Seven tips for writing customer case studies that sell


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Seven tips for writing customer case studies that sell

  1. 1. Copyright © 2011 by G. David Dodd. All rights reserved. 1Seven Tips for Writing Customer Case Studiesthat SellCustomer case studies, sometimes calledcustomer success stories, are one of the mostpopular marketing communication vehicles usedby B2B companies. Today, it’s not uncommonto find multiple case studies on the websites ofalmost all kinds of companies. When they’redone right, customer case studies can be apowerful tool for increasing sales andshortening sales cycles.According to research by Eccolo Media, casestudies are the third most widely consumed typeof marketing collateral (behind productbrochures and white papers) and the secondmost influential type of marketing collateral(trailing only white papers). (B2B TechnologyCollateral Survey Report, Eccolo Media, 2010)Why Case Studies WorkCustomer case studies are potent marketingtools because they’re good at performingseveral important marketing jobs. Theyestablish credibility by demonstrating that youare a real company with real customers. Theyeducate potential customers about the benefitsof your product or service. And, they helpprospects validate their decision to do businesswith you by providing examples of realcompanies that have obtained substantialbenefits by using your solution.Credibility, education, and validation are allimportant marketing benefits, but the real powerof customer case studies lies in their ability toreduce the buyer’s perception of risk.Marketers have traditionally viewed B2Bpurchasing as a purely rational process. Thebasic idea is that business buyers makepurchasing decisions by following a logical,step-by-step process and moving through stagesthat we label something like awareness,consideration, evaluation, and purchase.It turns out, however, that B2B buying behavioris often far from rational, that emotions play justas important a role in B2B buying as they do inconsumer buying. More importantly, it’s nowclear that the most powerful emotion drivingB2B buying behavior is fear.Many business buyers believe that they receivelittle credit when a purchase is successful, but agreat deal of blame if a purchase goes bad.Therefore, many business buyers are very riskaverse. They have a strong fear of taking risks.This means that the real unstated goal of theB2B buying process is to reduce fear byavoiding risks.Customer case studies have become critical tosuccessful B2B marketing precisely becausethey can lower the perception of risk and reducethe level of fear that potential buyers inevitablyexperience.Good News―Bad NewsThe good news is that customer case studies cansignificantly boost the effectiveness of yourmarketing efforts. The not-so-good news is thatmost everybody now recognizes the value ofcase studies, and the use of case studies hasexploded.This means that your case studies are facingmore competition than ever before. If your casestudies look and sound like all of the others thatyour potential buyers see, or if they don’t tell acompelling story, they simply won’t producethe results you expect.The balance of this article describes seven tipsfor writing effective case studies. These tipsreflect current best practices, and they describethe principles and techniques that we use whenwe write case studies for clients.Tip #1―Inventory the IngredientsOne of the popular programs on the FoodNetwork is Chopped. In each episode,competing chefs are given baskets containingseveral ingredients, and their objective is tocreate a dish using only those ingredients (plus“B2B buying decisions are usuallydriven by one emotion―fear.Specifically, B2B buying is all aboutminimizing fear by eliminating risk.”Gord HotchkissThe BuyerSphere Project (2009)1135 Holiday DrCrossville, TN 38555931-707-5105www.pointbalance.comSeven Steps to MoreCompelling Case Studies• Identify your basic“ingredients”• Define the target audience• Determine what your keytakeaways will be• Make your case study a true“story”• Describe results in specific,quantitative terms• Use customer quotations totell your story• Make the case study easy toscan
  2. 2. Copyright © 2011 by G. David Dodd. All rights reserved. 2those found in an obviously ample pantry). Thechef who creates the best dish wins.The first step to writing an effective case studyis to identify what “ingredients” you have towork with. A compelling case study tells thestory of a real company facing significantchallenges that used a specific solution toachieve positive results. You can’t change thebasic facts or “invent” new ones. So, beforeyou start writing, create a brief outline of thefacts that will provide the basis for your casestudy. Your outline should include adescription of:• The customer’s business• The problem your solution addressed• The solution you provided• The results the customer obtainedTip #2―Define the Target AudienceThe most effective case studies are those thatare written with a specific reader in mind.Identifying an “ideal reader” helps youdetermine what aspects of the customer’s storyto emphasize, and this enables you to create acase study that is more relevant and persuasive.Suppose, for example, that your company sellsmarketing asset management/web-to-printsolutions. Your target “buyers” include chiefmarketing officers, chief sales officers, andchief financial officers. These buyers don’t allsee the world from the same perspective. Theyhave different job priorities, and they aren’tlikely to value the benefits your solution wouldprovide in the same way. Therefore, a casestudy that resonates strongly with a CMO, maynot appeal that much to a CFO. The solution?Create one case study for the CMO and asecond case