The case study is a powerful tool in the content marketing arsenal, an invaluable testament to the credibility of a business and validity of its messaging. Indeed, for 50% of tech B2B decision makers, it’s the most preferred piece of content after webinars and videos. We hear it time and time again from sales teams: nothing is as convincing as a good case study that can demonstrate concrete results. On top of that it can help consolidate your relationships with your existing clients while motivating your sales teams.
If you’re a tech B2B content marketer you probably know this through experience: case studies are so hard to produce! By endorsing your brand in public, your client is entrusting you with theirs and yet all too often we see B2B case studies that fall short of expectations; they miss the point, scrimp on the detail, or simply become a poorly-veiled brochure.
A case study must be something that both your business and customer can be proud of, something you can achieve with these five case study tips:
1. Engage your spokesperson
It might be up to you to write the case study but the chances are, at this stage, you have a very topline understanding of the content and no prior relationship with the customer.
Here’s a little insight – neither the customer nor the salesperson/key account manager sees the deployment from the perspective of how great a case study it makes. To them both, it’s a business-as-usual relationship. And we’ve seen that very often, neither of them really wants to talk about the deployment in public: for a variety of reasons: giving away business strategy or trade secrets, giving competitors an opportunity to poach, not wanting to add to the burden of the day-to-day relationship, and many more.
So the very first factor determining the success of the case study is the first approach. In 99% of cases this must be done through the account manager – the point person that owns the client relationship and the project. But to engage the account manager and client, a clear brief is key.
Outline the objectives, structure, and format, and provide a few similar business case study examples if any are available.
Do: Provide a concise and customised questionnaire that guide both parties into providing the information you need: the more specific and clearcut the questions are, the better your case study will be. Follow this up with a case interview if possible.
Don’t: Ask vague questions like ‘What was your objective?’
Instead: Ask questions that are specific to the deployment. For example, if you’re looking to write a case study about a fleet management software, ask ‘List three challenges that the fleet managers were facing that affected productivity’.
Steer your subject matter experts, from the challenges they were looking to address, the consultation process, solution and finally, the results. Coax out the full story – but slimline it.
The months spent wooing the customer at trade shows, in meetings and over the phone represent a big result for the business and the sales team who encouraged the sale over the line, but it doesn’t make particularly appropriate or compelling reading for anyone else (sorry!). And what’s more, the audience wants to hear a story, not a list of product USPs.
2. Quote your spokesperson
Case studies present a rare opportunity for tech B2B businesses to acquire that all-important word of mouth endorsement. It is far more effective when your customer communicates the unique selling points and benefits of engaging with your business – the “don’t just take our word for it” clincher. That’s why product reviews are so effective on B2C shopping sites. A successful case study interview is one where the customer is speaking for most of the time: and this will give you plenty of quotes to use in your case study.
So, a case study is a time to give your customers a voice. Needless to say, try not to hog the limelight. When drafting your case study, quote the customer wherever possible. Feel free to lift quotes from the questionnaire or your interviews with them. Don’t be afraid to apply a little creative license if direct quotes need some tidying – chances are, during the review process, the spokesperson will thank you for it. After all, you’ve already briefed them on what to expect, including their full and final approval before any content is made public.
Do: Make the case study all about your customer’s experience and your problem-solving skills.
Don’t: Try to provide ‘equal airtime’ for your customer and your company spokesperson. This is not a competition.
Instead: Provide ample opportunity for your customer to present their perspective in every aspect of the case study. If you want to showcase your product, create an appendix, link, or special segment within the case study to talk about the product/service.
Get creative with your customer quotes: video interviews or testimonials using tools like Vocal Video are an easy and very effective way of putting the client literally in the frame. A word of warning – not everyone is comfortable with appearing on video, though.
3. Make your results as specific as possible: numbers talk!
This one we can’t stress enough. The customer finds the team responsive, there’s a great working relationship, and the solution is easy to use, cost effective and efficient… but how has it effected the bottom line?
