Research has consistently shown that buyers want non-marketing information and peer recommendations to evaluate their options for any significant purchases. While you may initially think of this as being exemplified by Yelp and other customer review sites, it is especially true for B2B companies.
Brands need to arm their sales teams with more than just product information and cost sheets—buyers expect to hear real use cases, challenges that others have overcome, and feedback from actual customers.
This information is most commonly packaged as a customer case study, which gives prospective buyers a glimpse at how a company similar to them (either in size, industry, or challenges faced) has transformed through the use of a product or services.
The problem with many case studies is that brands too often focus on selling their product, not telling a relatable story. Although your technology or service is always an element of a customer case study, it cannot be the entire focus. Instead, case studies should discuss people, the challenges they face, the solutions they seek, and the results they achieve.
Drawing from decades of my customer case study work with clients, let’s explore how brands can optimize their customer case studies to win business. We’ll discuss how to identify the right customers for a case study, tips for writing customer-focused content, and examples of standout customer case studies.
Should You Pay For Case Studies?
To quickly address a common question—customers are not always compensated for participating in case studies, but there are times when it may make sense to do so.
Customers may invest a significant amount of time to help your team create a case study. It is important to express gratitude for their partnership, even if you do not plan direct financial compensation.
Instead of cash payments, there are several ways to compensate customers that participate in a case study:
- Discounted services: Offer customers a discount on their licensing of your product if they agree to participate in a case study. This is not essential, but it could make the opportunity enticing for some high-profile brands.
- Access to new features: Give your customer access to—or a sneak peek of—new product features. If you host a beta or test user program, invite them to join. At a minimum, ask about their feature wishlist and try to work those into your product roadmap.
- Media relations opportunities: If your public relations team intends to pitch the customer case study to relevant industry media, let them know and confirm that they approve it. The resulting media coverage could be a valuable deciding factor for the customer.
- Payment of travel costs: Specifically, in the case of video case studies where a customer may need to travel, it is good practice to offer to cover or reimburse those travel costs.
How to Identify The Right Customers for A Case Study
How do you know which customers to feature in a case study? Focus on the customers with the best story to tell, not just those with the most recognizable names.
A big brand name is an incredible addition to a customers page on your website, but those case studies can often take more time due to internal red tape. Also, these brands may require direct compensation for their participation.
In both B2B and B2C case studies, you want to feature a range of voices that represent your varied buyer personas and their top challenges or concerns. You should share relatable stories about how your customers overcame a specific issue and the results they achieved.
Use these elements to assess your potential customers for a case study:
- Company size: Does this brand appeal to small, medium, or enterprise-sized businesses? Is this company size underrepresented in your existing case studies?
- Customer satisfaction: Is the customer happy with their implementation of your product or services?
- Implementation maturity: How long has the customer been using your product? Have they been able to hit their stride, or are they still working through initial implementation hurdles?
- Industry: What industry does the company serve? Is this industry currently a target for your sales teams? What about in six months?
- Location: Where is the customer based? Do they represent a target market?
- Results: Are there clear results that the customer is willing to make public?
With those factors in mind, your team can better move forward with these three common ways to identify your potential customers for a case study:
- Social listening: Customers will likely sing praise about your brand online after a positive experience. Implement social listening tactics to track these positive mentions and identify potential customers for a case study.
- Partner with customer satisfaction or sales teams: Your customer satisfaction or sales team likely has the best pulse on how happy your customers are and the results they have achieved. Ask your customer satisfaction or sales counterparts about which customers they think could be viable for a case study.
- Review upcoming contract renewals: Partner with your sales team to identify which customers are up for renewal. From this list, identify those that are most happy with their implementation and have a clear ROI from your product or service.
How to Ask A Customer for A Case Study
Once you have identified your potential customers for a case study, first confirm that these customers do not have any current implementation issues or contract negotiations that the customer success team needs to resolve before asking them about a case study.
Remember that your relationship with the customer must be the highest priority. You should approach them based on their preferences and ways that have worked in the past. Have the person at your company with the most personal relationship with the client make the ask.
If the customer agrees, you should then loop in the content team to coordinate the next steps. Cold asks are rarely well-received, so you want to approach the customer with the right message from someone with whom they have a good relationship.
Questions To Ask Customers for A Case Study Interview
It is best to schedule a phone or video meeting to conduct your customer case study interviews, rather than attempting to do them through email or a shared document. It is much easier to form a complete narrative based on a voice chat, where you can easily dive further into areas and pick up on verbal cues of what to explore next.
In some instances, the customer will only be available for email Q&A, which is OK. Just set the expectation that there will likely be additional back-and-forth and follow-up questions to ensure you’ve built a complete story.
