December 8, 2015

Making the case for a case study

A correctly written and positioned case-study is one of the most powerful selling techniques you can adopt as part of a corporate selling strategy. It’s particularly relevant if you’re in the consultancy or business services sector as it may be easier to explain what your business does through an example. If you are selling a complicated product, like software, that solves a myriad of problems for your client and your implementation and support services sets you apart from your competition, then again, a case study can be an excellent way of highlighting what you do best.

As with all good sales copy, you need to be aware of one very important fact. The case study is not about you. Let me explain.

Aspiration, aspiration, aspiration

It does not matter how beautifully you compose your case study, your prospect will only read it if there’s something in it for him. In my experience there are three main ways to get the prospect’s attention enough to get him to read your case study:

  1. He aspires to be like your client. Then you can almost write, ‘we worked with X’ and add a testimonial from X and you’re done
  2. He has the same problem that you solved for your client and aspires not to have that problem any more.
  3. He wants to achieve the same outcome as you achieved for your client and aspires to generate that level of revenue, sales leads, etc.

But note, he will be looking at this from the angle of your client. Who are they, what was their problem and what was the outcome? The more observant among you may notice that there’s something missing from this. What you actually did. I’m afraid that your process, as riveting as it may be to you, is not that interesting right now to your client. At this point, the case study is to get your client’s attention and move him on to the next stage. Then you can bore  sell your process to your client.

Basic anatomy of a case study.

I like to think of the case study as a short story. Because it then has a nice, logical order and you can add some reader-stickiness in the form of tension. Here’s what I mean.

Opening scene. You name the company, and state their position. If they are someone we’ve all heard of then great. If not, then you’ll need to expand on who they are and how much money they make.

Inciting incident. Usually laid out within the same paragraph as the opening scene. Here you state why the company needed your services. They may be launching a new product, opening a new branch or losing money hand over fist. Ideally your prospect will identify with the problem, so make sure it’s obvious why the client purchased your product or service.

Path to resolution. Start to explain your approach. No need to go into chapter and verse here, but if you have a suite of products explain which one you chose. Or if you devised a training programme  or wrote software, mention that. Keep it short because you’ll lose the reader’s attention if you spend too long before getting to the …

Moment of conflict. If you can, mention a particular issue, obstacle or event that didn’t go to plan – or made the process less smooth than it could have been. Why? It may seem counterintuitive to talk about anything less than perfect, but including these issues helps to build trust with your prospects. It prevents your case study from seeming too sugar-coated and therefore unbelievable. Most complex projects hit issues and how you deal with those issues speaks volumes about what you’re like to work with. And, not to put too finer point on it, it’s interesting to read about. Never underestimate the importance of keeping people reading, even if you have to resort to gossip to do so!

Resolution. The outcome. If the outcome is not clear-cut, then choose another case study. Concrete numbers are best: revenue generated, ROI, leads obtained, money saved, productivity improved, KPIs achieved…

Testimonial. This really does do a lot of the work for you. And in my experience it’s the bit that often gets left out because companies, for some reason, feel awkward asking for testimonials. But why? We all use them and if you’ve worked well with a company and they’re happy with your work, just ask. The worst that will happen is that they’ll ignore or forget about your request and it’ll soon be lost under a mountain of email.

But what if my client sees it?

It always worries me when my clients express concern that their clients may see the case study. Here’s the thing – the case study should be done in conjunction with the end-user client. It should show you and them in a positive light, therefore your client should be pleased about what is essentially free promotion. When I write a case study for my clients, it’s often part of my job to call the end user and get their perspective; I can get the testimonial while I’m at it too. Include your client in the process, show it to them before it goes live. You’ll strengthen your relationship and avoid any issues around ‘what if I client sees it.’