Learn How to Write Sales-Generating B2B Software Case Studies…Like a Pro!
This article is for executives, marketers and salespeople in startup, early stage, and established companies who want to learn how to write a B2B software case study. A business-to-business case study lets you showcase results that you’ve delivered for a client, and helps you earn the attention of prospective clients.
Case studies are worthwhile investments that will serve your company’s sales and marketing efforts long after you write them. But they can be challenging to produce. They require a unique combination of skills: planning, interviewing, writing, editing, designing, and promoting.
You have to find a willing client who wants to participate. You’re going to spend a notable amount of your own time and energy. And even when you have a finished product, the work’s not over because you have to “market” it.
Too busy to start a case study project? You’re not alone. Just the idea of an extended writing activity makes many entrepreneurs cringe. In addition, sales and marketing professionals don’t always understand the case study creation process, nor do they have a simple, step-by-step plan to follow.
One thing software leaders do understand is the daily pressure to generate results. You have to attract prospects, create sales wins, and keep a close eye on the purse strings. This usually means that your team does a lot of its own work.
Most entrepreneurs are reluctant to make a time investment unless they know the finished product will move their businesses forward. That’s where this article can help. We’ll show you a proven model for writing engaging, sales-generating case studies. We’ll also include best practices and insider tips that will make the creation process understandable and enjoyable.
Table of Contents
- Do B2B Case Studies Really Work?
- How to Write a Business Case Study that Doesn’t Flounder
- What is a B2B Marketing Case Study?
- How can you use B2B Software Success Stories?
- 11 Benefits of B2B Software Case Studies
- Exceptional B2B Case Study Examples (PDFs)
- What Should Case Studies Include?
- Aren’t Testimonials the Same as Case Studies?
- 9 Steps for Creating Effective B2B Software Case Studies
- How to Promote your Case Study
- Ready to Write a Case Study that Rocks?
Do B2B Case Studies Really Work?
Before we jump in, it’s fair to ask if case studies even work?
Here’s what some of the research says:
49% of B2B buyers said they now rely more on content to research and make purchase decisions.2018 Content Preferences Survey Report – Blogs, Podcasts Gain Interest As B2B Buyers Look To Trustworthy Sources for Credible Content That Proves Value. By Demand Gen Report
Buyers also look for case studies when they are getting ready to buy. Many [buyers] Google terms such as “Company ABC + case study” when they are in the decision phase and need proof that a product or service works.
Case studies are one of the top five content types used to move IT purchasers through the buy cycle .Consumption Comparative Research Brief – Marketing strategies vs. IT buyer demands
73% of the marketers surveyed used case studies in their businesses.B2B Content Marketing – 2018 Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends–North America – Content Marketing Institute
Case studies are the top content type for buyers, with 78% accessing this format type when researching purchases in the past 12 months (vs. 72% in 2016)2017 Content Preferences Survey – DemandGen Report
Buyers Want: Customer/peer examples. Business buyers want content featuring your customers–their peers–who share experiences, pain points, and success stories. Buyers say industry or peer case studies are the most valuable type of content when exploring and making buying decisions.Forrester Blog
In the B2B setting, events help generate the most leads, while case studies help convert and accelerate the most leads.Marketing Charts, 2018
How to Write a Business Case Study that Doesn’t Flounder
Check out this infographic from the “B2B Content Marketing – 2018 Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends–North America” report.
According to the B2B marketers interviewed, case studies were their least effective form of content. It doesn’t say why though.
While we can speculate what the interviewees were thinking, in our experience, if you don’t want your case study to underperform, don’t do the following:
- Make them too “salesy” and fill them with jargon
- Hide the results and go light on facts
- Focus on your product/service instead of the client
- Ramble when you write
- Use too much text in paragraphs that are too long
- Include typos and grammatical errors
- Leave out a Call-to-Action (CTA)
What is a B2B Marketing Case Study?
Business-to-business (B2B) software applications, like Salesforce, Atlassian, and Slack, are targeted at companies. Business-to-consumer (B2C) software applications, like Quicken, Evernote, and Pandora, are targeted at the general public.
A B2B marketing case study is simply a story of how a company successfully delivered a product/service to its business client.
How can you use B2B Software Success Stories?
