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Content Strategy

How to Use Compelling Case Studies to Sell Your Stuff | Office Hours, March 2022

How to Use Compelling Case Studies to Sell Your Stuff | Office Hours, March 2022

What does one person’s experience with a product have to do with your marketing funnel?

Emma Siemasko believes every customer’s success story is an untapped resource. Statistically, case studies are the most convincing asset above ads, emails, and other marketing tactics. The founder of Stories By Us, Emma helps B2B SaaS companies create compelling case studies to win over prospects.

On Office Hours, she talked to us about the importance of narrating the customer’s transformation, highlighting the humans behind the stories, and conducting a killer customer interview.

Show Topics

  • Narrate the transformation
  • Differentiate your business with real-life examples
  • Highlight the human behind the story
  • Give buyers a mirror
  • Share results
  • Get creative with quantitative results
  • Make it easy to read
  • Go in with a plan
  • Conduct a killer customer interview 
  • Bake case studies into your overall marketing strategy

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Watch the recording

Key Takeaways

02:43 – Narrate the transformation

A good case study uses storytelling to illustrate a customer’s journey from before they used the product or service to after they used it, highlighting how it solved their pain points.

“A case study is a document or resource that shows the transformation of what happened when someone used your product or service. The transformation here is key. It’s not just about saying, “So-and-so was my customer and they used the product and that was great.’ It’s saying, ‘Before they used my product, they were suffering or they were in this position and then something transformed, and afterward, they were in a new position.’ Sometimes people ask me here, well, what’s the difference between a case study and a testimonial? Is it a testimonial and a review? Again, that’s the key difference where there’s the transformation. Reviews are great and so are testimonials. They tend to be shorter and they’re usually in first-person, someone sharing their direct experience. A case study is a more polished story and usually has a negative structure of what that transformation is. The other thing I say about testimonials is when it comes to selling software, it’s different than selling let’s say an iPhone case. It’s a much more complicated, expensive and risky decision to buy [a] super expensive software product than it is to buy a $13 iPhone case on Amazon. For that, you can just read a few reviews, okay, it’s five stars, click buy, not that big of a deal. But if you’re paying a company thousands or millions of dollars for a product, which is often the case with software, you want to have a resource that really is showing the customer story much more in-depth than a simple review or a testimonial.”

08:30 – Differentiate your business with real-life examples

Case studies use social proof from real-world examples to convince prospects that the product or service is effective.

“Ultimately, case studies differentiate you from your competitors by showing how you function in the real world. It’s not just the words on your website, the list of features, the promise that your API is as awesome as you say it is. It’s a real-life example. It’s basically proof that you do what you say you do. I’ve had many clients tell me that before they had case studies, when they had a prospect that was interested, they would just connect an existing customer with the prospect on a phone call. Those prospects were happy to do that, but that’s not a scalable solution. As your software platform grows, you can’t just continually rely on the same set of customers to talk to hopefully the hundreds or thousands of customers that are coming in your door every month or every year. Case studies are a scalable way to share those stories.”

10:26 – Highlight the human behind the story

People, not businesses, are the heroes behind case studies and their individual stories will resonate with other decision-makers.

“At the end of the day, there’s a human being who’s going to benefit from your product. I talked earlier that it’s maybe a big team that’s going to be using it, but it’s an individual decision-maker who’s going to have wins based on using this tool. It’s going to either make them look good at work, help them get promoted, make more money for their business or the business as a whole, drive important KPIs. Although you’re selling to businesses, there are decision-makers and there are people who are going to implement your tool and what you offer. Highlighting who the hero is of the story and allowing someone to see what it might be like to be in their shoes is a great way to appeal to them.”

13:17 – Give buyers a mirror

Use assets like photos and direct quotes to help readers picture themselves in your customer’s shoes.

“I always say that the reason case studies work is because they essentially give your buyer a mirror to look at their future self. They have an opportunity to see what’s possible for them after working with you. That’s why I not only recommend highlighting individuals and saying, ‘Yeah, so-and-so benefited,’ but making sure to use their photos and direct quotes as well. This makes it more real for people, even if they are not the ultimate decision-maker, even if you don’t have a giant picture like in that other case study I showed, it makes it more grounded in reality, as opposed to just vague mentions about a team or company, which I see a lot. Just, ‘A random finance company used us,’ and there’s no real detail around it. That makes it either hard to believe or it just isn’t very compelling.”

14:19 – Share results

Quantifiable outcomes from your previous customers show how you can help prospects achieve the results they need.

“It’s often the business results that are going to help a decision-maker get internal buy-in to say yes to your tool and also have them convinced that they are going to get results beyond, ‘Oh, it was just easy to use,’ or, ‘We like how it looked. The user experience was nice.’ Those things are great and they’re super important, but they’re kind of wiggly things. They’re hard for someone to go to a boss and be like, ‘Hey, this is really going to help us.’ It’s really important to highlight the value that’s provided to the business and using quick numbers and charts that someone can scan makes it easy for them to digest that information. I pulled out these examples here because they’re these nice little call-out boxes that show what someone is gaining from working with you even if they don’t read the case study. They can see these results. They’re right there. They’re highlighted. Someone can see them and understand them and digest them easily.”

