How to: Write a Case Study

Worth their weight in gold when selling to a hesitant prospect, case studies are cheap to produce, the concept is easy to understand and their impact on the prospect large. But, as with everything, there are good and bad case studies so in this guide I'll give you my 7 golden rules for producing the effective ones. 

Anyone who's ever spent any time in sales will tell you that the best type of prospect to deal with is one who has been referred to you by an existing customer. Despite the vast sums of money spent on creating realistic and believable marketing messages, prospects will always place more weight on the views of an existing customer than your finely crafted, expensively produced marketing messages.

Whilst its impossible to equip salespeople with a portable talkative customer for use in every sales situation, marketing departments should be able to provide them with the next best thing - a quantity of real-life case studies.

Case studies are cheap to produce, the concept is easy to understand and their impact on the prospect large. But, as with everything, there are good and bad case studies so in this guide I'll give you my 7 golden rules for producing the effective ones.

1. Make it balanced

The best case studies engage the interest of not only the prospect but the subject of the case study as well. Remember that your valued customer is potentially giving up some of his/her time to help you close a sale. It's possible that they'll be called by your prospect, looking for confirmation of the case study's accuracy or wanting some more information. The case study subject is giving you something of value so its important that you give them something back.

The best way of doing this is by writing the case study in such a way that it complements the subject company on their foresight and determination to adopt the latest working practices/technology/process in achieving their aim. In this way you're providing the subject with some internal justification for their time investment and possibly with something that they can show their clients as well.

2. Make it believable

This should be a no-brainer but many case studies stretch the prospects credulity to such an extent that they become convinced that the subject of the case study is a relative, a shareholder or an idiot. Avoid grandiose statements such as "Product A changed the company's operation so radically that they've now become the world leader in the production of machine tooled widgets" - even if it's true.

3. Make it relevant

One case study is not enough. Make sure your salesforce's toolkit contains a number relevant to the different situations they'll find themselves selling in to. In my own industry we always try to have at least one covering each of the following situations:

  • An existing user of a competitive product who has 'upgraded' to ours
  • A new company implementing a system for the first time (with severe budget constraints)
  • An established, conservative company getting on the technology bandwagon for the first time

4. Make it clear and readable

It is even more important in a case study than in an advert that the language be unambiguous. Case studies are not pieces of standard marketing literature, your main aim when writing them is not to make a point but to tell a story. Follow the standard rules of story telling and remember to use plenty of quotes:

  • Start with some standard background information on the subject
  • Paint a picture of the subject as a previously successful company
  • Introduce the problem
  • Show how the problem is a block to future success
  • Introduce the hero (you, your product or service)
  • Talk about the hero
  • Show how the hero and the subject get together
  • Show the hero defeating the problem
  • End with the company living happily ever after with plans for an even more successful future

It's corny but it works.

5. Allow contact

You must allow the prospect a means of getting in touch with the subject of the case study. Even if the subject is so well known that no-one would believe you'd ever just make up a story about them, give the prospect the opportunity to talk to them directly.

Make sure that the case study has printed contact details on it, preferably telephone or e-mail, so that the prospect can contact the customer when you are not present. You should not be seen as a chaperone, if you insist on being the medium through which communications must go, then you cast serious doubt on the validity of the case study.

6. Be serious

No humour please. Business is not funny. By all means adopt a light-hearted approach to the tone of the case study but avoid making jokes - humour is too individual to include in a written sales pitch.

Be careful, the line between light-hearted and bad humour is a thin one.

7. Be consistent

This should go without saying but if your main marketing message is that your product/service is a quality one, don't write case studies in which the subject talks endlessly about how cheap you are. Your case studies will be read in association with your other marketing material, any inconsistencies in message will be spotted.