“I believe you, but I don’t trust you.”
What happens after a great job interview? The employer usually calls your references.
Amazing (or even just good) references will guarantee the job offer, while poor or non-existent references will likely lead to being passed over for another candidate.
The same thing happens online.
Do you realize that you’re being interviewed by your potential customers every time they are interested in a product you sell?
They’ll ask some questions, just like an interviewer would. Hopefully, you’ll answer them with the copy on your website, or they’ll already look for another solution.
But customers are becoming increasingly skeptical.
A large study in 2009 by Edelman revealed that 62% of people trusted companies less than they did before. And it doesn’t take a psychic to see that this trend is continuing.
Furthermore, it showed that consumers that trusted a company bought substantially more, recommended them to friends, and were willing to pay a premium price.
Customers want references from former or current customers that they can trust.
The lazy way is to provide reassurance with testimonials.
A better solution is to publish case studies.
Why Case Studies? Testimonials on Steroids
Think of testimonials like letters of recommendation. They’re good, but not substitutes for being able to talk to former employers and get more specific details.
In our analogy, a case study is a lot like a phone call with a reference. A case study is a detailed look at the problems your former customers had, and how your product helped fix them.
70% of content marketers believe case studies are a highly effective technique, which puts them on par with webinars.
Case studies are the closest your customers can get to word of mouth without actually talking with one of your current or past customers. Word of mouth is directly responsible for 20 to 50% of sales.
At the simplest level, both testimonials and case studies are forms of social proof when done right.
They come from a real person, hopefully recognizable (and not “John from Canada”), and describe a real experience. Social proof is more important than low prices when it comes to influencing buying decisions.
But there are also benefits to you beyond boosting conversion rates in the short-term.
You also have the chance to work with happy customers to really understand what they care about most.
The better you understand your customers, the more you can tailor your future work to attracting more of them and really blowing them away with your product.
Who Needs Case Studies?
With all that being said, not every business or agency needs case studies.
As a general rule: The more uncertainty there is for a prospective customer, the more you need case studies.
If you sell cheap plastic spatulas, there is no uncertainty in how your product works or what results it will produce. You don’t need any case studies. A few simple testimonials about build quality might be nice.
If you sell a complex product that could be open to interpretation, like B2B consulting services or a complex software solution, case studies are a must if you want to achieve a great conversion rate.
In scenarios like the latter, there’s a lot of uncertainty before making a purchase:
Will this work for us?
Is it worth the investment?
How long until we see results?
How significant will the results be?
Can we trust [your company]?
And so on…
How Many Case Studies Do You Need?
The amount of case studies you should produce often correlates with the uncertainty your prospects have.
More importantly though, the number of case studies should depend first on how many types of customers you have, and secondly on how many quality case studies you can create.
Have you heard of HubSpot? They are my go-to examples of doing case studies right.
At it’s core, HubSpot is an inbound marketing and sales platform…kind of vague, right?
It’s hard to sum up HubSpot to those not experienced with marketing and sales because it’s such a comprehensive product that really provides a complete solution for businesses of all types.
Since HubSpot caters to such a wide variety of customers, they need a ton of quality case studies.
They try to feature successful clients of all sizes in different niches.
The idea is that if a prospect can find a successful company that was in a similar situation before, the case study will resonate strongly with them.
Finally, there is some trial and error.
Creating case studies is not a one-time effort.
It should be an on-going part of your marketing efforts. Track which case studies affect your conversion rate the most using your preferred analytics tool (e.g. Google Analytics, KISSMetrics, etc.).
The 7 Key Parts of a Case Study that Converts
Not all case studies are created equally.
The best ones follow a consistent formula and include certain elements designed to enhance readability and attract attention.
In my experience, there are seven foundational elements that all high converting case studies have.
1) A results-driven and descriptive headline
Over time, you will likely publish several case studies.
What you don’t want to happen, is for a potential customer to not read any, or not read the right ones.
In order to make case studies interesting enough to read, you need an attractive headline.
This is pretty easy with case studies, since you better have solid results if you’re going to write one.
Include percentages, sales numbers, or any other metrics that quickly convey success.
Here’s a few examples from HubSpot:
One potential problem is that you can’t always get permission to share specific numbers.
Obviously, your headline quality will suffer, but do your best to write it in terms of benefits. For example:
“Staffing Company Increases Leads In 3 Months With Marketron Software.”
Next, how do you make sure your prospects read the studies that are most relevant to them, and therefore the most likely to resonate?
As you might have spotted already, lead off each headline with the type of company your customer is.
It may be a niche (e.g. SaaS, HR, staffing) or possibly a size (e.g. startup, mid-size, etc.), depending on what you believe is relevant for your potential customers.
When it comes down to it, your headline should consist of 3 elements:
- Type of customer: Niche or size of case study customer
- Benefit/result: How your customer benefited from your product
- How: While it’s obvious to you, state that they used a specific product or service that you offer
2) Identify the problem faced by your customer
The opening section should both describe the general situation your customer was in, and what their main problem was that you could potentially solve.
