Need to convince a potential client that your product or service is going to solve the problem that’s plaguing their business? You could tell them. Or you could let one of your existing customers do it for you.
Customer references, also known as case studies, are a powerful tool for persuading people to buy your products or services. Showcasing customers’ real-life experiences with a product, case studies feed into the continuing trend for business-to-business (B2B) buyers to rank peer reviews and user-generated feedback more highly than traditional product information.
In fact, case studies are the number one content format for B2B buyers researching a purchase, according to Demand Gen Report’s 2018 Content Preferences Survey Report. The survey found that 79 per cent of B2B buyers read case studies in the previous 12 months.
The best case studies are those that shine a light on a specific business need your customer has. Readers typically want to know how your product or service will help their business or agency to become more productive, efficient or profitable.
With this in mind, case studies should outline the customer’s problem, as well as how you were able to solve it for them. Most importantly, they should communicate the value of your solution to the customer. In doing so, the case study will also communicate valuable information about your brand and its values. The most effective case studies do all of the above while telling a compelling story.
To help you get started, we’ve put together some pointers for writing effective case studies that will help you to make the most of leads and boost sales.
What do you want to achieve?
Before you put pen to paper, decide what you want your case study to achieve.
Do you want to highlight a particular product? Demonstrate your capabilities in an emerging sector? Support an upcoming business event? Having a clear idea of your goals will help guide your writing.
Also consider what format to use. Do you want a full-length case study with lots of detail, or a shorter ‘snapshot’? Do you want a short video case study as well?
Don’t go overboard with the length, but make every word count by including high-quality facts, metrics and testimonials.
Think strategically and align case studies with sales teams, markets and product lines. For example, if a new product hasn’t taken off as expected, consider developing a case study to show prospects how it works in a real-life scenario.
Choose the right client
Larger organisations may have a customer reference management team with a database of happy customers with great stories to tell. If you don’t, the general rule is to look for customers that can describe how they’ve used your product or service in an innovative way to achieve remarkable results. This demonstrates the flexibility of your product or service, establishes the customer as a leader in its field and gives readers insights into new ways of tackling old problems.
Check that the organisation can provide information about their business challenges and how your product or service helped resolve them. Confirm they have quantifiable metrics, such as time and cost savings, and are willing to share them.
Finally, make sure the correct person is willing to speak on behalf of the organisation and is happy for you to quote them. The contact should have a good understanding of the project from both a high-level and technical perspective. Consider interviewing more than one person, such as the executive who signed off on implementing solution, and an account manager actually using it.
Conduct an interview
Once you have a contact locked in, arrange a time to interview them. The goal is to find out not only what happened, but also how it happened. Ask open-ended questions that encourage the client to provide descriptive and detailed responses, such as:
- What was the challenge you faced as a business?
- Why did you choose our product over others on the market?
- How did our product help you to solve your problem?
- How did our team able help you implement the solution?
- What were the results of implementing our solution?
Listen to answers and ask follow-up questions accordingly. Ask for facts, figures and examples to add substance to big-picture statements and provide colour for the case study.
Invite your case study subjects to provide advice based on their experience. Ask them what they did right and what they could have done differently. Most people are keen to help others avoid any mistakes they made, or to share tips for streamlining processes and saving time or money.
It’s also a good idea to ask for items like logos and images now, as these can take a while to arrange.
Follow a clear structure
A strong case study follows a clear structure, explaining the customer’s business challenge, your solution and the benefits achieved. Generally, a case study should have the following elements:
- A persuasive heading. A case study’s heading is usually the first thing a reader looks at – and it may be the only thing if it doesn’t hook them in. Think about what your reader wants to achieve and focus on that – for example, “How Company X used Product Y to double customer retention”.
- An enticing intro. Aim to summarise the key points of your case study in the first paragraph. The idea is to make it sound so compelling they want to keep reading, but even if they don’t, you’ve at least covered the main points.
- The challenges, your solution and the result. The main body of the case study should explain the customer’s challenge, and the solution you were able to offer them. Explain what happened but don’t get bogged down in technical details or the events leading up to the implementation. Instead, describe what happened after the customer used your solution and the end result – did they get the system they visualised or the productivity increase they had hoped for?
- A conclusion. Wrap up your case study with a brief summary of the key take-away for readers. For example, how, as a direct result of using your product, your client has been able to target new markets and grow their business.
You may also want to include other elements such as pull quotes, breakout boxes or a bullet point summary (with metrics). These can add visual interest to the design of a case study and also act as alternate entry points into the story for readers. Don’t forget to add a call to action so readers know what to do next if they want more information.
If you’re planning on writing more than one case study, create a template. This will help ensure you include the correct information in a consistent format and stick to a specific word count.
Aim for style and substance
Case studies are more effective when they’re written in easy-to-understand language. Avoid using industry or technical jargon, where possible. Many of the people who read case studies are managers who make purchasing decisions, rather than the end-users, so use language they can relate to. For example, don’t say “Product X is powerful and scales on demand”. Say “Product X cut transaction processing time from three seconds to 0.5 seconds. We can process 20 million more transactions per day, translating to an annual revenue increase of 15 per cent”.
Show tangible results. Effective case studies should contain rich detail about the gains achieved by the customer. Have they cut costs? Increased productivity? Improved information sharing? Get the customer to quantify the benefits. It’s not always possible to get dollar savings, so see if you can get them to quantify the benefits in percentage terms: “We reduced HR costs by 20 per cent after implementing Product X”.
When quantifying benefits, use the customer’s own words. Quotes add credibility and can pack a powerful punch. They can also be used in other collateral such as banners, posters and presentations.
Before you publish
Once you have a final draft, check that facts are correct and have someone edit and proofread the document. Look for typos, spelling mistakes, poor grammar and inconsistencies in things like job titles, capitalisation and abbreviations.
Often, the revisions and approvals stage is a major sticking point in customer reference management. To help streamline the process, send the case study to internal reviewers first to make sure the technical information is correct. Make these revisions before sending a clean copy to the customer. At each stage, explain that the copy follows a set template, structure and style, and only requires factual changes. Ask each reviewer to track their changes so you can check their edits. Be sure to get the client’s written approval to use the content before you publish it.
Once you’ve published the case study online, make sure all the links work. If you are printing the case study, enlist a second pair of eyes to help with conducting a final proofread before you send it to the printers.
Follow these steps and you’ll not only have a high-quality case study that will reflect well on your team and company, but you’ll also have a valuable tool to help drive sales.