For prospective clients, it all boils down to results. Tangible ones. How much resource has the solution saved the customer – time, money, space? How has it impacted success with their own customers? How has it improved the service offering or experience? Identify the customer challenge at the outset and provide details of exactly how your business improved this situation with their service or solution, and by how much. Absence of tangible results devalues the case study significantly.
Do: Make the results section as long as the solution or challenge section. A common feature of a poor case study is a one or two line results section.
Don’t: Start the case study too soon. A case study kicked off with a brand new client when the pilot phase is still under way is not going to have any results worth mentioning.
Instead: Secure commitment to enter into a case study as soon as the contract is signed, but give the deployment enough time to achieve results before you initiate the questionnaire process. Think of approaching longstanding clients rather than new ones.
4. Use awesome copy and design
After all your efforts to collect the right information and collate it, it would be a shame to fall at the final hurdle. So don’t forget the most fundamental rules of content marketing: keep it simple and looking good.
Every tech B2B deployment is complex is many ways. However, the best case studies are beautifully simple, with a crystal clear storyline running throughout that follows that classic fiction story arc: a problem. An idea. A hero. A battle. And a result. All the rules of classic content marketing apply: short, clean language, avoidance of jargon, benefits not features, energetic, and most importantly easy to read. Ensure key takeaways are well signposted and easy to grasp.
And once you’ve got that copy in place, remember that design is 70% of content, according to this statistic that we just made up 😊. But seriously, whether in print or online, design is key to ensuring content is engaging and captures the attention of your intended audience. Most companies have a standard marketing case study template: if you don’t have one, create it! Use images of your spokesperson, photographs of their business, and the solution in action.
Consider how infographics and iconography can be incorporated to draw out key aspects of the story, and clearly format the content so that readers can easily navigate the industry, challenge, solution and results.
Do: Use while space and action-oriented photographs and people. The human eye is drawn to such images.
Don’t: Use standard ‘technology stock photos’ like lines of light spanning the globe to represent software or networks, or happy people shaking hands to represent a user.
Instead: Think creatively about the company or end user. How does your user look while using your platform/ network/software?
5. Get the process right
The first rule of sales? The customer is always right.
So what about if they dispute the use of their name, a quote, or an image as part of a public testimonial you know they approved… but that you perhaps didn’t document or clearly explain? As well as an opportunity to shout about the great results produced for the customer, a case study should be a positive experience and relationship building exercise with them – the last thing you want to do is end the process with a disgruntled contact who started as the business’s biggest advocate!
Luckily, with the right steps in place, this can be easily avoided, and customers will leave with a reiteration of the brilliant results achieved together and a view that long may they continue. Central to this is being upfront at the outset. Whether you are in direct contact with the customer or communication via their account manager, ensure they are provided with a clear and documented outline of the case study process; the purpose of the story and where it will be displayed, what you require to complete the story and how you plan to extract it (a good time to share your new and improved briefing document!), the approval process and timescales.
Next step is to stick to them and keep customers updated. If your case study is taking longer to complete than first thought, let the customer know and don’t lose the momentum – if you do, it may never be approved.
Do: Communicate clearly and keep all parties updated about the process so they know what to expect.
Don’t: Be shy about following up.
Instead: Ensure that the project’s momentum remains strong. Follow up in clever ways and be creative about engaging your spokespersons.
Create B2B case studies that deliver
So there you have it. When it comes to creating a case study that delivers for your sales team, the devil is in the details. Remember: you owe it to your customer and your business to present the best of both companies.
What are you waiting for? Establish that process and design template and write your questionnaires. Then start looking through your client list and speak to account managers, interview your spokespeople, gather the results. And get to market with case studies that drive engagement like never before!
And while you’re at it, check out these other content types to add to your bank of useful assets.
Are you a technology business looking for some inspiration ahead of your next B2B case study? Exploring how content marketing could better benefit your business? Talk to Isoline! We’d love to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org.