When you're thinking about buying a product or a service, what's the very first thing you do?
Chances are, you'd ask a friend whether they recommend it and do some online research to see what others are saying.
Why? Because you know that a little online research could spare you from a bad experience or poor investment of your budget.
Your customers are the same way. They know that you think what you're selling is great, but they want to know what others think about it.
Case studies give you the chance to show – instead of just tell – those real-life stories of how you were able to help your customers succeed.
They're invaluable assets when it comes to establishing proof that what you're offering is valuable and high-quality. Ideally, this will help persuade your potential customers to buy from you.
But creating them requires some coordination and planning. Keep on reading and you'll find:
- Tips on finding the right candidates for your case studies;
- Advice on how to reach out to them for permission to feature them as a case study;
- Sample interview questions to inform your case study content;
- Interviewing techniques;
- A case study template that shows you the sample structure from top to bottom;
- A series of business case study examples for inspiration.
Let's start with why case studies are such powerful assets in soliciting business.
When shopping for a new product or service, you'd trust the customer who's already used the product or service over the sales guy. Getting a real-life opinion from someone is always more helpful, because it’s both unbiased, and often rooted in a common experience. In fact, according to Search Engine Land, 9 out of 10 people are looking at online product reviews and posts on social networks before making a purchasing decision.
Case studies add authenticity to your business, as well as credibility and social proof that your product or service has truly helped others overcome their challenges and achieve their goals.
Case studies help your leads envision how your product or service would fit into their lives, and often act as that missing piece that moves them to take purchasing action.
They think, “If this person had these results, just imagine what kind of results I could see!”
While each of your case studies will tell a slightly different story, they will each have the same core components that let your leads envision themselves using your product or service.
In this case study creation guide, we’ll break down those case study components and give you everything you’ll need to create case studies that will help your sales team close more of the right deals.
Let’s start with how to find the right customers and how best to reach out to them for doing a case study with you.
What to Look For in Good Case Study Candidates
Resist the temptation to ask anyone and everyone for a case study testimonial. Testimonials should address the concerns that potential customers with reservations might have, so be selective. Here are eight proven methods in finding the perfect case study candidate for your testimonial.
How to Write a Case Study
- Find the right case study candidate.
- Reach out to case study participants.
- Ensure you're asking the right questions.
- Lay out your case study.
- Showcase your work.
Earning the trust of prospective customers can be a struggle. Before you can even begin to expect to earn their business, you need to demonstrate your ability to deliver on what your product or service promises. Sure, you could say that you're great at X, or that you're way ahead of the competition when it comes to Y. But at the end of the day, what you really need to win new business is cold, hard proof.
One of the best ways to prove your worth is through compelling case studies. When done correctly, these examples of your work can chronicle the positive impact your business has on existing or previous customers.
To help you arm your prospects with information they can trust, we've put together a step-by-step guide on how to create effective case studies for your business -- as well as free case study templates for creating your own.
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How to Write a Business Case Study: The Ultimate Guide
1) Find the Right Case Study Candidate
Writing about your previous projects requires more than picking a client and telling a story. You need permission, quotes, and a plan. To start, here are a few things to look for in potential candidates.
It helps to select a customer who's well-versed in the logistics of your product or service. That way, he or she can better speak to the value of what you offer in a way that makes sense for future customers.
Clients that have seen the best results are going to make the strongest case studies. If their own businesses have seen an exemplary ROI from your product or service, they're more likely to convey the enthusiasm that you want prospects to feel, too.
One part of this step is to choose clients who have experienced unexpected success from your product or service. When you've provided non-traditional customers -- in industries that you don't usually work with, for example -- with positive results, it can help to remove doubts from prospects.
While small companies can have powerful stories, bigger or more notable brands tend to lend credibility to your own -- in some cases, having brand recognition can lead to 24.4X as much growth as companies without it.
Customers that came to you after working with a competitor help highlight your competitive advantage, and might even sway decisions in your favor.
2) Reach Out to Case Study Participants
To get the right case study participants on board, you have to set the stage for clear and open communication. That means outlining expectations and a timeline right away -- not having those is one of the biggest culprits in delayed case study creation.
It's helpful to know what you'll need from the participants, like permission to use any brand names and share the project information publicly. Kick off the process with an email that runs through exactly what they can expect from you, as well as what is expected of them. To give you an idea of what that might look like, check out this sample email:
You might be wondering, "What's a Case Study Release Form?" or, "What's a Success Story Letter?" Let's break those down.
Case Study Release Form
This document can vary, depending on factors like the size of your business, the nature of your work, and what you intend to do with the case studies once they are completed. That said, you should typically aim to include the following in the Case Study Release Form:
- A clear explanation of why you are creating this case study and how it will be used.
- A statement defining the information and potentially trademarked information you expect to include about the company -- things like names, logos, job titles, and pictures.
- An explanation of what you expect from the participant, beyond the completion of the case study. For example, is this customer willing to act as a reference or share feedback, and do you have permission to pass contact information along for these purposes?
- A note about compensation.
Success Story Letter
As noted in the sample email, this document serves as an outline for the entire case study process. Other than a brief explanation of how the customer will benefit from case study participation, you'll want to be sure to define the following steps in the Success Story Letter.
First, you'll need to receive internal approval from the company's marketing team. Once approved, the Release Form should be signed and returned to you. It's also a good time to determine a timeline that meets the needs and capabilities of both teams.
