The Ultimate Guide to Creating Compelling Case Studies

by Lauren Sorenson

Date

June 15, 2012 at 9:00 AM

  creating case studies intermediate

When shopping for a new product or service, who do you trust the most? The sales guy, or the customer who has already used the product or service?

If you are anything like me, 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 a Bazaarvoice survey, more than 8 out of 10 people say that opinions and recommendations from people they don't know indicate brand quality and influence what they buy.

That means every once in a while, it's good to dedicate some time to collecting your customers' stories so you can share them with your leads and help make their buying decision a little bit easier. 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!"

So 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 ... and obviously seeing fantastic results! Let's break down those case study components right now so at the end of this post, you're ready to create case studies the likes of which your industry has never seen!

Finding the Right Case Study Candidate

It’s more than just a famous rock band. The "who," AKA the customer, is the most important component to a successful case study. Customers who are over the moon about your company and have taken it upon themselves to tell everyone about it tend to make pretty great case study subjects. These people usually know your product or service front and back -- they're probably so happy because they're leveraging features and functionality to their fullest -- so they can speak about their experience fluidly. And those that are seeing great results are usually eager to share it with the world, making for plenty of great quotes and soundbites, not to mention the enthusiasm necessary to create engaging content .

There's another demographic that makes for excellent case study subjects -- the customers that most people wouldn't expect to be your customer. Often, leads question whether or not your solution is really the right choice for them . If they can see a non-traditional customer seeing stellar results with your company, who’s to say they won’t have success, too? If you have a wide breadth of companies featured as case studies, you'll be equipping your sales organization with the collateral they need to close deals across all verticals, industries, and personas.

( Extra Tip: Talk to your sales, support, and account management team to find customers who would make excellent case studies. They speak to customers every day, and know about those who are seeing amazing results but may be flying under the radar.)

How to Reach Out to Case Study Participants

Now that you have decided who you are going to reach out to, you might be wondering how to approach them with your request. Instead of calling them out of the blue when they might be busy or unprepared, I've found that the best way to start is sending out a short email congratulating the customer on their success, and then explaining why you want them to be featured in a case study. A quick introductory email void of the nitty gritty details like time and date is a good way to broach the subject without overwhelming them -- then you can simply attach the questions you'd like to ask for them to look over as they decide whether or not they want to participate. And if you receive a referral from someone on your sales or support team, mention them by name in the email. It will make the customer more comfortable seeing the name of someone they know!

Remember that your customers are just as busy as you are, so don’t expect every customer to respond to you as soon as you email them. I’ve received responses months after I sent my initial email! But when you do get a response, give them the option to either answer the questions in writing via email, or to talk to you personally over the phone. Everyone has different communication preferences -- some like to take the time think about their answers, while others like to talk it through with another person. Since ultimately your case study subject is doing you a favor, it's key to make the process as easy for them as possible.

Establishing the Layout of Your Case Study

Before you start interviewing those candidates you've rallied, you need to establish how your case study will be laid out. After all, how can you ask the right questions if you don't have the outline established? Here's the three-part format I've found to be the most effective:

Part 1: Address Their Challenges

The leads reading or viewing your case studies may not be intimately familiar with your solution. That means your story shouldn't center around why your company is so great -- that should be the side effect of telling the story about how a company went from a waste land to the promised land using your solution. So take time to set the stage a little bit! Establish their prior experience before implementing your solution and the challenges they faced; usually many other companies will have the same issues, making your case study far more relatable.


describe the image

 

Part 2: Talk About the Solution

The next part of your case study should be dedicated to the solutions your company offered to address the challenges identified in part one. The solutions section is critical, because it's the part of your case study where potential customers will learn the most about your specific solution -- you know, that stuff that moves them further down your sales funnel . Ask questions that will allow customers to say things like, "When I used this feature, it solved my number one challenge.” The main point of case studies are to showcase how your solution can address a common problem, so don't be afraid to call it out as much as possible.


case study solutions

 

( Extra Tip: Ask them what their favorite part of your solution is, or something else that's just a little off-the-beaten-path. You might discover that your product solved a problem that you never even considered, but many of your leads are facing!)

Part 3: Show Results

What’s the point of a case study if you can't show actual, measurable results? You picked this company to be a case study because they are happy customers, but also because they have had success with your solution. Let them show it off! You can call out results through direct quotes, pictures, graphs, giant numbers, whatever. Since many customers will be skimming your case study content, it's critical to make results the easiest part to see -- because isn't that what people care about most?

 

case study results

 

While our own case studies feature data like increased traffic and leads or better email click-through rate , not all impressive results come in number form. Maybe your customer was able to open a new location because of you, or do more work with less staff. If the end result is impressive and you know your prospects might find these results important, share them through direct quotes that you visually call out within the case study content.

 

case study callout

 

Preparing Your Interview Questions

To write a great case study, you have to ask the right questions. Before you even start talking to your first customer, figure out exactly what you want to get out of the case study. Is there a specific part of your product you want to highlight? A certain company size you want to emphasize? The questions you ask should help tell the story from before your customer started using your product or service, through to the results they achieved.

