Secret Tip to Effortlessly Writing Case Studies

Posted on by Greg Cholmondeley | No Comments »

by Greg Cholmondeley, Workflow Practice Director, PODi and Caslon & Company

License to SellIt’s commonly called “content marketing” but most people I know use content such as case studies more frequently as sales tools in “content selling.” During a sales call you learn what a prospect is trying to do and reply that you’ve worked with someone else who was trying to do something similar, then you explain the barriers they faced, how you helped them, and how they succeeded. You offer to send them a case study you’ve written detailing everything and your prospect feels that you understand them, have experience in this area, and puts you near the top of their list.

But who has time to write case studies? Well, it turns out there’s a hard way to do it and an easy way … the problem is that most people go about it the hard way. Here is what I learned when I interviewed Tony Hodgson, Director of PODi Europe, about his upcoming PODi Institute course titled “Using Content Marketing to Grow Your Business.”

Elements of great case studies

All great case studies contain the following elements, although they might be ordered differently depending upon your needs or writing style:

  1. Client Description: A little about the client to establish that we’re comparing apples to apples
  2. Objectives: What they were trying to accomplish
  3. Challenges/Barriers: What was preventing them from accomplishing those objectives
  4. Solution: What they did with you to meet their objectives
  5. Implementation: How they worked with you to turn this into a reality
  6. Results: Any quantifiable financial, business, or other benefits
  7. Reasons for Success: Why this worked when other approaches didn’t
  8. Next Steps: What they hope to do next

The wrong way to write case studies

This sounds great, but pulling all this together can be really, really time consuming and difficult – if you do it the wrong way. Unfortunately, that is exactly what most of us do. The process typically goes as follows:

  1. Identify an opportunity
  2. Make a proposal
  3. Win the deal
  4. Implement the solution over weeks or months
  5. Complete delivery of the project
  6. Decide this would make a great case study
  7. Assign somebody to make it happen
  8. Get permission from the customer
  9. Reconstruct what happened (interview people, comb through notes, etc.)
  10. Write the case study
  11. Get it approved

Steps 7-10 are the ones that take a lot of time and effort – usually by one person who was not involved with the project and who probably has other work to do. What if those steps could be massively streamlined?

The right way to write a case study

The easy way to do it is to treat every solution sale as a case study opportunity, to document the essential details at every step, and to keep those notes in a commonly accessible location. Here’s how it works:

  1. Identify an opportunity: At this point your sales rep already has all the info for the items 1-3 of your case study. Jot them down and save them in case you need them later. In fact, go ahead and include this information in your proposal to make it even stronger.
  2. Make a proposal: By this time your team has item 4 of your case study locked down along with an outline for item 5 about how you plan to implement it. You probably even have most of item 7 as well because you’re pitching why you expect your proposed solution to work better than prior attempts or other competitive options.
  3. Win the deal: Go ahead and get preliminary approval for doing a case study now. Say something like: “What we’re doing together sounds so interesting that we think we’d like to write it up as a case study when we’re done. Would you be willing to let us do that?” In fact, asking this can help instill confidence that you see their project as important and valuable as they do.
  4. Implement the solution: Keep some project notes. Nothing too extravagant, but have your project manager document major milestones, key dates, reminders of how you worked together with the client to overcome unexpected problems, and so forth.
  5. Complete delivery of the project
  6. Decide that this would make a great case study
  7. Assign somebody to make it happen: At this point your writer has pretty much all the information he or she needs to write sections 1-5 and most of section 7.
  8. Get permission from the customer: This will be a lot easier since you’ve already discussed it once. Also, you can provide a case study outline so they can see the general story.
  9. Reconstruct what happened: All you need to do is to fill in some gaps, try to get some measurable results from the client, confirm the reasons for success, and discuss future needs (which your sales rep has probably already done).
  10. Write the case study: This becomes just turning notes into prose and is pretty easy for a writer to do.
  11. Get it approved: Sorry, no help here. This just has to be done. However, consider this: Even if you did not get permission to publish the case study, you have all the information you need to succinctly write it as a story your sales reps can learn and verbally share. A library of such stories can be very helpful in future sales cycles without adding much workload at all.

The point is that much of the time typically spent writing case studies involves a writer who is probably not familiar with the project coming up to speed by interviewing people and trying to recreate and confirm decisions, facts and dates. All this can be dramatically reduced by simply having a process in place where the people working the project keep some minimal and easily accessible notes.

More tips and tricks to content marketing/selling

This is just one tidbit Tony Hodgson shared about his 4-week, online, PODi Institute course on September 8, 15, 22, 29 at 11:00 am U.S. Eastern Time. His 4 one to one-and-a-half hour sessions will cover how to use content in sales and marketing, how to leverage various channels, how to use content to generate leads and convert sales, how to develop a content marketing strategy, and how to efficiently write case studies. There will be interactive, in-class discussions as well as reviewed homework assignments designed to help attendees translate the classes into real, actionable results.

Tony pioneered cross-media marketing, web-to-print and e-commerce in the UK as a digital printer. He has an Institute of Direct and Digital Marketing qualification in B2B Marketing, a master’s degree in Computer Science, runs his own marketing technology solutions consultancy, and is now Director of PODi Europe. And PODi, with a library of over 500 digital printing and marketing services solution case studies, is an authority on the subject.

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