To ensure that you have a productive interview -- which is one of the best ways to collect information for the case study -- you'll want to ask the participant to complete a questionnaire prior to this conversation. That will provide your team with the necessary foundation to organize the interview, and get the most out of it.
Once the questionnaire is completed, someone on your team should reach out to the participant to schedule a 30-60 minute interview, which should include a series of custom questions related to the customer's experience with your product or service.
The Draft Review
After the case study is composed, you'll want to send a draft to the customer, allowing an opportunity to give you feedback and edits.
The Final Approval
Once any necessary edits are completed, send a revised copy of the case study to the customer for final approval.
Once the case study goes live -- on your website or elsewhere -- it's best to contact the customer with a link to the page where the case study lives. Don't be afraid to ask your participants to share these links with their own networks, as it not only demonstrates your ability to deliver positive results, but their impressive growth, as well.
3) Ensure You're Asking the Right Questions
Before you execute the questionnaire and actual interview, make sure you're setting yourself up for success. A strong case study results from being prepared to ask the right questions. What do those look like? Here are a few examples to get you started:
- What are your goals?
- What challenges were you experiencing prior to purchasing our product or service?
- What made our product or service stand out against our competitors?
- What did your decision-making process look like?
- How have you benefited from using our product or service? (Where applicable, always ask for data.)
Keep in mind that the questionnaire is designed to help you gain insights into what sort of strong, success-focused questions to ask during the actual interview. And once you get to that stage, we recommend that you follow the "Golden Rule of Interviewing." Sounds fancy, right? It's actually quite simple -- ask open-ended questions.
If you're looking to craft a compelling story, "yes" or "no" answers won't provide the details you need. Focus on questions that invite elaboration, such as, "Can you describe ...?" or, "Tell me about ..."
In terms of the interview structure, we recommend categorizing the questions and flow into six specific sections. Combined, they'll allow you to gather enough information to put together a rich, comprehensive study.
The Customer's Business
The goal of this section is to generate a better understanding of the company's current challenges and goals, and how they fit into the landscape of their industry. Sample questions might include:
- How long have you been in business?
- How many employees do you have?
- What are some of the objectives of your department at this time?
The Need for a Solution
In order to tell a compelling story, you need context. That helps match the customer's need with your solution. Sample questions might include:
- What challenges and objectives led you to look for a solution?
- What might have happened if you did not identify a solution?
- Did you explore other solutions prior to this that did not work out? If so, what happened?
The Decision Process
Exploring how the customer arrived at the decision to work with you helps to guide potential customers through their own decision-making processes. Sample questions might include:
- How did you hear about our product or service?
- Who was involved in the selection process?
- What was most important to you when evaluating your options?
The focus here should be placed on the customer's experience during the onboarding process. Sample questions might include:
- How long did it take to get up and running?
- Did that meet your expectations?
- Who was involved in the process?
The Solution in Action
The goal of this section is to better understand how the customer is using your product or service. Sample questions might include:
- Is there a particular aspect of the product or service that you rely on most?
- Who is using the product or service?
In this section, you want to uncover impressive measurable outcomes -- the more numbers, the better. Sample questions might include:
- How is the product or service helping you save time and increase productivity?
- In what ways does that enhance your competitive advantage?
- How much have you increased metrics X, Y, and Z?
4) Lay Out Your Case Study
When it comes time to take all of the information you've collected and actually turn it into something, it's easy to feel overwhelmed. Where should you start? What should you include? What's the best way to structure it?
To help you get a handle on this step, it's important to first understand that there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to ways to present a case study. They can be very visual, which you'll see in some of the examples we've included below, and can sometimes be communicated mostly through video or photos, with a bit of accompanying text.
When it comes to recommending written case studies, we recommend focusing on seven sections, which we've outlined here. Note -- even if you do elect to use a visual case study, it should still include all of this information, but presented in a different format.
- Title: Keep it short. Focus on highlighting the most compelling accomplishment.
- Executive Summary: A 2-4 sentence summary of the entire story. You'll want to follow it with 2-3 bullet points that display metrics showcasing success.
- About: An introduction to the person or company, which can be pulled from a LinkedIn profile or website.
- Challenges: A 2-3 paragraph description of the customer's challenges, prior to using your product or service. This section should also include the goals that the customer set out to achieve.
- How You Helped: A 2-3 paragraph section that describes how your product or service provided a solution to their problem.
- Results: A 2-3 paragraph testimonial that proves how your product or service specifically impacted the person or company, and helped achieve goals. Include numbers to quantify your contributions.
- Supporting Visuals or Quotes: Pick one or two powerful quotes that you would feature at the bottom of the sections above, as well as a visual that supports the story you are telling.
To help you visualize this case study format, check out this case study template, which can also be downloaded here.
When laying out your case study, focus on conveying the information you've gathered in the most clear and concise way possible. Make it easy to scan and comprehend, and be sure to provide an attractive call-to-action at the bottom -- that should provide readers an opportunity to learn more about your product or service.
Business Case Study Examples
You drove the results, made the connect, set the expectations, used the questionnaire to conduct a successful interview, and boiled down your findings into a compelling story. And after all of that, you're left with a little piece of sales enabling gold -- a case study.
To show you what a well-executed final product looks like, have a look at some of these marketing case study examples.