Looking at surveys of the content that most influences business buyers in their purchasing decisions, it's clear that case studies have been towards the top of the polls year upon year.
In this post, I will give you some solid tips to write the ultimate case study. And explain why this process can lead to better business practice and, ultimately, more business.
Pick a problem that most of your customers will have
You should strategically approach the choice for a case study – don't just pick the easiest to write up. A case study should solve a crucial problem that most potential customers face and instantly relate to being as effective as possible.
The more they have in common with the issues covered – the more likely they are to not only read the study but be influenced by it when it comes to purchasing decisions.
Use a customer that's well known to your audience
If possible, the case study should feature a well-known customer within your target market - a business that is well respected and typical of your audience. However, if given a choice between writing up a case study of a well-known customer with an atypical problem or a lesser-known customer with a typical situation, then go for the latter, as a potential customer being able to relate to issues addressed by the case study is more important.
Of course, given the time and resources, you would write up both case studies in an ideal world.
Summarise at the beginning
If you've read this far, I thank you, for we know many readers will not read past the first few sentences of any written piece. This means it is essential that at the very beginning of your case study, you outline to the reader the problem you are addressing and what they will gain by reading the case study. Show how the issue is relevant to them and how this case study will help them address their problem.
Tell it in the customer's own words
The customer featured in the case study must tell as much of the story as possible. Interview key staff and use their own words with minimal editing. This will make the case study more believable and more powerful. Honest words will add trust and credibility to the study.
If it's not possible to tell the majority of the study in the client's own words, make sure you at least get some key quotes. Here, video is a powerful tool because showing the customer saying the words adds credibility and authority.
The more input you have from your customer, the more influential the case study will be.
Conversely, without input from the customer, you might as well be writing the blurb for a company brochure, and you will miss out on the compelling power of a customer case study.
Did the clients have doubts about the project?
Most customers would admit to having some doubts or concerns going into a project – detailing these will help your readers identify with the featured customer. Don't be afraid of including these; it's always natural to have some questions, and the case study can point out how you addressed these doubts and concerns. It also helps with the next point…
Use storytelling and build in some suspense
A case study should be a story – the hero/heroine sees a problem, tries an approach, struggles to overcome and with the right help - triumphs and gets the girl/boy. Okay, so maybe not the last bit, but a case study should be a classic tale, nonetheless.
Try to build in some suspense so readers get caught up in the emotions of the unfolding story. Explain the scenario and lay out the required outcome. Emphasise what is at stake and the consequences should the project fail. Detail the problems, explain the issues, lay out all the doubts – then show how these were overcome, how your help produced the desired result and how good triumphed over evil (oops, sorry – got carried away again).
It is not necessary to make it all sound easy. That might make the story you are telling sound unbelievable. But do show your support for the customer every step of the way, your considered approach, and your steady, reliable approach, despite the customer's fears.
One approach would be to write the outline of the story first. Set up characters, major plot points, dramatic sequences, and so on. Then use this framework to arrange the customer's stories, quotes, illustrations, experiences, and feedback, ensuring that facts and real-world examples back up every point.
You start with an outline story – a work of fiction – but you end up with a factual, truthful, honest, documentary account that follows the same plot and hopefully has the same dramatic tension.
Use the case study to explain your working method
As well as telling the project's story, use the case study to explain how you work with a customer, your approach, your philosophy and highlight points in the story where you guided the customer. This needs to be done with a subtle touch – demonstrate rather than preach.
Use infographics and diagrams where possible
"A diagram is worth a thousand words" might be a paraphrase of a well-known quote – but it is undoubtedly true that a diagram or infographic can help illustrate a case study and break up an otherwise over-wordy narrative. Use a graphic to explain your working method, highlight the problem, or, better still, illustrate the benefits of your solution graphically and dramatically.
You can also use a breakout box or panel, with or without a graphic, to highlight a particular issue, feature a client interview, or go into more detail. Again, this adds interest and helps to break up long chunks of copy.
