Six Steps to a Compelling Case Study
By Nancy Langmeyer – ETMG Writer/Editor
Case studies are great sales tools because they are written through the eyes and in the voice of the customer. This adds significant credibility in a sales cycle when sales people need a strong differentiator to sway a prospect in their favor.
I personally love to write case studies because I enjoy interviewing people and capturing the essence of their story. I have a knack for getting substantial details on the personal and professional success that the people I interview achieve with my clients’ solutions. It’s these details that add flavor to my case studies and make them an exceptionally good read.
Here are the six steps I follow when I create my case studies – hopefully they will be useful to you too.
1. Learn all you can about the customer you are interviewing.
Whenever possible, the first thing I do when assigned a case study is to quiz the people that were or are actively responsible for the customer relationship. Whether sales people or the folks that installed a product, these are the people that can provide me with a comprehensive background on the customer and the overall engagement. They can guide me towards the topics I should delve into and explore – or clue me in on any hot spots to avoid. This helps set the stage for an intelligent conversation with the customer and makes the best use of the 20-30 minute conversation we’ll be having.
2. Prepare a comprehensive list of questions.
I have a standard set of interview questions, which I customize for each call. The questions range from finding out how the customer first got interested in my client’s company to asking them to describe the implementation, and of course, the benefits of the implementation. While I may not get to all my questions, they are there to keep the conversation (and me) on track. And here’s a little tip for dealing with hard-to-interview folks – the ones that are naturally guarded or quiet. When they answer with a simple yes or no, I typically respond with questions such as “Tell me more about that” or “Can you explain that?” It’s surprising how much these types of questions can get people to open up and share more of the story.
3. Get the facts.
During the interview, the key thing is to get the facts, of course. This builds the foundation of a successful story – and the more hard-core facts, the better. The most effective details are quantifiable results, such as costs savings, productivity increases, revenue generated and the like – in actual numbers or percentages. When one customer says that he saved hundreds of thousands of dollars, another customer is going to listen! A lot of people are hesitant to share exact numbers, but I usually can get them to comment to some sort of percentage or best-guess estimate of savings, even if it’s man hours or a softer measurement than dollars.
4. Add humanness.
Here’s one of the things that really adds value to my case studies. To elicit some great quotes, I end our discussion with a series of opinion-related questions, such as “What did you think of the implementation?” People often share with me the good – and then the bad and the ugly (especially if my client is not on the phone). Besides the good info that is quotable, the not-so-good information is often helpful because there may be some angst on the part of the customer that my client doesn’t know about. I also ask the customers a few final questions – such as “How would you describe this solution to your peers?” and “Would you recommend this solution to them?” These questions cause the customers to pause and then share what they really think about the whole engagement – and these comments are typically golden nugget quotes.
5. Don’t be afraid to clarify.
This is true especially for freelancers like me. I learned a long time ago that it’s much easier to feel humble and admit that I don’t understand something, than to use incorrect facts and get the story wrong. Every customer I’ve interviewed has been very kind and gracious – they understand that their expertise is not mine. They are always willing to explain things and clarify what we’re discussing, even when the situation is very technical.
6. Finish up with “What’s next?”
This is an excellent way to end the story – and it is also helpful for my clients because they get a glimpse into what else the customer might be interested. When added into a case study, it’s another indication that the customer is happy with my client’s product and there is a growth path in the future.
Case studies can be fun and engaging – and excellent sales tools. I hope these tips help your company produce some great ones!