In enterprise technology, there are few sales and marketing tools as valuable as the case study. Second only in effectiveness to a personal testimonial from a happy customer, a strong case study can act as a scalable reference that helps your prospects envision exactly how your solution could benefit them.
“Strong,” though, is the key word. A weak case study won’t do you any good at all. Many prospects won’t finish reading them or, even if they do, they won’t find them persuasive.
We’ve spent years creating and honing hundreds of case studies for all kinds of technology companies. Here’s some guidelines on how you can craft stories that transform prospects into paying customers.
Laying the groundwork
Know your audience: Before you start the process of writing a case study, determine who you want to reach. Is it the CFO who will ultimately have to sign off on a big purchase? An IT administrator who can act as your champion, explaining to their bosses how much time and money your solution will save? A business manager who is desperately looking for ways to cut costs and increase revenue?
Each of these roles have different problems that they need to address. Unless you understand your reader, you won’t be able to design a case study that will speak to them.
Find a great story: Having a case study from a well-known brand is helpful. After all, these companies have already invested a ton of marketing dollars to make sure the world knows who they are — why not leverage some of that investment for yourself? But if you have a choice between an OK story from a household name and a really dramatic story from a company that’s less well known, go with the dramatic story.
Not only will the more compelling story do a better job of capturing the reader’s attention, but it’ll also be far easier to produce. The larger the company, the more approval hoops your case study will have to jump through. By the time their comms, marketing and line of business teams are done with it, you’ll have a lifeless imitation of what you originally wrote.
Choose the right person to interview: If your desired audience is CFOs, make sure you interview someone in finance. Want to reach IT admins? Speak to someone close to that role. But most important, make sure you interview someone who uses and benefits from your solution. It won’t do you any good to interview a senior manager if they only have a secondhand sense of how your product or service works.
Research and writing
Prepare for the interview: It’s good practice to send your interviewee a list of questions ahead of time to guide the conversation. You don’t necessarily need to ask all of them, as you may find during the course of the conversation that there’s a compelling angle that you’d not considered. Follow those surprises, but make sure you cover the topics that will be fundamental to the story:
The challenges they faced that led them to your company’s solution
The problems these challenges created for the organization
The ways in which they unsuccessfully tried to address them
The factors that led them to your solution
How the organization is using your solution to overcome their challenges
The benefits they gained from using it
As much as possible, seek hard numbers from your interview subject: the percentage growth in revenue, the amount of time saved weekly, the number of records they can now process daily. Whatever the benefits are, work to quantify them. Magazines at the checkout aisle plaster their covers with numbers (“5 fast tips to melt belly fat!”) because they capture readers’ interest.
Write a story: Too often, case studies read like a grocery list: company description, challenge, solution, benefits. It’s a good structure, but to engage the reader, you need to tell a story. If the challenge revolves around overly complex network management, explain it in human terms. You don’t want it to read like a spreadsheet. Make sure there are people at the center.
And once you are finished with your first draft, go back through and relentlessly eliminate marketing-ese. No one, not even marketers, will enjoy reading how a leading company leveraged a best-of-breed SaaS solution to optimize business processes and delight the end-user.
Finally, don’t make it too long: 500 to 1,000 words is usually plenty.
Make the design simple and easy to read: Emphasize clarity over flash. A pull-out box with key stats — company name, location, business and size — and a sidebar that bullets out the challenges, solution, and benefits helps make the most important information easier to grasp. If you’ve got a great quote or two, pull them out for emphasis. But the most important element is the story, and it’s the text that does the heavy lifting, there. Make sure that it’s easy to read with subheads as needed to guide the reader from topic to topic.
Include a call to action: Don’t forget! This is the reason you’re writing it! Whether it’s to contact your company for more information or to set up a demo, make the call-to-action brief, compelling and easy for the reader to do.
If you’d like to speak with us about helping you create case studies that convert prospects to customers, contact us here.