Case studies are valuable sales and marketing tools that can be used in multiple ways:
- Website, blog, and landing page content
- Content to share via your social media channels
- A relevant reason for your sales team to contact prospects
- As handouts at tradeshows, events, and “leave-behinds” at sales calls
- Supporting content for sales proposals and RFP responses.
11 Benefits of B2B Software Case Studies
Your sales team needs different content to educate your marketplace, capture attention, and transition prospects into paying customers. Case studies can accomplish these goals and:
- They get printed and shared–“behind the lines”–with decision makers who you may not have a direct relationship with
- They leverage the power of “social proof” to bolster your marketing efforts
- They build trust, credibility, and foster likeability
- They offer proof that your business can deliver on its promises
- They lessen the perceived risk of doing business with you
- If a prospect is experiencing the problem(s) your case study describes, it offers hope that there’s a solution
- They spur prospects to acknowledge unrecognized problems
- Well-written stories about real client experiences who are succeeding with your solution is a perfect source of content for your website, blog, and social media sites, and can drive new leads
- Makes it easier for prospects to find you when they perform Web searches on Google and other search engines
- They’re a source of “evergreen content”
- They can earn publicity for your customers.
Have you ever purchased a product after a recommendation from somebody else? If you have, you’ve been influenced by social proof, and you’ve shown why it can be an excellent marketing tactic for businesses.Oberlo
It was the positive social proof review that you received which persuaded you to make a sale, not some promotional copy from that brand
Case studies build value over time. They are necessary but not sufficient. Don’t expect to write one and immediately be swamped with website traffic and a slew of inbound leads. Be patient and the results will come.
Exceptional B2B Case Study Examples (PDFs)
The following are well-structured, professionally-written, eye-catching B2B case study examples that you can model:
What to notice:
- Clear, tight headline
- Story summary at the very beginning = Client Profile + Challenge + Solution + Results
- Short, easily readable paragraphs
- Fantastic design.
What to notice:
- Includes photos of the customer
- Excellent design.
- Short story summary at the beginning
- Results highlighted using large text in left column
- Nice design
- Very readable with lots of white space.
This is an example of a Web-based case study. What to notice:
- Extensive use of links to other areas of their website
- Large text to break up paragraphs.
This is a combination Web page + video case study. What to notice:
- The video is pro
- The page leads with the client’s best results
- It’s very readable.
What Should Case Studies Include?
Successful case studies usually follow a structure similar to:
- Headline – Should capture attention and include the client’s and your company’s name
- Subheading – (< 50 words) – Describes the primary challenge and the best result achieved
- Story Summary – A mini-narrative using an abbreviated version of the Challenge + Solution + Results model (3-4 paragraphs)
- Client Background – Introduces the client to the reader and creates context for the story
- Challenge/Problem – Explains the situation the customer was facing before working with you
- Solution – Describes the product or service you provided and what it took to implement
- Results – Details what you accomplished for the customer and the impact your product/service made
- Call to Action – Specifies the action you want your reader to take next.
Strive to include client quotes, images, and diagrams.
Aren’t Testimonials the Same as Case Studies?
Testimonials are short quotes from satisfied clients. They are especially effective when the quotee has a role similar to the audience you’re targeting, and when you can include the person’s name, title, and photo.
Case studies are longer, more in depth stories that walk your readers through the lifecycle of a customer experience: an initial problem, what was done to solve it, and how the solutions are creating benefits. They should include testimonials.
Here’s an excellent example from LeadGnome, of how testimonials can be displayed on your website. You can use this same model in your case studies.
9 Steps for Creating Effective B2B Software Case Studies
While video case studies are exceptionally effective, and are becoming more and more prevalent, this article focuses on print/Web case studies. Here is the process we follow, to create our success stories:
- Select a Fan, not just a Client
- How to Write a Case Study Interview
- Send the Questions in Advance
- Conduct an Engaging Client Interview
- Case Study Best Practices – Write for Impact
- A Recommended Case Study Structure
- Edit and Proofread for Clarity and Quality
- Create an Eye-Catching Print Document
- Get Client Approval.
1. Select a Fan, not just a Client
Your marketing and sales teams should collaborate to select a client. Even if your customer pool is small initially, pick one you’ve really delivered results for, and who raves about your product or service.