There are a few housekeeping questions to cover off first. Start by asking your sales or customer success teams for their answers, then confirm the answers at the start of the interview to put the customer at ease:
- What is your title at [customer company], and what does that role entail?
- How would you like us to position your role and responsibilities in the case study?
- Tell me a little bit about your company history, including any public figures around your size, employee count, revenue figures, etc.
Now you can dive into the meat of the case study. Whatever you ask, do not start with, “So, tell me about how you are using our product.” This will stifle any storytelling from the start!
Instead, use these questions for customer case study interviews to explore the customer, their unique challenges, and accomplishments:
- How did you [their specific use case] before you became our customer? What did this process look like, how long did it take, and what challenges did you face?
- What other vendors did you consider to help solve these challenges? What did that consideration process look like, and who was involved?
- Why did you choose our company?
- How was the onboarding/implementation process? How long did it take, and what was your experience like during this?
- With our solution in place, how does your team handle [their specific use case] now? How long does it take, and do you still face similar challenges as before?
- How has our product made a difference for your team?
We recommend that you record any customer case study conversations to confirm details via a transcript of the conversation. If possible, have a team member on the call that is not driving the interview take detailed notes to speed up the case study drafting process.
We’ve created this customer case study questionnaire template to cover the essentials. Note that this should just be a starting point for your conversation. You should feel free to ask additional questions based on where your customer’s unique story takes you.
Tips for Writing the Best Customer Case Studies
With your call recordings and notes handy, you can start to write your customer case study. There is no “one size fits all” approach for this, but there are several ways to increase these case studies’ value.
Follow these tips to craft compelling customer case studies that win business:
- Short, punchy title: Who is the customer, and what did they accomplish? Think of this as a headline for a news article. Have fun, but stay concise. And make sure it has a compelling “what’s in it for me?” angle.
- Set the scene: Who is this customer? How did they operate before using your service? Explain what they did before implementing your service or solution.
- Explain the problem: What specific challenges did the customer face? Are there metrics to describe how long certain activities would take?
- Focus on results: Provide clear and understandable results, with statistics whenever possible. This can be anything from “increased productivity by 50%,” “saved accounts payable teams $35 per invoice,” “grew social media community size by 500% over three months,” etc.
- Cut the jargon: Your case studies should be clear and approachable. Cut out any industry jargon and get to the point.
- Include genuine quotes: Pull verbatim quotes from your customer interview to add background and character to the case study. Create the piece from their perspective and in their voice.
- Use multiple formats: Present the case study in various forms to meet needs throughout the buyer’s journey. Repurpose case studies as blog posts, videos, PDFs, slides for sales presentations, and more.
Five Examples of Well-Written Customer Case Studies
It’s often easiest to review other case studies to get inspiration for how you can format yours. That said, you should make sure that your case studies match your brand’s voice and personality.
These are just a few examples of well-written customer case studies:
- Hubspot & Bitdefender: Although brief, this case study hits all the essential areas. There is a clear overview of Bitdefender, the results they have achieved, and an overview of their industry, size, and location. They also have a video version of the case study that adds background and further reinforces why Bitdefender chose Hubspot.
- IDEO & INFARM: This case study reads like a story, which is precisely what you are hoping to do. There is a clear overview of INFARM and its goals, as well as how IDEO helped. The clear and striking images add to the experience.
- Salesforce & Zillow: The first thing you see is an image of the team members involved in this customer partnership along with a representative Zillow, giving this a very “human” feel. There is attention drawn to the products used, but in a natural way that does not detract from the story. Although the study is lengthy, clear sections make it easy to skim, and all the right information is available for those who read through.
- Sprinklr & Sonos: Unlike some of the others on this list, this case study is a simple PDF document with well-defined sections. It is straightforward to understand the challenge that Sonos faced, the solutions they implemented, their intended goal, and four clear results of the partnership.
- Sprout Social & Zendesk: Sprout Social included six videos for this case study, but they are divided into clear sections and trimmed to address specific needs or use cases. Clear headlines make the case study easy to skim, and the videos help tell the story in a way that text simply cannot.
Case Studies Are Critical for Closing New Business
Customer case studies are a core part of any company’s success. Following the steps we discussed above, you can start to build your customer case study collection and mature in your ongoing strategy.
We recommend that you revisit your previous case studies at least once a year to ensure that they are still relevant, and you should aim to create at least one new case study a quarter to keep a healthy stream of case studies on your site. Partner with your sales team to best understand their case study needs and create a plan to fill any gaps over an agreed-upon and realistic timeframe.
If you’re looking for support with your customer case study creation, please reach out. We have years of experience interviewing customers, extracting the best stories, and presenting these in ways that will delight your prospective buyers. We’re ready to help you however needed.