How to write Case Studies that sell!

I’ve written for countless organisations over the years. In many instances the requirement is driven by a demand from the sales team for a “case study” they can use to help them sell.

Therein is the challenge. It’s one thing to have a copywriter or a PR agency churn out reams of case study documents, the key to making them useful for the sales team however, is understanding how to write and prepare the case studies in a way that meets the objective of “helping them sell”.

In my experience most case studies only serve to evidence a deeper underlying issue that many organisations are wrestling with and that is that they don’t really understand why their customers buy. Clearly if you don’t understand why customers buy (how they select and what makes them commit), then writing something that will compel others to do the same thing is nigh on impossible.

That’s why most of the case studies you read will give you great insight into the size and scale of the customer and the technical capability of the supplier (as well as their size and scale too of course!). In the main (but certainly not always), you will get an idea of the problem or challenge the client was facing but almost without exception this will be followed (if not led) by the tools, techniques or technologies the vendor used to solve it.

These sorts of studies have become a standard. Almost standard fodder, because that’s what they end up being; simply a list of customers who will admit to having spent money with you and a list of the tools and services and capabilities the vendor can provide. Just like everyone else.

So in the quest to deliver, “something that can help me sell”, are the sales teams getting what they need, or simply technically what they asked for?

Perhaps it’s worth taking some time to consider why customers buy?

Accepted wisdom of course, is that it’s a combination of the features of your product and service and the value and benefit that some or all of those can bring to a customer.

To a degree of course that still holds true, but in a marketplace with hyper-competition and little differentiation (when everyone is offering “cloud enablement” for example), how does a potential customer distinguish your offering from that of the rest of the market?Be careful that your answer to this doesn’t become “price” by the way.

Beyond price (or the commercial model at least) the most commonly assumed way of addressing this is “scale and volume”, so either, “we’re bigger” and therefore more able to support you or “we’re smaller” and therefore more willing to support you.

(It’s interesting/funny how huge brands have recently invested $bns in trying to look small and accessible).

Both of these statements stand up and will be further reinforced by how many “case studies” we have to support that fact. In this instance the case studies usually serve simply to confirm that a number of customers bought from the company.

What if you’re not the biggest or the smallest? What if actually the customer doesn’t want to buy from a behemoth or a minnow?

In my experience (and in fact evidenced again recently while  interviewing an IT Decision maker for a client case study), we tend to forget that customers are humans first, their role second and their company representative third.  This order is important and the emphasis is changing too. 

Here’s why:

Human First – Check out Maslow’s Hierarchy of need.
Read it from the bottom up. What is it that we humans are concerned with first?

Before we get to problem solving and the acceptance of facts (all the things that appear in a case study or a typical sales pitch), you’ll see that we have some other, more fundamental priorities. Like Self esteem, confidence, respect by others etc. Safety etc.

While this is doubtless a great model and serves to explain the point, I think it’s really just common sense.

We’re selling to people. We tend to forget that when we put our “business dress” on (on both sides of the negotiating table actually). People have personal lives and ambitions (which is typically why they go to work).

Just because they’re sitting behind a big desk in an important building, the still have the very same fears and insecurities as everyone else (don’t let them fool you that they don’t).

So what does that mean for the Case Study writer?

It means that the technical elements of your case study, the tools and products etc are in the main of tertiary importance to the reader. Granted, once you get into the nitty-gritty of the proposed solution you’ll need to drill into these, but at this stage they are merely “table stakes”. On first sight of your case study, your reader is going to want to understand firstly how what you’re offering won’t “hurt them” then they’ll want to be reassured that what you’re offering won’t make them look foolish and then they’re more likely to want to know how it might make them gain the respect of their peers or colleagues, how it might enable them to reach some of their personal goals and ambitions (and professional ones too of course), then, if all that stacks up, they’ll be interested in the price and the technology.

So, when considering a case study that will sell, consider that you’re selling to other humans too. They will recognise and empathise with the subject in your study, so, look for those points you can draw out that reflect on these primary concerns. What gave your client confidence? How did the decision go down internally? What has he/she been able to achieve professionally as a result? What had been their concerns prior to making the decision and how now are they reassured?

Role Second: Eg. Marketing Director, IT Director, SVP, CTO etc. 

The fact that your subject “is one” is useful in that your prospects will identify with their peer. It’s more than that though. Ten or twenty years ago people were “company men/women”, the emphasis was on how long they’d been in the company and how they’d worked up from the post room etc. Today it’s about personal brand equity. In non- marketing jargon, that means it’s about them as a professional, not them as an employee of ABC inc. Nowadays people have to be constantly considering their next role and career move. People are much more savvy about how they present and portray their own professional image. A case study (for them) is a fantastic free bill-board. So while it’s great that the company was able to achieve XYZ as a result of your customer’s decision…you may find it’s increasingly important to the reader that the IT Director achieved XYZ or the Marketing Director was then able to…..etc..

These are people you’re talking to and about after all.

So in writing your case study consider that your reader will want to learn how working with you might help them in their own personal and professional ambitions…just as it did their peer in the study.

Company Representative: Which company did you do it for?

This is still important but perhaps not always in the way people think. So yes if you’re selling to organisations where “size matters” then clearly you need to evidence that you have experience of working with organisations of a similar stature. There is also logic in evidencing that you understand or are respected in a particular field or market. However, it’s important to think beyond these. Companies of the same size and in the same industry aren’t necessarily wrestling with the same challenges. Your “solution” may be just as important and relevant to an online retailer as it is to hedge fund. You may well find that the person reading your case study identifies more readily with their peers across the industry (so think horizontally) than they do with their peers vertically. So, “I trust the views of my peers who are wrestling with out of date environments, little departmental budget and an urgent need to change”. “I don’t really consider I have anything in common with my peers in other banks but who have lots of budget, up to date environments and are in a stable state”.

So what does all this mean if you want to write case studies that will actually help your sales teams to sell?

It means before you think of the technical elements of your product or service or the size and scale of your organisation or even which other brand names you’ve delivered it for, think about for whom you delivered it, what it did for them, why they personally were compelled to buy and why they stay loyal and committed.

People identify with people, use that if you want to arm your sales team with a killer case study!

Let me know if I can help you with yours!