see, I’m as jaded as you are. When I see customer success stories that follow this predictable course*, I call bullshit right away. So with that, I’ll endeavor to tell you some straight up facts and ‘do my worst’ to avoid the trappings of techno-babble infused IT Fantasies, and I’ll never go IT Sob Story on you. You’ll get just the facts and I’ll also look at the different paths customers were considering because we learn not from seeing the final outcome, but from seeing what they considered and why they chose the path they did.

Cue the Thunderbolt*:


*Case studies are some of the most predictable pieces on the planet, kind of like an episode of The Bachelorette, moving along the from a “Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” (thank you Bob Dylan) to “Sunshine Daydream” (thank you Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter) plotline. You’ve likely seen this progression before:

  • Scene 1: A storm is brewing on the horizon, but not just any storm — the storm of the century! Yup, a “Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall.”
  • Scene 2: And then comes “thunderbolts and lightning, very, very frightening” (thank you Freddy Mercury and Brian May). The storm touches down and we’ve got an IT problem, but not just any old problem, one of such epic proportions that we had to invoke Queen and declare it a 100-year flood. We are never given insight into why the storm occurred  — chronic neglect, naïve and ignorant CEO, chintzy CFO, CapEx purchase freezes due to a decaying business model, global competition, or just a crap CIO whose left the building — but it’s wet now.
  • Scene 3: Head in hands, our besieged IT protagonist faces certain doom, but can our protagonist overcome? Hard to say right now, since the pathway to daylight is so windingly mysterious and complex. 
  • Scene 4: A different kind of thunderbolt – a flash of light revealing… wait for it… a path, a path! Like a gift from the Gods, a new and clear pathway to safety emerges in the form of…
  • Scene 5: … a new technology! Yes! Must be a new idea from Elon Musk or maybe just some new software or gear to replace the old rotting heap. That’s so boring I’m going to need some popcorn and Red Vines to cheer me up.
  • Scene 6: Cue “Sunshine Daydream:” Victory, peace, and tranquility have now overcome, and not just in IT, but across the very landscape of the customer’s business and indeed the planet! Behold the new shiny tech object in its radiance and bow down to it!
  • Scene 7: Fade out before the customer moves on to a different vendor, requiring the marketing person to face a critical decision: should the case study about a bygone customer come down like statues from a bygone era, or is shall it live in blissful perpetuity? Yes, I once bought a Toyota Corolla, so I guess that purchase at the age of 15 makes me a case study customer for Toyota for life!

I supposed I could summarize this more simply: case studies are an ode to Wendy’s legendary “Where’s The Beef” ad. Instead of meat, we get a “Big Fluffy Bun.” By the way, if you’ve read all this, here’s the playlist from this blog with a few extra songs.