The Complete Guide to Writing B2B Customer Case Studies
It’s often said that word of mouth is one of the most powerful customer acquisition channels. That should come as no surprise given our personal buying habits. We read through product reviews on Amazon before we spend even a small amount of money. We can’t try a new restaurant without looking it up on Yelp. Heck, we even ask our social media connections for Netflix recommendations.
And those are all B2C examples. Us B2B marketers know the stakes are higher for our customers. If they buy the wrong product, it hurts their company and, in turn, can cost them a promotion, raise, or possibly their job.
The prospect’s need to get it right is an underlying reason the buying process is so lengthy for many B2B companies. They have to conduct in-depth research before choosing a solution. They have to demo multiple products, compare costs and feature sets, and ultimately convince their boss they found the right software.
Content marketing plays an important role in the sales process. Collateral like feature guides, comparison sheets, how-to webinars, and more help answer the many questions prospects have while they conduct their research. However, the information in that content is provided by your company so prospects naturally take it with a grain of salt.
At some point, your potential customers want to hear from your current customers. They want to validate that the benefits promised by your sales team and sales content are being experienced by other companies. According to Incite Group, a division of Reuters, 91% of B2B buyers said their decisions were influenced by word of mouth. So how can you create content where a case for your product is made by someone who actually uses it?
This blog post focuses on a valuable content marketing asset—the customer case study. We’ll go through the unique advantages case studies offer and provide steps for converting your customers’ experiences into impactful marketing content.
Customer case studies: Advantages for your content marketing strategy
Customer case studies bring various benefits to your content marketing strategy that other collateral just can’t provide. Let’s explore why case studies should be part of your company’s content calendar.
Share product benefits in the customer's words
Marketers speak in terms of features and benefits. We describe what a feature does and articulate its value through the benefits the customer will experience. The problem is we get too attached to those narratives. In my experience, product-focused content ends up hitting on the same handful of benefits over and over again. Unless you’re speaking with customers regularly, you might be overstating benefits or, even worse, completely unaware of other ones they’re experiencing.
I recently had an interesting interaction with a customer during a case study interview. I asked her to explain the benefits a specific feature had brought to her company. She gave me an okay response but I felt like I needed more so I rephrased the question. “But have you found that your team is more productive and efficient?” Finally, she gave me a great but unexpected answer. She said the main benefit of our software was it inspired her company to reevaluate their offline processes. Her quote was something along the lines of, “Your software is a tool, and it’s a great tool. But it’s ultimately useless if we don’t have the right procedures in place to use it correctly.”
That is a benefit only an end user can experience, not an idea that can be hatched in a marketing meeting. And that is exactly why case studies are the most authentic marketing content a company can create. The marketer intermediary is removed and potential customers get to learn about the benefits of your product directly from the source.
Demonstrate a real-world ROI case
“What’s the ROI we can expect?” Your sales team likely has a scripted answer prepared for that common question. They might even have an ROI guide or worksheet produced by their friends on the content marketing team.
But has any prospect ever been completely satisfied with your sales team’s response? Revenue generated through business software is such an imprecise figure, in most cases. The best you can do is reassure them that factors like time saved through automation, insights from reporting, operational efficiency, and so on will be a net benefit to their company. Even more so than describing benefits, any ROI case you make is anecdotal.
That said, you have customers who can attribute an increase in revenue to your product and they can share exactly how it happened in a case study. Present the challenges their company was facing prior to implementing your software and how each was hindering their ability to hit growth targets. Then share exactly how your product helped them overcome their challenges and the quantifiable results they experienced.
Customer case studies are a nice complement to your sales team’s scripted ROI pitch. They can back up anecdotal claims with a documented example of a company that truly achieved a positive return after implementing your product.
Tell the stories about your different customer types
The companies that make up a specific industry are cut from the same cloth. They not only serve the same customers. They’re also bonded by the challenges they experience, the goals they’re striving to accomplish, the terminology they use, and so much more.
It’s important to tailor your content strategy to the different buyer personas your sales team interacts with. Persona profiles usually consist of end users, decision makers, and information gathers but some B2B companies have variations of each for the different industries they serve. After all, a prospect from a healthcare organization is going to respond to different messaging than a prospect from a financial services company.
Once you clearly-defined buyer personas for each industry, you can create unique marketing content for every profile. You’ll end up with distinctly different topics but creating customer case studies for each industry subsection must be a priority.
Prospects naturally want to know how your product will solve their challenges—as opposed to general business challenges. An industry-specific case study tells the story of how a customer they can relate to enhanced their operations using your solution. It should include relevant terminology and describe solutions to the problems the prospect is intimately familiar with.
An industry-specific customer case study has a personalized feel to it. The reader will relate to the hurdles the customer had to overcome and envision how they can do the same.