Each case study should highlight a different:
- Customer type: industry, location, size, etc.
- Challenge or problem you solved
- Result you generated.
For example, if your sales team is hearing prospects comment that they don’t have the budget to buy right now and want to postpone evaluating your product, find a customer who felt the same way, but moved ahead with a purchase anyway.
Keep your target prospects in mind when picking an interviewee. Prime candidates are customers who:
- Converted from a competitor’s solution
- Are well known in your industry
- Achieved specific and measurable results.
When Should You Ask?
The time to ask clients to participate is after they’ve realized positive results from your solution. Don’t be hesitant about reaching out; most will be willing to engage and may even like the attention.
Case studies are a subtle way for “line workers” to share their accomplishments back up the food chain to their management.
Consider “sweetening the pot” with an offer of some kind: company swag, free/discounted service, etc.
Call your contact and outline expectations:
- The in person/phone interview will last 30-45 mins.
- You’ll provide the questions in advance
- No pressure; we’re shooting for a fun conversation
- After you’ve completed the written document, you’ll send it to the client. She can make any edits she wants
- Before the case study will be used anywhere, client approval is required.
If you have to leave a voice message, send a follow up e-mail invitation with details.
2. How to Write a Case Study Interview
This is a key part of your team’s planning process and leads to more interesting interviews. Write your questions down in advance and prioritize them. Use open-ended vs. yes-or-no questions that will get your contact talking.
- What’s unique about their organization–location, size, industry–that will make it resonate with your prospects?
- How did the company find you, or did your team reach out to them?
- What process did the customer go through to select you? Did you win an RFP?
- How did you help the client?
- What’s unique about this customer’s experience?
- What problems did you solve?
- Were any measurable, objective results generated?
- What do you want readers to do after reading this case study?
3. Send the Questions in Advance
Providing questions to the client before the interview helps:
- Your contact prepare and consult with other employees if necessary
- Foster more meaningful, interactive discussions
- Contacts feel more comfortable because they know what to expect.
4. Conduct an Engaging Client Interview
The key to a productive interview is to get your contact sharing. As you ask questions, pay attention to the responses. Use those responses to ask secondary questions and draw out additional information.
Be on the lookout for objective metrics or stats the client shares. Here’s an example interview process:
- The virtual handshake and intros (phone interview)
- To grease the conversation skids, recap the purpose of the call and then lob a few softball questions
- Confirm how much time your contact has to talk (30-45 mins. is preferable)
- Confirm the company’s location, # of employees, years in business, industry, etc. (Research the company prior to the call)
- What’s your contact’s background: title, time with the company, etc.?
- What does the person like best about the job?
- What were the initial challenges/problems the client wanted to solve?
- Describe the situation at your company before engaging with us?
- What problems were you experiencing?
- What were the impact of those problems?
- When did you realize you had to take some action?
- What solutions did you try?
- How did you find our company?
- What solutions were implemented?
- What product/service was used?
- What process did you go through to make a purchase?
- Who was involved?
- How did the implementation go?
- What level of work effort was required by your team?
- How was the training?
- When did you start seeing improvements?
- What were those improvements?
- What made our application stand out?
- What were the most valuable results?
- How has our solution helped your organization?
- Any success measures you can share?
- Were there any surprises along the way?
- What suggestions would you give to others when evaluating our solution?
- What did your team like best about working with us?
- Would you recommend our solution/company? Why?
- How can we improve?
- We’re always looking to improve. Are there features/functions you wish our software offered?
- Anything we could have done differently that would have made the overall experience better?
- Record the interview
- Take notes during the conversation but record it. It’s easy miss valuable info nuggets when you’re trying to guide a conversation, listen, and capture what your contact is saying
- Encourage your marketing, sales, and development teams to listen to the recording later.
5. Case Study Best Practices – Writing for Impact
- Write your first draft and include as much of the conversation as you can. More content is better. Don’t worry about editing at this point
- Focus on the client and their results. Tell their story and include their trials and tribulations
- Make the organization and the employees shine
- Weave employee quotes throughout the story
- Don’t be afraid to modify your contact’s direct quotes to make them more understandable, and relevant, but honor the customer’s “voice”
- Even if your audience is technical, minimize the use of industry jargon
- Leave out the advertising
- Include measurable results
- Don’t write like an English major. Write how people speak. Write to be understood
- Clear and concise writing = understandable = trustworthy
- Weave your paragraphs together so that each sentence is dependent on the one before and after it
- Document length = 2-4 pages.
