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Anatomy of a Case Study: Five Steps to a Sizzling Sales Tool

Anatomy of a Case Study: Five Steps to a Sizzling Sales Tool

01.10.2013.

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:

Case Study Interview 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.

Case Study Template

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.

  1. 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).
  2. Don’t use extra words just to meet length. Keep it tight and to the point.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Case Study Sample

 

Case Study Sample pg2

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.

Author:

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.

Tom Mangan on October 3, 2013 AT 09 pm

Just edited one of these the other day and you hit right on the mark top to bottom.

By the way Hi from another North Carolina scribe — I’m over Winston Salem way.

    Heather Head on October 3, 2013 AT 09 pm

    Thanks, Tom! Glad you stopped by, and hi there. If you’re ever in Charlotte, give a holler & let’s have coffee. 🙂

      Tom Mangan on October 3, 2013 AT 10 pm

      I might just take you up on that … if I could ever get out of the house — like you I’m pretty much glued to my screen chasing gigs & whatnot.

      Speaking of content, I’ve written about a dozen blog posts on writing- & editing-related issues that might be fuel for thought on a future blog post … here’s my contently portfolio: https://tommangan.contently.com/pub/reputation-capital

      (Feel free to delete the link if you think it’s too spammy …. I just thought it might come in handy some time; you could’ve done a far better job on all of them, I suspect).

        Heather Head on October 4, 2013 AT 02 pm

        Coffee is how we chase gigs around here. 🙂 Seriously, it’s all about the relationships. Love your blog posts–you have quite an impressive background. Glad we connected.

          Tom Mangan on October 4, 2013 AT 05 pm

          We should form a mutual-admiration society — I checked out your blogs and I’m impressed with your writing. Any writer with a voice should never starve; I suspect you’ll do very well in your new business.

          I did a hiking blog for about six years and had much fun (guys and dirt, we just go together); had to give it up because my gig-chasing took over my life but I’m tempted to start a new blog at least seven times a week (I caught the bug in like 1996; I think those guys who invented Bleacher Report and are now millionaires were in diapers at the time).

          It’s refreshing to encounter genuine writing talent in the marketing space; it used to be that all the talent went into journalism or advertising and marketing got the leftovers but that’s changing a lot these days.

How Much Does a Case Study Cost? - Scopcity on December 8, 2015 AT 09 am

[…] studies are the often under-appreciated workhorses of the content marketing world. They serve the primary purpose of demonstrating how your solution […]

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