What to include in customer case studies
If you look at customer case studies around the web, you’ll see that regardless of the format, they all have similar sections and informational tidbits. There is no one right way to tell a story. You just need to make sure you provide the right details.
Let’s go through the different sections worth including in a customer case study:
- An overview of the customer – Introduce the characters in your story. Include the company’s name and relevant background information like its location, employee count, and main product or service offering. Additionally, provide the name, job title, and role responsibilities of the company representative you feature.
- Challenges before implementing your product – Before you dive into the customer’s relationship with your company, set the stage by describing their process before using your product. Clearly describe the challenges they were facing, as those details are crucial to the story arc.
- How they discovered your company – For the sake of storytelling, mention when the customer realized their current approach wasn’t working, how they found your company, and what made them realize your product was the ideal solution.
- The benefits of using your product – Now revisit the challenges you previously presented and describe how your solution resolved each one. This section is the heart of the case study. It’s where you tie the story together and provide a real-world value proposition for your product.
Those are the core, must-have sections of a customer case study. Here are a few nice-to-have components:
- Statistics – Insert data points that quantify the challenges and benefits the customer experienced before and after implementing your product (e.g. ROI or related metrics). I personally try to include statistics in every case study I write but they’re not mandatory.
- Quotes – Include authentic statements from the customer on why they love your company. Remember, an advantage of case studies is the customer articulates your product’s value so a powerful quote will make a strong impression on the reader.
- Photos – Add an image of the customer’s team and workplace to help the story come to life. Photos are generally easy to obtain and allow your audience to put faces with names.
Finding customers to feature in case studies
As with any new initiative, the hardest part of producing customer case studies is getting started. You need to find the right customers to feature. Ones who have truly experienced the benefits your product offers and are willing to have their stories told.
Here are a few tips for finding the right customers to ask about being the subject of a marketing case study:
- Your raving fans – The obvious starting point is to contact the customers you already know love your product.
- Your sales team’s go-to references – Your sales team likely has close relationships with certain customers they use as references during the sales process.
- Your power users – Review your user analytics and discover what customers are in software the most.
- Customers who gave a high Net Promoter Score (NPS) – If your support team has conducted an NPS survey, the customers who gave high marks likely have some nice things to say about your company.
- Social media shoutouts & positive reviews – Anyone who took the time to write a positive tweet, LinkedIn post, or review on a software directory may be willing to express their gratitude in a case study.
In my experience, it can be difficult to find customers who are willing to be interviewed for a case study. Even if they’re a fan of your company, there isn’t much incentive for them beyond a backlink or thank you package of branded swag. I recommend reaching out to as many customers as possible since only a handful will have the time and interest in participating.
How to conduct customer case study interviews
After you find a customer to feature, you need to hear their story so you can retell it to prospects. Conducting case study interviews can be challenging since each one plays out a little differently. Some customers will come ready to share their love for your product and give you more than enough information. Others will be reserved and you’ll need to draw the important details out of them. We’ll conclude this blog post with a few tips for getting the most out of customer case study interviews:
- Keep interviews under 30 minutes – A half-hour conversation results in plenty of information for a case study. It’s also a short time commitment for the customer, increasing the chances they say “yes” to your interview request.
- Give customers an idea of what the interview will entail – As you schedule interviews, let the customer know what sort of questions you’ll ask so they can mentally prepare. However, don’t reveal your specific questions as you want authentic answers.
- Ask the customer to come prepared with data or stats – If you want data points to include in the case study, you’ll need to make that request before the interview. Most customers won’t be able to recall statistics off the top of their head.
- Record and transcribe the conversation – Never try to take notes or recall an interview from memory. Record the conversation, transcribe it, and then pull out the main takeaways and strong quotes.
- Ease into the interview – Build rapport with the customer before you get into the heavy interview questions. Be personable and start with softballs, like asking about their company background and role responsibilities.
- Have a list of questions ready – Going into the interview, you should have an idea of the details you want to include in the case study. Have a list of 7-10 questions that will help you get the right information from the customer.
- But be prepared to go off-script – Most customers will say something interesting and unexpected at some point. Listen carefully and be prepared to ask follow-up questions so you get a complete picture of their experience.
- Let the customer do the talking – Don’t try to influence the customer’s answers by talking too much. Asking for additional details is fine but first state your question and listen to how they respond.
- Ask for closing thoughts – Conclude the interview by asking if the customer has anything else to share. This open-ended question can result in excellent quotes since they concisely tie all their thoughts together.
Once you speak with the customer, you’ll find that the case study pretty much writes itself. You’ll be able to mentally outline the story during the interview. Certain responses will stand out and the start, middle, and end of the story will become clear.
Writing customer case studies certainly requires more work than a blog post or E-book but don’t let that deter you. They provide unique benefits that other content marketing collateral just doesn’t offer and should be considered an essential part of your content marketing strategy.