15:40 – Get creative with quantitative results

The metrics that tell the best story may differ from brand to brand.

“You can be a little bit creative in what ‘results’ means, quantitative results, I mean. For example, some things that I’m often helping people highlight is how much time was saved for people. That isn’t dollars gained, but how much time was saved by using the tool? How many assets were created? For example, if you’re selling proposal software, how many new proposals were created by your customer? That’s a solid number that someone can say, ‘Oh my gosh, that is an insane increase in productivity or efficiency.’ I think that you can work with your clients to find some creative ways to share results. All that said, I think that if you can’t find these quantitative results, there are tons of qualitative things to say that are potentially really compelling as well. That’s ‘easy to work with’ ‘easy integrations,’ ‘a joy to use,’ and all of these other things.”

16:44 – Make it easy to read

Balance the density of your case study with skimmable elements like subheadings, quotes, callouts, and graphics.

“We all know, as marketers, that people skip. We do it ourselves. You basically want someone to be able to understand what the case study is saying, even if they don’t read it. I know that flies in the face of, you go through all this work to create something and then you also must assume that people are going to scan this. They’re not even going to read it, but you still want to get your message across. There are a few tactics for doing this. I really liked how Grammarly did this where they highlighted a part of the quote that they really wanted people to focus in on. Even though that’s a really short quote, even if someone doesn’t read the whole quote, if they read that first clause — it’s not even a full sentence — they’re getting some understanding of the value. Then, they highlighted some results here that are in these little colorful call-out boxes. So again, someone can have their eye drawn to these things.”

17:56 – Go in with a plan

Identify the purpose of your case studies ahead of time, so you only spend resources on what your brand needs.

“I see a lot of teens being like, ‘I know we need case studies, just go off and make some.’ It’s not very strategic. I always recommend that people take a minute and use case studies really strategically. First, you want to define your why. Why are you creating a case study? It’s not enough to be like, ‘Well, everyone else is doing. It seems like something we should get.’ There are maybe customers that you’re having trouble reaching. Sales teams often want case studies and they’re asking for them. Figure out why you actually want them and what purpose they’re going to serve for the business, for both the sales and marketing team. Then, how are you going to do it? Are you going to hire an external party to interview and create the case studies? Are you going to do them in-house? Are you going to create a spreadsheet of all your customers? How are you going to do outreach? How are you going to tap people? Are you going to reward people for spending time with you on the phone? Think through the how. By the way, all of this should be documented also before going into it. Then finally, you need to get your team on board with this. You may need to tap sales teams, customer success, to say, ‘What customers have you talked to that have had compelling things to say?’… Tapping into all of those resources and getting the whole team on board to making it happen is really important.”

19:54 – Conduct a killer customer interview 

Take advantage of the time you have with customers by preparing interview questions and giving them space to tell their whole story.

“The reason that I highlight this as the most important part or one of the most important parts of how to create a good case study is because I see so many really poorly done interviews. Clients hire me occasionally to do the interview myself. Or, sometimes I send me a transcript and recording of an interview they’ve already conducted. A lot of times those transcripts are missing a lot of pertinent information. This also really matters because you only get that client’s attention for 30 to 45 minutes. You don’t want to have to do the call over again. You really want to make as much of this interview as you possibly can. I found that hiring a third party is helpful because customers tend to be more open. Even if they have really positive things to say, they tend to be more open with a third party and have that no-holds-barred honesty. A few tips for the interview here. … Set the context with the customer. Remind the customer what they’re participating in. Give a quick overview of what the process will be. Shut up. … Be comfortable with the uncomfortable silences. One of the biggest mistakes I see is that the interviewee dominates the conversation. They don’t let any awkward pause happen to let somebody explain themselves or to get really good information. Finally, I always ask for examples. Somebody might say, ‘Oh, this tool enhanced my personal productivity.’ I might be like, ‘Can you give me an example of when that happens?’ And then you’re able to draw out a really interesting and compelling story.”

21:47 – Bake case studies into your overall marketing strategy

Case studies are a powerful tool to communicate your value to prospects across all your customer touchpoints as they’re finalizing their decision.

“Case studies are a bottom-of-the-funnel asset, and that means that they are often used when someone has assessed their tools and they’re trying to make a decision if your tool is the right one. They’re well past the awareness stage. They’re trying to figure out if your tool is right for them. You need to really strategically bake case studies into the overall sales and marketing funnel and into the journey. The way that I’ve seen them used is they can be used by sales teams for outreach, and in pitch decks and even in customer demos. They can be used when onboarding new customers, so the customer’s already made the decision to go with you, but you want to make them feel extra good that you’ve made a good decision. They can be on the homepage. Tons of companies do that. They can be in email sequences and many more. You can be really creative with where they go.”

Karissa Barcelo

Karissa is a Content Growth Marketer at Omniscient Digital. She enjoys producing and repurposing content with a killer marketing strategy behind it. She has a diverse background in video production, content strategy, and writing B2B blogs and customer success stories. Karissa has a passion for storytelling and turning complex ideas into relatable material. She lives in Las Vegas with her fiance, Sam.