Case Study Basics – A Simple Formula for Sales Success

Case Study Basics – A Simple Formula for Sales Success
Kate Headen Waddell - Tue Jun 02, 2009 @ 08:50AM
Comments: 40

Case studies are one of the most basic – and most effective - toolsCS in the sales collateral arsenal. Much like their big sister, the white paper, they take your solution from an abstract concept to a concrete example in the eyes of your prospects.

While there are no hard and fast rules about how to create effective case studies, there are some general guidelines that will help keep you on the right track.

Length: Case studies generally range from one to four pages, with the vast majority being two pages long. Longer studies are called for when the subject matter is very technical or otherwise complex.  Spend the extra real estate on the ‘Approach’ section (outlined below).

Layout: Including a sidebar with highlights from the case study is a great way to capture skimmers. Think of this the same way you think of the executive summary with a white paper. Consider adding a graph or chart if it is relevant. Setting off a quote from the customer adds credibility and makes the study more approachable. Check out the example at right for an idea on how to do this.

Content: The following is a typical case study outline. You should play around with the content section to make your point in the best possible way in the space you have allowed.

  • Challenge: Begin the challenge section with a brief description of the company. Then answer the question: what pain was the client experiencing that led them to your solution? Be as descriptive as possible, so that readers can identify with the initial problem.
  • Solution: Begin by discussing why they selected your company to help them. If they considered other solutions talk about the options they considered and highlight why yours was determined to be the best. Finish this section with a brief description of the solution they chose.
  • Approach: This is where you talk about implementation; were there any challenges, any customization required? You can choose to discuss how long the solution took to implement, whether you offered training to employees, if you had to integrate the solution with existing workflows, and etc. The more detailed you can get the more credibility you earn with your reader.
  • Outcome: Don’t succumb to the “and they lived happily ever after” temptation. Point out specific improvements and advantages your client experienced. Include hard numbers when you have them.

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to writing convincing case studies. For a wealth of case study insight and information, dig into our previous posts on case studies and keep an eye out for a new post this week by Michele Linn.

What are some of your best tips for case studies?

Comments: 40


1. Jamie Wallace  |  my website   |   Tue Jun 02, 2009 @ 10:53AM

Kate - Very relevant content for me today! ;)
As you mentioned, I think it's important for credibility to include specific details about both the challenges and the outcome. A case study is only persuasive if it is relevant to the reader and presents a summary that addresses not only the good, but also the bad and the ugly. I'd even go so far as to say that there is value in a certain level of transparency regarding speed bumps that were overcome during an implementation.
For instance, I have been vetting vendors for a start-up client of mine and am always impressed when a company shares how things went wrong and how they addressed them (vs just telling me how flawless their product and execution were). Overcoming unexpected issues demonstrates that a company is both adaptable and innovative. Pretty good skills to have. ;)

2. Stephanie Tilton  |  my website   |   Tue Jun 02, 2009 @ 11:08AM

To continue the conversation, I'm all for transparency in case studies. Even though customer case studies are often seen as the most effective sales tool, imagine how much more authentic they'd be if customers did share "the good, the bad, and the ugly"?

This brings to mind a point in one of my previous blogs, about the fact that IT buyers want to read lessons learned by those who have already implemented the solution (prompted by a post by Scott Vaughan, VP of Marketing at TechWeb). Unfortunately, solution providers are often hesitant to print anything that could reflect negatively on them. If anyone is interested in the post by Scott, which highlights what CIOs want to see in a case study, here's the link:

3. Sarah Mitchell  |  my website   |   Tue Jun 02, 2009 @ 09:28PM

Hi Kate,

As usual, you've provided some really useful information. Case studies have been on my mind, as well. I've recently added a blog post to my website that argues case studies are the most effective way to protect your best customers. Reference customers are often "loved to death" by their vendors. A case study ensures the customer is protected and your product and/or service is positioned the way it should be every time. It's a win-win situation and who doesn't like that?

4. Marty Weil  |  my website   |   Thu Jun 11, 2009 @ 04:43AM

The key to an excellent case study is the interview. The best case studies I've written--and I've produced more than 250 of them over the past 20 years--were a direct result of an outstanding interview. I've provided tips on my blog about getting the most out of an interview subject.

The points you've outlined above are excellent.

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