Before you hire a case study writer

You’re never really done producing case studies. As you acquire new business, you’ll always have more customer success stories to share. Get clear on these underlying questions to make your case study production process efficient:
● Do you really need case studies?
● Are case studies common and expected in your industry?
● Do you have customer success stories to tell?
● Are you spending too much time asking clients for a case study?
● What case study format will you follow?

Do you really need case studies?

They’re similar to industry awards. Once you begin winning them, you must continue to earn recognition. Otherwise, your solutions risk the perception of becoming stale. Fortunately, each case study will stay fresh for a few years. Your sales team will be able to reference and share them with dozens of prospects. However, you’ll need to maintain a steady production schedule. Like awards, your prospects expect you to continue acquiring new customers and to publish a portion of those customers’ stories.

Are case studies worth the effort? Many in the industry think so:

  • Among 283 B2B C-level executives, VPs and Directors across various B2B industries, case studies were the only type of collateral that B2B buyers considered “once they were at the point of evaluating a set list of solution providers.” (Source: DemandGen’s 2017 B2B Buyers Survey Report.) Share on LinkedIn. Share on Twitter.
  • Around 870 B2B marketers ranked case studies as the second-most popular content marketing effort (after social media). (Source: the Content Marketing Institute’s and MarketingProfs’s 2018 Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends—North America survey.) Share on LinkedIn. Share on Twitter.
  • 152 business technology buyers in the United States and Western Europe said that “customer, industry, or peer case studies” were the most valuable type of content for helping them explore and decide to make purchases. (Source: Forrester Research) Share on LinkedIn. Share on Twitter.

As marketing trends come and go, the rank of case studies in these surveys will rise and fall. There are, however, several reasons why they will always remain powerful marketing collateral.

  1. Case studies are an excellent way to show (not tell) your value to prospects who are at the vendor-comparison stage.
  2. If they’re well-written, they’ll help your reader empathize and identify with your customers’ challenges and triumphs.
  3. They substantiate your other marketing and sales collateral with your customer’s voice./li>

Are case studies common and expected in your industry?

Look at your competitors’ websites. Are they publishing case studies? To what extent? Where?

If your competitors are publishing case studies, but you’re not, you have to wonder what your prospects at the vendor-comparison stage will think.

What if your customers can’t give public endorsements? In industries where discretion is a priority—information security, financial services, and government, for example—clients may not agree to appear in case studies. Nevertheless, anonymous customer case studies are still valuable.

Yes, the client’s name and logo would provide attractive social proof. But under that first impression, prospects most want to know that you can fix their problems. You can illustrate your value and understanding of your prospects’ challenges without naming your customers.

Prospects in ‘sensitive’ industries will understand and appreciate that you are careful with your clients’ privacy. Just to be sure, you could even paste a notice near the bottom of your case studies explaining that you’re honoring your clients’ requests for anonymity.

Worried your prospects won’t believe anonymous case studies? Just explain that you’re respecting your client’s wish for privacy.
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Do you have customer success stories to tell?

Your prospects want to read about how you have helped similar companies face their challenges; how your solution can ease their pain. The more case studies you offer, the more chances you have to show that you understand your prospects’ problems.

Conversely, a lack of case studies risks giving the impression that your clients aren’t satisfied with your results, or that your company is immature.

If your B2B SaaS company is just starting its case study library, you have to profile any customer that you can. Start by writing a few that apply to several types of prospects. That way you’ll cover your bases and increase your chances of success.

Over time, that ‘take anything’ approach could lead to an imbalance between the types of companies profiled and the types of companies that are your best buyers.

Your results with those best buyers will be much stronger if a prospect can relate either to the ‘hero’ company in the case study or the problem they faced and the outcome they achieved. Prospects need to identify with your case studies’ characters. They want to read about a similar company overcoming a similar problem. But they also want to read about professional peers in similar roles overcoming similar problems.

The most effective case studies feature someone in a similar role to your prospect or explore a similar problem. If you have neither of those elements don’t produce the case study.
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Ideally, your case study library would be balanced in the same proportion as your target markets: you’d have more case studies featuring your best buyers, and just three case studies for every other customer type.

If you suspect your case study library might be imbalanced, ask your case study writer to audit a portion your current inventory. This will give him a better grasp of the conventions he should include in his first draft. His outside perspective will also help you correct any imbalances in your case study library.

You’ll know you’re working with a pro writer if he asks about your case study strategy. A major aspect of this strategy will be prioritizing those customers whose success stories will best support your current sales efforts.

Find best practices for choosing your case study heroes—and creating an easy reference for your sales team—in this corresponding post.

Are you spending too much time asking clients for a case study?

Ideally, you’ll be making the request at least every month. Create a template request that you can customize and send out quickly.

Your pitch packet should include:

  • samples of other case studies
  • a one-page description of the process
    • Explain how the case study could help build the client’s brand in industry publications, conference talks, webinars, etc.
    • Emphasize that the client will have the chance to request revisions.
  • an estimate of the time and effort they can expect to spend
    • 30-45 minutes for the interview
    • 1-2 hours managing their side of the review process
  • a description of how you’ll use the finished case study
    • Let them know what they can expect after their final approval
    • This will help your primary contact ‘sell’ the case study to internal teams (e.g. PR, Legal, leadership, etc.)
  • a list of example interview questions they can expect to discuss during the interview
    • Especially helpful if you believe that your contact will be able to generate some quantitative results with a bit of forewarning.
  • a release form, if your legal team requires it

What case study format will you follow?

You have three options: ‘traditional,’ ‘slide,’ and ‘feature.’ Which one you choose depends on how you plan to make use of your case study.

The traditional format is what probably comes to mind when you think of case studies. (See an example.) It follows an established structure, beginning with a description of the client, their challenge, the solution, and the results they achieved. It may also include a sidebar about the case study’s hero company and a quote or two from the hero.

It’s time for this established structure to take a break. It limits creativity and storytelling. That limitation may mean that readers gloss over the text quickly, lose interest, and close the file forever.

The ‘slide’ style attempts to compress the traditional format into a PDF formatted as a powerpoint presentation. (See an example.) Though case studies make great content for presentations, their great strength is their story format. The slide format squeezes all the interesting ‘juice’ out of the story, leaving a dry husk of a series of bullet points. Resist the temptation of brevity. Content formatted this way is quickly forgotten. It lacks all elements of story. You want your customers’ success stories to echo around in your prospects’ heads long after they’ve finished reading.

The ‘feature’ style of case study is the easiest to read and the most memorable. It looks and reads like a magazine article. (See this example written by yours truly.) It draws the reader in with the story and holds her attention until the conclusion. As a nice bonus, the format readily adapts to repurposing in trade publications.

If you want prospects to read and remember your case studies, write them like magazine articles.
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A feature case study, however, requires stronger research, interview, and writing skills from your case study writer. There is also a greater risk here of digression from your key message—how you helped your client.

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