Anatomy of a Case Study: Five Steps to a Sizzling Sales Tool
36% of B2B buyers cite case studies as “important” or “very important” in purchasing decisions, according to University of Dayton Business School research. In fact, the case study can be among a sales team’s top allies (website, personal referrals, and technical data sheets rank higher). Effective as top-of-funnel hooks, bottom-of-funnel offers, and middle-of-funnel support, they are also among the most versatile of content.
But what makes a case study tick, and how do you ensure yours get the most bang for your marketing buck?
Wouldn’t it be great to have a step-by-step guide, complete with annotated samples and templates to download?
Well, you’re in luck. We’ve taken 13 years of case study writing expertise and condensed it into 5 critical steps to help you rock your company’s sales world.
Step 1: Focus on Goals and Audience.
Take time to identify the role of each case study in the company’s overall marketing strategy. Determine who are the intended readers, and what their needs and questions may be.
Step 2: Ask Good Questions.
During your interview with the subject company, press for specific details and stories, and cover at minimum these questions:
Important and related: Take good notes. If you’re meeting in person, bring a voice recorder–otherwise, open a file and type while you talk.
Step 3: Craft a Compelling Story.
There are many ways to do this, but in the course of more than a decade of writing case studies, we’ve found one particular story format to be highly effective in most cases, and relatively painless. Click on the image for a larger, easier-to-read view, or get in touch with me to request your copy & paste .docx.
Pretty straightforward, right? Conveniently, the answers to your interview questions above fit neatly into each section, meaning the crafting of the case study is relatively painless–if you’ve taken good notes.
Step 4: Avoid These Common Mistakes.
A poorly written case study can become a liability. Don’t let that happen to you.
- Don’t focus on how bad the subject company was before the solution was provided, or how the solution provider swooped in and saved the day. It makes everybody look bad, and the subject company is likely to veto it in the end. Instead, focus on telling a positive story that highlights the strengths of ALL companies featured in the story (see below for a sample).
- Don’t use extra words just to meet length. Keep it tight and to the point.
- Don’t get so caught up in telling the story that you forget direct quotes. You took detailed notes during your interviews, right? Edit some from-the-horse’s-mouth comments and drop those bad boys in there.
- Don’t be a mindless cheerleader. A bubbly case study full of “extremely”s and “luckily the subject company had just the right solution”s can be a big turnoff. Mark Twain once said, “Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re tempted to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.” Stick to the meat of the subject.
- Don’t forget the details. You asked for specific numbers and details during the interview, right? Now is the time to use them, front and center. Percentages, names, dates, dollar figures, conversion rates–get them in there.
Step 4.5: Keep this marked-up case study sample handy as you work. Then come back and share with me how it helped you.
Note: This sample illustrates most, but not all, of the guidelines suggested here–which highlights one final point:
Step 5: Don’t get too caught up in the technicalities of the work. Have fun and find the win. That’s what it’s all about.
P.S. Once you’ve got a great case study, make the most of it. Here are five easy ways to make your case studies work harder for you.
P.P.S. I would be remiss if I didn’t encourage you to sign up (top right) to receive more great content like this. Or, if you’re wanting to add some powerful sales tools to your arsenal, well, you know who does awesome case studies? We do. Contact us.
Fen Druadìn Head (formerly Heather Head) is an author, as well as the founder of Scopcity. When she is not writing, running the business, or chasing down bad guys on Twitter, she enjoys hiking, snuggling with her husband and three boys, and avoiding the kitchen.