Customer success stories – also known as case studies – are powerful tools for your B2B content toolbox. They build trust with your prospective customers and help you earn their business. If you don’t have any, now is the time to change that.
Fifty-four percent of B2B buyers use case studies to inform their purchasing decisions, according to Demand Gen Report’s 2020 Content Preferences Study. Providing educational, compelling content is increasingly important as more buyers than ever do most, if not all, of their research online before they talk with you.
Why Are Case Studies So Important?
Case studies prove your company delivers results. You can tell prospects that your company “meets and exceeds expectations,” but it’s not as credible as real customers sharing real successes. B2B marketing often promotes all the great things businesses do rather than focusing on customers. Case studies leave no doubt about what your company can provide.
What’s in a Case Study?
Case studies typically have four parts:
- Your customer has a problem
- Your company provides a solution
- Your customer gets results
- Call to action (CTA)
You want prospective customers to know “what’s in it for me?” if they invest in your products and services. Case studies should make the benefits clear through your customers’ eyes. They need tangible proof that they’ll see results from their investments.
What Results Do B2B Buyers Care About?
Specificity is key in case study content. The more measurable results you can share, the better.
You can focus on:
- Increased revenue
- Reduced costs
- Lead generation
- Improved quality
- Improved efficiency
- Market growth
- Business growth
- Time savings
When thinking about the benefits that B2B buyers care about, put yourself in their shoes. When you’re shopping for a new product or service, what do you look for in a company? Do you care that the business is “award-winning,” or do you want to see strong outcomes for companies like yours?
How to Select Case Study Candidates
Not all customers make great case studies. One of the mistakes businesses make is to contact friendly customers they know will take their calls or those they’ve known for the longest time. Being on good terms with customers doesn’t necessarily equate to informative and benefits-driven content.
Even the best writers in the world can’t turn a ho-hum customer experience into a ShamWow! story. Case studies should feature your most impressive results.
Here’s how to go about it:
- Start by making a list of your biggest customer achievements. Don’t worry about fine-tuning. Just list as many exceptional examples as you can. Check with your sales and customer service teams. Since they’re on the front lines, they can offer valuable input about who to feature.
- Once you’ve brainstormed a list, see if any names stand out. Are there any notable brands? Marquee names carry more weight than lesser-known companies. Circle or otherwise highlight any big names. One caveat: Large brands can be difficult to get commitments from. They may have policies prohibiting endorsements, which is what case studies are. Others may require you to jump through marketing and legal hoops. They may shut you down immediately. Don’t worry about that yet, however.
- If you don’t have big-name success stories, focus on smaller customers. Think of convincing, real-life examples that show your value and exceptional customer experiences. What pain points did you address? How did you solve their problems? What benefits did they get from your products and services?
- Refine your list to 10-12 customers. These are the customers you’ll contact for permission to feature. There’s no magic number, but the more you can come up with (so long as they’re your top examples), the better. Inevitably, some will say no, and others simply won’t get back to you.
Contact Candidates for Permission
Once you’ve got a list of 10-12 customers, contact them for permission to write about them. The larger the company, the harder this can be. As noted previously, large companies may have nondisclosure agreements, policies that prohibit direct or implied endorsements, legal reviewers, and marketing teams that oversee publicity.
Don’t be discouraged, however. You’ll never know if they’ll participate if you don’t ask. And they could say yes!
Typically, each customer will want to know:
- Your topic
- Your deadline
- Who you plan to interview
- How you’ll use the case study
- Where the case study will appear
- How you’ll promote it
In addition, you’ll likely need to consent to various levels of internal review at your customer’s company, particularly for large, well-known brands. Plan ahead because you may need significant lead time for the review and approval process. Stakeholders can include your interview sources and marketing, public relations and legal review departments – perhaps even the CEO.
Explain You’ll Be Using Names, Titles and Quotes
Customers may not want you to use identifying information, including the names of their organizations and the people you interview. Ideally, you’ll want to include this information, along with direct quotes, because it adds credibility to your content. Attribution is important for establishing trust with B2B buyers.
When shopping for B2B products and services, would you rather do business with the company that didn’t identify its customers and had anonymous quotes or the company that put names and faces to customer outcomes?
If you have outstanding results to share but your customers insist on anonymity, ask them if you can reference their organizations broadly. For example, “one of the largest health care companies in the United States,” or “a prominent Midwest real estate developer.”
If it comes down to having anonymous case studies or no case studies, it’s probably better to go anonymous as long as you feature extraordinary results. If your results are average and the customers don’t want to be identified, hold off writing content. Instead, focus on building future successes you can promote.
What if They Need Convincing?
Customers may be reluctant to participate for a variety of reasons. They may not have the time or they may worry about potentially revealing proprietary information. Others may not see any benefit to participating.
Tell your customers they’ll get publicity and exposure, which can increase awareness for their brands, particularly if you share the case studies on your website and social media channels. If you @mention them as well, that will boost their visibility even more. If they still decline to participate, move on to the next company on your list.
While it might be tempting to dangle an incentive, such as discounted or free service, to entice participation, I don’t recommend doing that. It creates the perception of bias and cheapens the service you provide. It’s similar to paying customers to participate in a survey. You’ve worked hard to build trust in your brand; don’t destroy it with freebies.
