In a business where “proving your worth” is one of the tenants to success, a client case study is a perfect fit.
While it doesn’t sound so wonderful to prove one’s worth, it can be. This is what renowned experts are doing through their thought leadership efforts. It’s what we all do in our marketing and sales.
Four Steps to Creating a Meaningful Case Study
It isn’t quite as simple as jumping on a call, asking your client to say nice things about you, and transcribing it. You are telling a story to new prospects, so the onus must be on you to direct that story.
Step One: Select the Right Clients
Theoretically, every client that you can have attest to your expertise and achievements helps. However, theories break down in practice when they are met with the realistic measurement of resources.
Even if you have a healthy budget, you only have so many minutes to put towards any effort. Remember that you should operate with excellence in mind, while moving quickly. You need to pick the best clients to interview, both individually and in the mix among the others.
Your client-selection criteria are:
- Magnitude of success
- Representative of ideal prospects
- Diversity among other examples
Magnitude of success
Case studies are simply attempts to impress your audience, showing your worth, and standing out among your competitors and alternatives. The more grand of an image of potential results you can paint, while maintaining integrity, honesty, and relevance, the more convincing the case study will be.
However, do not ever break your integrity, nor question the intelligence of your clients. If you use a hyperbolic statement or statistic that is not truly measured to the results you delivered to the clients business (vanity metrics, in other words), pass on that idea.
Representative of ideal prospects
Prospective clients are looking to see how you have helped others similar to them. This can be measured by the demographics of the company (do they look like us?) and their motivations (did they face the same situation as we are now?).
Diversity among other examples
Specializing in certain subject-matters and focusing on a niche are important to show just how deep your expertise runs in a relevant area to your prospect. However, if you plan to pursue clients in a variety of industries, or want to extend yourself outside a single service offering, you need to show how you are flexible and how that flexibility is a benefit to your clients.
Use these criteria to determine who you should interview before moving on.
Step Two: Asking Guiding Questions
The questions you ask dictate the flow of the interview. If you are creating a written case study, you can do more tailoring of the information later. With video case studies, you will need to be extra particular of how you stage the questions and the responses you receive.
Answer the questions from the client’s perspective first
Before you sit down with the client and begin, prompt yourself with the questions you choose and use their viewpoint. How might you respond if you were asked this question? How do you think that individual will respond? Look for areas that can be improved to fit the narrative you are developing better and to avoid ambiguity and confusion.
Suggested question types
- What goal did we reach together?
- What were the main benefits you experienced?
- Did we solve any specific challenges?
- Why was this a challenge for you at that time?
- Did we make your job easier or reduce downtime?
- Did we help your company save money or earn more? How significant was this?
- What stood out to you about our process for fixing this?
- What was different about working with us as compared to similar situations in the past you handled in-house or that you hired others to help you with?
- Why is the outcome so significant?
The list above proposed several types of questions with different purposes. You should rewrite them as part of your script to be more natural, fluid, interconnected and relevant. However, make note of the overall perspective.
We want to ask our client about the challenge they faced, the solution we presented, their experience working with us, and the result of our engagement. Additionally, we want to do all of this while helping them step into the frame of mind they were in when these things happened, rather than today.
That means leading their thoughts with something like, “Think back to the day you first reached out to us. What was going on that made you want to pick up the phone and figure out what you needed to do?”
Reference that period in their lives to get them back. Continue on with additional questions, like, “how did you feel picking up the phone to call our company cold?” or, “when that was going on in your company, what was it doing to affect you personally?”
The questions are where you find the gold. But only if you plan them out beforehand. (I also discuss asking the right set of questions in my post about standing out in saturated markets. Give that a read next if you are having trouble getting people to care about you to read a case study in the first place.)
Step Three: Produce the Case Study
I won’t go into detail in the logistics of how to record or film your case study. I will, however, walk you through what to consider in designing the final product.
Use the Challenge, Solution, Result framework
This is a popular approach to framing case studies to tell the client’s story in a logical and meaningful way.
Challenge: The Frustration (situation or problem) and the Impact (significance).
Solution: The Theory (what we will do) and the Application (steps taken)
Result: Outcome and lessons (including bits of wisdom and relevant resources)
As you write in this format, look for points to add specifics. Not only do mentions of specific instances and decisions make it more engaging, they make it more believable as well.
We can make this explicit with numbers. Let’s assume you are told about two consultants: one helped a company grow by $10,000,000 in a year, the other helped a company grow $8,640,000 in a year. While the latter is less substantial as a figure, it adds an element of believability based on its specificity.
Focus on readability
No matter the circumstance and no matter the prospective client’s situation, it’s doubtful that reading a case study is the most enthralling activity for your reader. Do right by them by making it easy to read, as well as to skim.
This comes down to proper copywriting techniques that will guide the reader through a piece, keeping them engaged, and also allowing them to briefly review the write-up without needing to read every word.
Use bullet-points where appropriate.
Keep sentences concise. Around fifteen words or less is fine.
Make paragraphs short, rather than in large blocks of texts. Two or three sentences is sufficient.
Leverage technology: The Hemingway Editor is my go-to for quickly cleaning up writing.
I can make countless additional suggestions. For a basic but comprehensive copywriting overview that touches on readability and gets you out of typical corporate-speak, I recommend Neville Medhora’s book.
At this point, you should have a well-polished case study. You may consider adding a photo, including a clear call-to-action, and add your company branding and contact information. Just don’t forget to check for errors. Who wants to hire the consultant who can’t spell words write on his own marketing material?
Step Four: Put the Case Study to Use
The greatest sin of the consultant who has invested his time, money and energy into developing a quality, professional case study is that it sits in their Google Drive folder, never to be fully utilized.
As with any investment in expanding your influence, you need to put it to use to make it worthwhile. There are several ways I suggest you do this:
- Create a web page version so online visitors can access the full case study
- Share your case studies through your marketing channels, like email and social media
- Develop a one-page PDF version that can be used in email or print collateral
- Add the case study to your sales nurturing process
- Place it strategically in your sales funnels on any marketing campaigns you run
- Ask your client to share it with a select few of their colleagues
- Use it as a “business card” when introducing yourself to new prospects or referral partners
- Share them again via email after a year passes or in a week on social. No one is paying that much attention to notice that you are resharing your own content, nor would they care.
To summarize, the four steps are to:
- Select the clients that are the best-fit for what you are trying to accomplish
- Ask questions that develop the narrative you wish to tell
- Design the case study in a way that makes it an engaging and easy read
- Leverage the case study in any existing and new marketing and sales efforts
While a case study may not generate new leads on its own (though a website version may have some SEO benefit), it is a pivotal element to help you convert more of the prospects that already know of you. People need to connect with who they buy from. A case study is simply a tool to bridge that gap between a stranger who claims they can help and someone who can be seen as a trusted advisor.