study (perhaps based on the samecustomer) for the CFO.Tip #3―Identify the Key TakeawaysBecause case studies are relatively short (thepreferred length is 1-2 pages), the messageshould be tightly focused. Once you identifythe ideal reader for your case study, you need toidentify the two or three “story points” that willbe most appealing to that reader. These keytakeaways will inevitably relate to the resultsthe customer obtained by using your solution.The immediate objective of the case study is tocommunicate the key takeaways effectively, andeverything else in the case study should bedesigned to help you present those points in themost compelling and persuasive way possible.Tip #4―Tell a StoryCommunicating with stories is a tradition asancient as human language itself. Throughouthistory, we have used stories to pass alongknowledge from the past to new generations.Stories enable us to put information in aconcrete, real-world context, and that makes theinformation easier to grasp and retain. The bestcase studies are, therefore, truly stories.A story contains three core components―thesetup, the complication, and the resolution. Thesetup is where you introduce the main characterof the story, the customer that is the subject ofthe case study. Be sure to include enoughdetails in your description to make the customer“real” to your readers. The setup is also whereyou introduce the individual who will be theprimary spokesperson for the customer. Whileyour case study is primarily about the customer,it also tells the story of how a real human beingsolved a problem or fulfilled a need. Includinga “human element” in your case study will makeit much more compelling.The complication part of the story is where youdescribe the challenges that your “hero” wasfacing. In addition to describing the problemsin detail, you need to capture their significanceby describing how they were adversely affectingthe customer’s business. And finally, if youcan, describe how the customer attempted toaddress the challenges before finding yoursolution.“Stories help people imaginescenarios and gain inspiration fromseeing others’ successes―and theyare moved to act as a result.”Casey HibbardStories that Sell (2009)1135 Holiday DrCrossville, TN
  3. 3. Copyright © 2011 by G. David Dodd. All rights reserved. 3In the resolution part of your story, you describehow the customer successfully used yoursolution to address its problems and challenges.This is where you talk about how the customerlearned about your company, and what let thecustomer to choose your solution. Describe thesolution you provided and focus on the aspectsof the solution that were primarily responsiblefor producing the results featured in the keytakeaways. Most importantly, this is where youdescribe the results your solution produced forthe customer. (More about this in Tip 5)Tip #5―Include Specific ResultsThe centerpiece of an effective case study is theresults the customer obtained by using yoursolution. As we said earlier, the key takeawaysin your case study will inevitably relate to thebenefits your solution produced.We follow two basic principles for describingresults in case studies. First, specific alwaystrumps general. By this we mean that it’salways better to describe results in specificterms than in generalities. For example, “Withthe ABC solution, XYZ [the customer] reducedthe time required to fulfill requests formarketing materials from seven days to two,” isa more powerful statement than, “With the ABCsolution, XYZ substantially reduced the timerequired to fulfill requests for marketingmaterials.”The second principle is that results described inquantitative terms are almost always strongerthan results described only qualitatively. This isparticularly true when the ideal reader for a casestudy is a “financial” buyer.Tip #6―Use Quotations. . . LiberallyYour customers can often tell your story betterthan you can. Many buyers are more inclined tobelieve statements made by customers thanthose made by a potential vendor. So, youshould use customer quotations in your casestudies as often as possible.Customer quotations can be used throughout acase study to enhance readability andpersuasiveness. The customer can help youdescribe the problem and previous attempts toaddress it. The customer can also explain whythey chose your company and your solution.And, of course, there’s no real substitute for acustomer quotation that praises the expertise ofyour company, or the quality of your service, orthe value of your solution.Tip #7―Make it Easy to ScanToday’s buyers are incredibly busy. Beforemost buyers will spend even 10 minutes readingyour case study, they will take a few seconds toscan it to decide if it’s worth more of their time.Since you can’t change this behavior, your next-best alternative is to make it easy for yourprospective readers to quickly see what theywill learn by reading your case study. You dothis by using layout and content features thatmake your case study easy to scan.We’ve incorporated some of these features intothis article to illustrate our point. The sidebaron the first page of this article contains asummary of the major points discussed in thearticle. We’ve also used subheadingsthroughout the article to introduce the majortopics, and we’ve highlighted a couple of goodquotations about two of the article’s importantpoints. These features enable a prospectivereader to grasp what the article is about veryquickly, probably in less than 30 seconds.Need Help?We now offer custom case study developmentand writing for companies in a variety ofindustries, including marketing services andgraphic communications. If you’d like to learnmore about how we can help you create casestudies that sell, contact G. David Dodd at 931-707-5105 or Holiday DrCrossville, TN