Set the Stage for Success by Sending Questions in Advance
For each case study, make sure you conduct at least one interview with stakeholders by phone so you can get detailed answers to your questions. Email can help you fill in the gaps, but you likely won’t get all the information you need that way. Learn more about interview best practices.
Most stakeholders will want to know the questions you’ll ask during your interviews, so they can prepare before they speak with you. Email these questions in advance and tell them your deadlines for responses.
The questions may vary from customer to customer, but here’s a general list that will help you get started:
- When was your company founded?
- How many employees do you have?
- How many locations do you have?
- Where is your headquarters?
- What’s your annual revenue or sales?
- What challenges were you facing when you hired us?
- What were your goals at the time?
- What solutions did you consider before working with us?
- Why did you choose us over competitive alternatives?
- How did our products and services help you meet your goals? Please be specific and include success metrics.
- Would you recommend us to other companies? Why?
Schedule Your Interviews
When you get stakeholders’ responses, contact them to schedule phone interviews. Plan on 30-60 minutes for each interview. If stakeholders sent you detailed email responses, you’ll need less time than if they gave vague or short answers.
You may need to dig deep to get what you’re after. In my experience, the responses I receive before my interviews lead to more questions than they answer. Your goal isn’t to rehash what you already know. Use the interviews to clarify uncertainties, elaborate on key points, discover details and data you didn’t learn previously, and get notable, meaty quotes from stakeholders.
Reviews and Approvals
At the conclusion of your interviews, be sure to thank everyone for their time and confirm you’ll send a draft to your designated customer contacts for feedback and edits. Be sure to send the edited version to each customer for final approval. Don’t accept verbal approvals – get them in writing. This will protect you and your customers from any questions about who approved what and when, who revised the content, and what they changed.
The approval process can be labor- and time-intensive, especially with large companies. I recommend that an assistant or someone else on your team manage revisions and final approval. Being able to hand that off will give you time to start working on your next case study.
Formatting Your Case Studies
One of the most common questions about case studies is how long they should be. I recommend being as concise as possible – 500 words or less. I used to write case studies that were 800-1,000 words each. Most people don’t want to read that much today. If you’re in a technical industry or your products are highly specialized, however, you may need more than 500 words.
Regardless of the length, appeal to skim readers. Include:
- Headlines (titles) and subheads (short, small titles)
- Images and graphics, including your logo and your customers’ logos
- Bulleted lists
- Pull quotes from stakeholders
- Callouts with impressive stats
- A sidebar with customer information, including number of employees, locations, headquarters, annual revenue or sales, etc.
How to Set up the Content
Case studies follow a basic format:
1. Write a headline (title) that includes a measurable benefit. “[YOUR CUSTOMER] slashes energy expenses by 70% using new [YOUR PRODUCT] solution.” If you don’t have specific metrics, focus on a challenge or pain point that your B2B buyers will find relatable. “[YOUR CUSTOMER] creates new revenue streams with [YOUR SERVICE].”
Don’t write a wishy-washy headline like this: “[YOUR COMPANY] helps [YOUR CUSTOMER] succeed.” Yawn … You need a direct result to attract B2B buyers. Without it, they won’t read past the headline and all your work will have gone to waste.
2. Introduce your customer by name. Briefly describe the company and where it’s based. For example, “ThreatSwitch, a cloud-based security software company in Charlotte, North Carolina.”
If your customer doesn’t want to be named, try to use a general description. For example, “a top wealth management firm in Illinois.” The goal is to give B2B buyers enough context that they can relate to the featured customer.
3. Explain your customer’s challenges and goals. Focus on the challenges your customer experienced before using your products or services and what the company sought to achieve. Why did the customer choose your company to help? Did the company consider and/or try other solutions? What happened?
4. Describe how your products or services solved your customer’s problems and helped the company reach its goals. Share specific results and real numbers. Details add credibility and show where your customer started and ended. Be sure to include strong quotes from key stakeholders, along with their names and titles.
Be careful that you’re not internally focused. You don’t want to pat yourself on the back and talk about how great your company is. This section is about the exceptional results your customer experienced from working with you. Let your customer tell the story.
5. Wrap up with a subtle call to action (CTA). Case studies are informational and educational – not salesy. You can use a “soft” CTA, such as encouraging B2B buyers to contact you or visit your website for more information.
Promote Your Case Studies
Your website is the perfect place to publish your case studies. Make sure each story has a unique link on your site versus publishing one page with multiple case studies. That way, you can give each customer a link to that particular success story. Ask your customers to share your content and provide a link back to your site so you can get more mileage from your content.
In addition, promote your case studies on your company’s social media channels. Include quotes, interesting statistics and images or graphics in your social media teasers, along with links to the full content.
You can also ask your customers to promote case studies on their social media channels. They’ll be more willing to help you if you make it easy for them by providing prewritten blurbs and any images or graphics that you’d like to include.
Building Trust Builds Business
Case studies are an important part of B2B marketing. They help convince prospective customers that you deliver what you promise. By sharing concrete examples and real benefits, you’ll earn B2B buyers’ trust – and their business.
Now, to You
Does your B2B business use case studies effectively? How do you use them in your sales cycle? Let us know in the comments below.