Every great study follows a narrative arc (also called a “story arc”). This arc represents how a character faces challenges, struggles against raising stakes, and ultimately encounters a formidable obstacle before the tension resolves. It’s a visual representation of the plot.
Narrative arc transcends genre. You’ll find it in mystery stories, romances, comedies, and everything else you can think of. Apply it in your case studies, and you’ll bring them to life!Kristin McCabe – How to Create and Write a Case Study (+ 12 Great Examples)
6. A Recommended Case Study Structure
- Headline – write this after you’ve completed the case study
- Include the client’s name and your name
- Subheading – (< 50 words) – Describe the primary challenge and the best result achieved
- Story Summary
- List your top three results with bullets
- Write a 3-4 paragraph short story that summarizes the challenge, solution, and results
- Company Background
- Introduce the company, their location, # of employees, industry, unique characteristics etc.
- What were their pain points or initial problems?
- What things did they try?
- What led them to you?
- What solution did you provide to help the client?
- How did you go about implementing the solution?
- What was the level of involvement required by the company?
- How was training?
- What were the best results the client experienced?
- Incorporate employee testimonials
- Recap the story
- If the client plans to use any of your additional applications/modules, what do they want to accomplish in the future?
- Describe the next steps you want the reader to take
- Examples: See an online demonstration; visit our website; subscribe to our blog.
- About Section
7. Proofread and Edit for Clarity and Quality
- Print your drafts, edit them with a pen, then make changes on your computer
- Put your document down and don’t look at it for 1-3 days
- Read your case study out loud and perform one last round of editing
- Share it with one or two colleagues and gather their feedback
- Make a final round of edits.
Compelling stories deserve professional packages. If you don’t have a designer on your team, pay one to create a printed document in PDF format that stands out.
- Try to find existing case studies whose designs you like and then model them
- Include photos of the client’s employees if possible
- Incorporate your company’s logo, colors, etc.
- If you use a designer, make sure to request source files that you can edit
- For example, if you use Adobe InDesign, ask the designer to create the document in that format.
9. Get Client Approval
Send the document to the client for review. An easy way for them to provide feedback is to print the document, write their comments in red ink, scan the pages, and then send them back to you in a PDF.
Make changes and resend the final revision for client approval.
How to Promote your Case Study
Now that you have a finished work, it’s time to publish and share it. Here are some suggestions:
- Make sure your case studies can be found easily on your company’s website, preferably from the home page or primary menu
- Create a blog post or Web page with your case study content and a downloadable PDF
- Make the content Web-friendly and scannable: clear headings in larger fonts and short paragraphs (1-3 sentences)
- Include images, callout quotes, or diagrams to break up the text and create interest
- Include a link to your client’s website so prospects can connect easily.
Once you have a URL to link to, circulate it on your social media channels. Send a copy to your sales team and to your client.
Ready to Write a Case Study That Rocks?
It’s common when a sales and marketing professional decides to write a case study, for a bit of fear to creep in. The work effort can seem intimidatingly high and if you don’t have much experience, these projects are easy to postpone.
Hopefully this article has boosted your confidence and given you a step-by-step guide for writing compelling case studies that you’ll be proud of.
The next step is to take action. Meet with your team, select a client, and schedule an interview. After the interview, get to writing. Edit your work until you have a concise, clear draft that shares your client’s story. Find or create a case study design that you really like and apply it.
If you make writing case studies one of your standard marketing processes, you’ll be building valuable assets that will pay sales dividends for years to come.
When everyone involved is fully engaged, the case study is easily one of the most rewarding content pieces to write.
You get to talk to a real human being, who daily uses the thing you’re trying to sell–giving you invaluable insight for future projects.
And you get to make a lot of people feel good about what they do.
Which, you know, is nice.
Use your new power wisely. And have fun along the way.Kieran Haynes
B2B Case Study Writer
If you need help developing compelling customer success stories for your B2B software product or service, contact me.