The important thing to remember through all this, however, is that your customers are busy. So if you send them a list of 100 questions or require hours of their time to conduct the interview, you might find that customers stop returning your calls and emails. So to give you an idea of a good mix of questions to ask that will yield great content for your case study, let's pretend you make, say, combs for unicorn manes. Here are some sample questions you might ask that will help tell a well-rounded story:

Their Experience Before Using Your Unicorn Mane Comb

1) Summarize three points of frustration you faced before you started to use the Magic Unicorn Mane Comb. How has the Magic Unicorn Mane Comb specifically addressed those problems?

2) What tactics did you try before you started using the Magic Unicorn Mane Comb? What were the results?

Their Experience Using Your Unicorn Mane Comb

3) What was the big a-ha moment when you decided you needed to try the Magic Unicorn Mane Comb?

4) What are the top three features you love about the Magic Unicorn Mane Comb? Why do you love them? (i.e. the patented Advanced Bristle Detangle Technology, the EasyHold pearl handle, the bejeweled personalized color options)

Their Results With Your Unicorn Mane Comb

5) What specific problems has the Magic Unicorn Mane Comb addressed that other unicorn groomers of your business size might be able to relate to?

6) Did you experience any direct "big win" business results for your company because of the Unicorn Mane Comb? (i.e. more unicorn customers each month, unicorn beauty contest wins, ability to justify your monthly comb spend)

Why They Would Recommend Your Unicorn Mane Comb

7) What is the single biggest reason you would recommend/why you love the Magic Unicorn Mane Comb?

Sometimes customers have a hard time articulating what they are really trying to say. If an answer doesn’t make sense, make sure you follow up for clarification so you get their story right; they'll appreciate you taking the time to ensure they sound coherent. You may have also noticed that a customer touched on a really important point your company is trying to emphasize -- it’s okay to ask a few more follow-up questions about that point, too!

Actually Creating Your Case Study

When it comes to actually compiling all this information, there are a couple ways to do it.  Salesforce.com displays their case study content in short, easy to read bullet points, while Microsoft uses the opportunity to tell an engaging story in a long format. Google Analytics takes a middle of the road approach, using bullets and a short story. All are great, as long as you telling the story you want to tell and your leads are getting the information they need. After you've created it, though, be sure not to forget a couple key components:

  • Make sure each case study is tagged within a certain category -- like industry or company size, for example -- so that when prospects come to your site, they can easily find a case study that speaks to their needs.
  • Include pictures of your customers, and if you're selling a product, include picture or video of them actually using it.

Now, I've made mention throughout this blog post about case studies being in written format, and in video format. You can opt for either, or both! And luckily for you (and for me) there really isn’t that big of a difference between creating a written case study and a video case study (the obvious filming, scheduling, editing aside). The content follows the same structure we outlined above!

If you choose to create a video case study, however, you may find it time consuming for both you and your customer. If you have someone on your staff who is dedicated to producing video, this may not be that out of the ordinary for you -- you simply have to schedule a day that both you and your customer are available. But if you don't the budget or resources to send employees on trips to record case studies on-location, there's still recourse for you to create a video case study. In fact, back in the day HubSpot used to send a small flip cameras to our customers and had them tell their story that way. Another alternative is interviewing customers through Skype. And these days, it’s free and easy to cut and create movies with programs like iMovie or Windows Movie Maker ! For a little inspiration, check out one of our latest video case studies:

The important thing to remember when you do a video case study with a customer is that there are a thousand stories you can tell with them sitting right in front of you -- but that doesn't mean you have to ask a thousand questions. Ask the questions that matter to get the answers you need, because in the end you will really only have about 30-60 seconds to get your point across before the viewer moves on the next video.

( Extra Tip: You want your customer to sound authentic, not act like they are reading from a script. Give them an idea of what they are going to be talking about, but don’t let them over-prepare for a video shoot lest it come off as unnatural.)

Sharing Your Case Study

Now that the case study is created and up on your website, what do you do with it? First and foremost, share it with your company, especially your sales team -- case studies are important pieces of collateral that play an active role in closing deals. And since you've categorized them so nicely, they'll have an easy time finding the case study they need later on, too!

And just like any other content you create, you should be sharing your case study content through your social media channels -- not only are your leads following you on social media, but so are your current customers, and it's crucial that they know there are others are there seeing success with your solution. Heck, they may even reach out to you and ask to be featured in a case study, too.

 

case study tweet

 

Finally, remember to thank your customers for taking the time to be featured in a case study. I usually send each customer a personalized thank you along with some HubSpot SWAG. A little goes a long way!


describe the image

 

What components do you think make up an amazing case study?

Image credit: elkilla

killer-marketing-content-ebook

like-what-youaposve-read-click-here

Search Inbound Hub

Subscribe to Marketing Articles by Email

Subscribe by RSS

Follow HubSpot

Call Us: 1-888-HUBSPOT