Time and again salespeople tell me the most useful thing I do for them is to produce case studies. Compared to most communications output it’s unglamorous, yet it’s probably the single most powerful weapon in the B2B arsenal.

The case study shows potential customers that someone, ideally someone like them, is using a product or service successfully. However much a sales or marketing team sings that service or product’s praises it counts for nothing against the recommendation of a real-life user who has paid for the privilege.

A well-organised sales and marketing operation will have a library of case studies at its command, to be deployed selectively. You don’t want to bombard a prospect with paperwork. Rather you want to choose the cases that mirror most closely their own circumstances. That can mean the study’s subject is in the same sector. It could mean they face the same problems. Ideally it would be both.

The more closely the prospect identifies with the subject of the case study or their problems, the more effective it is. So too if the paper rings true.

Lots of people in PR and comms are afraid of the truth. They euphemise; problems are never problems, they’re challenges or issues. Projects always go smoothly, even when they haven’t. Success is always undiluted to the extent that the good lily gets an additional layer of gilt.

The trouble with that approach is that people are quick to smell a rat. Take IT; IT implementations almost never go entirely according to plan. There are always glitches. Gloss over these and you have an empty fairly tale. In all good stories there is an ordeal to go through, a crisis, a setback and eventually a triumph. True life stories work well when they follow a similar arc.

If you have the courage to unshackle your customer from the need to do a snow job for their supplier and let them tell it as it is then you get their unbridled enthusiasm along with the occasional admission that there were problems (yes – you can use the ‘P’ word). But that’s OK, because if the case is worth its salt, those problems were tackled together and overcome.

If you’ve got a really good case study you might think about an accompanying video. Put the customer in front of the camera and just let them talk. Let them tell it as they want to tell it. Video is only so effective a way of communicating information but it’s a great way of communicating emotion. You’re looking for sincerity. That gives everything that’s said weight. And don’t cut out the odd bit of grit – it’s the grain of sand that makes the pearl.