Use video and images
You can also use images and videos to help break up lots of text and attract the eye. Pictures of happy customers, customers involved in the process, or customers with your people working on the project – all lend credibility to the case study. People tend to believe images more than the written word. And if that is true of pictures, then it is ten times truer for videos. Seeing a video of a customer singing your praises is a powerful persuader. The more videos, the better – and the more customer staff featured, the better.
Videos of your own staff "on the ground" talking about how they approached the project are also helpful, but they need to be coherent and add something to the case study.
Make sure you have a before and after
Many businesses only think about doing a case study after the event and write about the issues retrospectively. Make sure you have solid evidence (again, videos are compelling) of the Before situation and the After solution. You will need this picture of the Before state to show the customer's issues and their impact on the business.
It would help if you also highlighted some before and after facts as bullet points in the conclusion of the case study.
Describe the issues clearly in terms that the customers will understand
When writing the case study, use the language and terms that all of your customers will understand. Relate particular problems to generic problems that all your potential customers might face. Try to make the approach and methods as universal as possible without detracting from the specific project's inherent details that make it accurate and true.
Facts and figures, along with personal tales of achievements
Whilst it is essential to have data-driven facts and figures to back up the project's success, it is also good to have personal stories from the customer staff involved.
These personal stories engage the reader and allow them to connect with the case study emotionally. The data will attract their logical mind and provide ammunition for proposals and presentations.
Get the boss's opinion
There are several reasons why getting a quote from the boss is important – it adds to case study credibility for a start, but a more subtle reason is that many B2B buyers have their bosses to please at the end of the day too. Getting a positive quote from the customer's boss should make a potential customer think that using you may help them impress their boss.
This also has another benefit; asking your customer's boss to contribute will make them feel valued and important – flattering them and bringing that existing customer closer.
Get a third-party view
Where possible, get a third party to comment on your solution – this may be the customer's customer, or it could be an independent assessor of some sort. This will add to the credibility and persuasiveness of the case study.
If the project involved working with other suppliers, it might prove beneficial to get a quote from them about how they saw the project progressing and what it was like to work alongside your company.
Detail any unexpected or side benefits
Don't be afraid to include any unexpected positive outcomes or side benefits. Your process of interviewing your customer and their staff should help to surface some of these "extras".
Little quirky tales that arise during the project or interviews of customer staff are always good. They give the case study personality, memorability and lighten the mood. I can't give you specific examples here, but always be on the lookout for short tales that amuse or make you feel warm inside.
Look to the future
Towards the end of the case study, include a few lines about the future, the customer's next goals, and how you will help them achieve them.
Showing how the case study sets up your client for their next growth step is an excellent way to demonstrate added value and the strategic nature of your product or service.
How has this helped you as a supplier?
What have you learned as a result of this case study? How has it helped you improve your service/product? A few lines on this will subtly illustrate that you are a learning, adaptive company, always striving to do better for your clients.
Summarise at the end with a call to action
The case study should finish with another summary – again outline the issues facing the customer, how you helped them, and the benefits gained. Point out how the same concepts, methods, and solutions could help other customers in similar situations facing similar issues.
Of course, the whole point of a case study is, ultimately, to win more sales, so a call to action at the end is essential. But it should be in keeping with the character of a case study – it should be simple, straightforward and to the point.
Now here's an extra tip that could revolutionise your business:
Work on every project as if it were going to be a case study
By approaching every project as if it were going to become a case study, you will improve your working methods and working relationship with your customers.
Getting a new customer to state the problems they face:
- outlining their fears and doubts along with what they hope to achieve
- laying out your approach to a solution (with diagrams)
- documenting the progress of the project at every stage
- involving a third party in the feedback
- asking the client for an honest assessment afterwards
If you can do that, you will find that planning and producing compelling case studies will help you win more business.