The what, why, and how of case studies

You can tell potential buyers how great your product or service is, and the benefits they’ll get from it, but sometimes they need to hear it from someone that’s not a sales rep.

So it makes sense that case studies are an effective and popular sales tool — as of 2015, 77% of companies had case studies as part of their selling strategy. Not only do case studies allow potential buyers to see the successes of your current customers, it allows them to draw parallels to similar problems they’re also trying to solve. Think of it as a current customer speaking to a potential customer about how much your product or service has helped them.

Case studies are powerful stories that help you gain new clients, regardless of your industry, and are an important part of your sales enablement arsenal. Let’s take a look at what goes into an effective case study, and how you can start creating your own.

The what and why of case studies

Winning new clients is arguably more difficult than ever before. Consumers crave information, and have plenty of it readily available (the internet wasn’t nicknamed the “information superhighway” for nothing). Gaining new business involves presenting your company as a reliable, trustworthy source of information.

When done well, case studies illustrate a problem that your potential clients can identify with and show how your company solved it. Since they include direct quotes and, ideally, quantitative data, they help build that trust that’s so essential to gaining new clients.

The key is to tell these stories in an engaging way that points to the benefits of your product. Case studies are sales tools, but — like most modern sales and marketing content — they should contain useful information, not just hard sells.

How to create compelling case studies

As you’re creating case studies for your business, think about which clients would make the best subjects and what you need to ask them to get the information you need.

Select a subject

The best subjects know your product or service well and have had exceptionally positive results with it. Ideally, they switched to your company from one of your competitors. And if they have a recognizable name, even better.

Make sure that potential clients can identify with the problem(s) your company has solved for them. Once you have a shortlist of potential subjects, let them know how much you enjoy working with them and that you’d like to feature their company in a case study.

Calendars fill up quickly, and you need to be mindful of your customers’ time. Include a timeline and quick overview of what they can expect. Language like “Our case study process typically takes two weeks to complete” and “We’ll discuss the following things during our call, which should last no more than 30 minutes” helps to set expectations.

Send out an overview of the materials you’ll need to create the case study (a picture of the company, logo, etc.), an overview of the process, and a list of questions they can expect you to ask in the interview — you can even go a step further and send out a questionnaire ahead of time. This will help your subject prepare so that you have a better chance of getting quality responses, complete with stats and figures.

Putting it all together

When writing a case study, create a narrative and tell a story. Think of the essentials: identifying your client’s key frustrations, outlining why they switched to/chose your company, and quantifying how your product helped them succeed.

Now that you know what you need to say, think about how you want to say it. Tone is key with case studies — too dry, and nobody will want to read it. Too enthusiastic, and it’ll read like a dismissable sales pitch. Casey Hibbard lists ignoring the audience as the No. 1 misstep in her eBook “The Top 10 Mistakes Case Study Writers Make.”

To avoid falling into that trap, think about your audience and what will resonate with them before you start writing. Put yourself in their shoes — would you want to read this case study? And of course, breaking up text blocks with pull quotes, subheaders, infographics, sidebars, images, data points, and other visually appealing items is a failsafe tactic to make your content more engaging. You want potential buyers to really engage with your case studies, but you also want the most important information to stand out for those that skim through it.

Final steps

Always share your first draft with the customer to make sure that you’ve captured the story they told you. Once they’ve signed off on it, ask them to share it with their own network. Your case study is essentially free promotional content for your subject, so gently encourage sharing through their social channels, email lists, etc.

As you build a library of case studies, make sure to diversify them as it fits your business, whether it’s by pain point, industry, company size, etc. This gives your sales team a full deck of cards they can play with, and to include in their proposals for that extra edge to close the deal.

Sheree is a marketing copywriter and editor with an extensive background in content creation. She loves writing for a variety of publications and companies, distance running, and traveling as often as possible.

Related articles