6 ways you could be dooming your case studies before you even start writing

Camille Rasmussen - January 12, 2018

Case studies are loved by many for their ability to educate prospects and turn sales and marketing spiels into verified, credible claims.

Sales teams need them to show proof to their prospects. Marketers add them to email campaigns to keep mid-funnel buyers engaged. And potential customers look for them on your site to evaluate whether your solution will work for their unique situation.

But for all their perks, case studies are notoriously time consuming. A survey of TechValidate users found 77% of our customers spent over a month on each case study, and a third spent 3 months or more! The good news is you can avoid wasting your time on preventable setbacks. Below you’ll find 6 common mistakes companies make with their case studies before writing even begins.

1. You’re relying on your sales team to identify customers

It’s an easy habit to fall into: you reach out to your sales team and solicit a few good customer names for your next case study. Your sales reps work closely with your customers, so they can easily connect you to interested clients, right?

The problem is, your sales reps aren’t incentivized to help out the marketing team. Their priority is making sales. The result? You’ll likely have major gaps in the flow of customer references when you rely on your sales team alone.

Increasingly, marketers are takings back the reins and running customer surveys to gauge interest. The minimal time and effort required to fill out a quick survey can mean a lot more responses, and a much bigger pool of customer volunteers to select from.

2. You aren’t talking to the right people

Bad interviews get you nowhere. So when it comes time to gather info for your case study, it’s worth taking that extra moment to make sure you’re set up with the right interviewee. Look for someone you believe will be a strong brand advocate (meaning they should have some positive things to say about your product) and who has a strong understanding of the company’s use case, or personally uses your product on a regular basis.

Commonly, when you reach out to set up an interview, the customer might rush to loop in a marketing, brand, or PR spokesperson to speak with you. It makes sense. These are the people charged with keeping public content (including your case study) consistent and on brand, so of course they have an interest in participating. But unless these are the people using your product—or the end users are on the line too—this interview has a strong chance of providing weak material for your case study.

Another tip: whenever possible, interview multiple people with different roles and perspectives to get the full picture.

3. You didn’t get legal signoff from the get go

There’s no bigger let down in the case study process than when you’ve just put the finishing touches on your shiny new case study and patiently await the customer’s final approval… and then—oh no!—the customer comes back and apologetically tells you that they actually can’t endorse third-party vendors.

Not everyone you speak with will have their corporate legal policy memorized, so it pays to get approvals up front. Many companies, particularly the big names that you’d LOVE to feature on your website, have legal policies that prevent them from participating in vendor case studies. So save yourself the time and disappointment and send out a standard release form (see an example release form on page 10 of our case study eGuide).

4. You’re asking the wrong questions

The details you gather from the customer can mean the difference between an engaging, stat-filled case study and a mind-numbingly dull one. Asking the right questions is vital to building a strong customer story, so choose wisely. A few pointers:

  • Always ask open-ended questions. ‘Yes’ or ‘no’ varieties won’t yield the level of detail you’ll need to craft a compelling story.
  • Ask questions around each of the sections in your case study: what their company does, what challenges they faced, what solution they selected and why, and what results and benefits they’ve seen since.
  • Stats and metrics make for compelling proof points, so don’t forget to ask the customer if they have any data that reflects a positive change since they started using your product.
  • Don’t stick to the script. Tailor some questions to the customer’s unique use case, industry, and pain points.
  • Consider sending out a questionnaire a few days prior to a phone or in-person interview to help the customer prepare.

5. You aren’t recording the interview

Here’s a tip straight from the journalism playbook: if you want to remember what’s said in an interview, ditch the pen and notepad and grab an audio recorder. Memories fail, notes get lost, and mid-interview distractions happen.

And when your customer raves about your product in the most eloquent way, or when the building maintenance starts up the lawnmower and you miss a few words, having that back-up audio to revisit can save the day. These days you don’t need to invest in an old-fashioned portable audio recorder (unless you’re going for the reporter-on-duty look). Just hit record on your web conferencing tool or download a third party app, and you’re set.

6. You aren’t aiming for a diverse portfolio of customer stories

When a prospect visits your website, will they find a case study that speaks to their industry, use case, and unique challenges? If not, they might end up feeling disconnected from your product.

Diversifying your case study collection can help your sales team as they work their way into new markets. Aim to build a collection of case studies that are relevant to each of your target verticals, personas, and applications.

The goal is to relate to your target buyers’ pain points and desired results and offer compelling proof that your solution has in fact helped similar companies with their own situations. Every prospect faces unique challenges—show them you understand theirs.

Case study best practices

Want to take a deeper dive into the best practices for writing, distributing, and influencing buyers with your case studies? Check out this comprehensive eguide for more case study tips, or tune into our on-demand panel webinar to get a cross-functional perspective on what makes a successful case study.

This post originally ran on The Marketo Blog 1/9/18.

Camille Rasmussen

Camille Rasmussen is the Content Marketing Manager at TechValidate. She studied Journalism at the University of Oregon (Go Ducks!) and has over 6 years experience in marketing communications + content. When she's not writing, she's usually trying out new restaurants around town or exploring the beautiful parks, hikes, and beaches the bay area has to offer.

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