Take the time to weave in some background information on what industry your customer is in, what they provide, and how they operate.
3) Detail the potential solutions made available
A case study doesn’t need to be biased, because you’ve already won.
Try to include an overview of the other leading candidates and potential solutions to the problem.
Then, have your customer explain why they chose you.
4) Explain the method and approach taken to resolve the issue
Here’s where you get to explain your work to an attentive audience.
Explain how your work applied to your customer’s business, and when possible, show it.
Charts, screenshots, and custom images can all make potentially confusing explanations clear.
5) Highlight the result and the successes achieved
Just like in any story, you need a climax; here it is.
State very clearly all of the benefits that your customer has got from working with you – use numbers!
In addition, highlight any milestones they’ve achieved along the way.
Here’s an example:
Notice how all the benefits are bolded to stand out.
6) Include relatable pictures
Online case studies are still forms of web content, and must be written as such.
You wouldn’t write a blog post with just text, and you shouldn’t write a case study with just text either.
In addition, using images can also reinforce benefits that you’re showcasing, like a graph of rising profit as a result of your product:
There are many types of images you can use.
I highly recommend trying to use pictures of your customers whenever possible. It let’s a reader connect with the people behind the story.
7) End with a call-to-action (CTA)
If a potential customer is reading case studies on your website landing page, it means that they already know they have a problem and are considering your product or service as the solution.
When they come across a case study that resonates with them, they’re going to get excited.
While reading your case study, they’ll picture themselves having the same success as the similar business they are reading about.
As you might know, emotions drive purchases.
You want your prospect to read the case study, then contact you for a quote or purchase your product while they’re excited.
You do this with a CTA.
When you scroll down to the end of a HubSpot case study, you don’t get just one CTA, you get four:
The Way Pros Get Customers To Agree to a Case Study
You’ll notice that I’ve mentioned “quality case studies” a few times so far.
If you just randomly reach out to past customers, you’ll likely end up with less-than-stellar case studies, and not the ones that will really impress or resonate with prospects.
Case studies need to be part of an on-going marketing plan.
If not, they aren’t going to get done, or at least not done well. Here are some excuses you will hear from your team and customers:
- I don’t have time
- We’re missing data
- I’m not sure I’m comfortable with this
- I don’t think this is worth our time
- We’ve just started working with you. Easy now.
So how do you incorporate case studies into your marketing? There are 4 main steps.
1) Identify good candidates early
Not every new customer is a good candidate for a case study. If you already have a case study on an almost identical company, it doesn’t make sense to do another.
Similarly, if a customer is unique, they also probably won’t be a good candidate. Why? Because not too many other potential customers will be able to relate to their story.
The best candidates are:
- well-known in a specific industry
- represent a common situation of customers
- have a big problem that you know you can solve (will make a bigger impact than small problem)
2) Develop a relationship
You should develop a relationship with all your customers if possible, but especially ones that you might want to do a case study with.
Imagine if you proposed a case study right after they bought. Most would pass and feel that you’re being intrusive (similar to a pop-up ad).
Instead, start by working with them to achieve maximum success with your product. Build a trusting relationship over the time.
During this initial period, you should be making sure that they can track the impact your product will make.
Don’t do this just because it’ll help you get numbers for your case study later on, do it because it will help your customer track and optimize their results.
3) Show them the benefits
After your customer is actually happy, now you can bring up the potential of a case study.
Many businesses fail when they ask for case study participation because they present it as a favor to them, when in reality, it should benefit both of you.
You get a great case study that will improve sales, that’s obvious. What isn’t obvious is that your customer will get:
- Exposure: You will feature them on your website in your case study, but you can also use their results to feature them in articles you publish in trade magazines or blogs. This could lead to partnerships for them or speaking opportunities.
- Financial incentives: Can you offer them a discount or free assistance with your product?
- Extra attention: Offer to assign a key member of your team (that they especially like) to spend extra time working with your customer to improve results further.
- Recognition: If your company is large enough, consider starting a group where you name leaders in your industry (or your customers). Recognize your case study customers as leaders.
4) Establish expectations
Other than not understanding the benefits, the second main thing that holds customers back from participating is not knowing what to expect.
Setting expectations and showing them that it is not that much work or any risk on their side goes a long way.
Here’s what I recommend starting with:
- Time: You will need to speak with each key member of their team for about 20-30 minutes on average. Typically you’ll only need to interview 1-3 people to get all the information you need.
- Control: Give them full approval. Some companies will have a legal department that want to control any press mentions.
- Work: If there’s any legwork (content creation, design, research, approval), take care of it – it’s worth it.
- Scope: Explain to your customer that the case study will be all their story, not yours. A case study isn’t about the features of your product, it’s the benefits they can produce for a customer.
Case studies are an incredibly powerful marketing tool that will have a significant impact on your conversion rates if created right and for the right businesses.
You can hire freelance writers that specialize in case studies (expect to pay about $500 for a basic case study), or give it a go yourself if you’re trying to keep spending down.
If you have any questions about writing or using case studies for your business, now’s the time to ask them. Leave a comment below with anything that is unclear.
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