When was the last time you booked a hotel, ordered furniture or hired a car without first checking the reviews? The likes of TripAdvisor, Yell and TrustPilot have transformed the way we choose the businesses to interact with. As HubSpot found from their recent research:

“9 out of 10 people are looking at online product reviews, posts on social networks, and so on before making a purchasing decision. Most customers know that a little online research could spare them from a bad experience and poor investment of your budget.”

Once upon a time, you found a product and just hoped it wasn’t going to let you down – at most, you might ask a friend. But now, consumers have the thoughts and feedback of thousands of other customers to help sway them in their purchasing decisions.

 Going a step further than just asking for positive reviews (which is still an excellent strategy), case studies offer a lengthier, more laser-focused overview of one particular customer’s journey with you. Not only do they use the voice of the customer themselves to tell this story, but they are backed up with convincing data and offer an insight into how your business works.

A great case study can be the difference between a 'yes' and a 'no' during the sales journey, proving they’re not just useful to have stored away in the navigation bar of your website, but provide a great sales enablement tool for your sales team. Here we explore what they are, examples of great practice and review the many beneficial ways you and your team can use them to secure future business.

Best case-study practice

It’s possible you already know all about case studies – maybe you’ve been creating them for years. From the outside, they seem straightforward and their purpose is evident: to promote your own business and persuade new prospects to work with you through telling the individual stories of the people you’ve worked with. 

In a way, this is true. But making a case for case studies is far more involved than this. Additional benefits of case studies include:

  • Pulling back the curtain on your business, showing an upfront and honest view of what it’s like to work with you. The more open and revealing you come across, the more people will trust and want to work with you.
  • By making customers look good, giving them glowing accounts and shining the light on them through individual case studies, you'll attract prospects who crave the same kind of good publicity.
  • Showing all the different aspects of your business – if anyone thinks you’re a one-trick pony, case studies are the way to show how diversified and personalised your service is, yet how you operate in a niche field.

Optinmonster explains that:

“One of the great things about case studies is that they are very targeted and niche-specific… By nature, case studies hone in on a very specific goal that’s related to your product offering. As a result, you can rest assured your case studies are going to resonate with your target market.”

Top tip: Don’t make your case study too long. Yes, a case study is more than a mere testimonial. But it should be a snapshot of a specific activity, event or solution you were able to make happen, not a full-blown account of the entire process you went through to work with a customer. The more focused you make it, the more people will read it and the easier it becomes for others to share. Between 400-800 words should be enough to fit everything in that you need to, while also keeping the content tight and engaging. 

Acknowledging you’ve enjoyed working with customers

One of the key purposes of a case study is to solidify strong working relationships with your existing customer base. If you keep your current customers happy, encouraging repeat or upsell purchases with your brand, it’s a far more lucrative strategy than constantly chasing new business. As Forbes reports:

“Increasing customer retention rates by 5% increases profits by 25% to 95%, according to research done by Frederick Reichheld of Bain & Company.”

Reaching out to particularly positive customers who you know have enjoyed an especially good experience working with you, doesn’t have to be perceived as a move that purely benefits you. It’s an excuse to celebrate the company who will be the focus of your case study, highlighting them as a super business to work with and, thus opening them up to desirable exposure.

If customers feel publicly supported by you, they'll be far more likely to work with you again. To help them really see the benefits for themselves, try:

  • Conducting a comprehensive, personalised interview with one of the key players at their business who was at the front line of working with you. Picking the right person to feature – someone who was there for the whole process and knows how fabulous your work has been – is the most important decision you need to make. 
  • Giving them the final nod on the content, getting their approval once the case study is written and designed, so they feel involved is a great move for showing respect and illustrating that their opinions matter to your business.
  • Inviting them to use the case study themselves on their social channels and website, should they want to – this is good promotion for them, too. Not only will it get more eyes on the product or service you offer, but it shows they're a serious player too, positioning them as a thought leader in their industry who understands the best brands to work with. You could always offer them a testimonial to use on their website in return, if they'd rather, building a two-way relationship where you support one another. 

Top tip: Use the voice of your interviewee in your case study. Record the interview as you conduct it – HubSpot has an excellent feature to allow you to do this – then transcribe the best, most powerful quotes from participants for you to use in your writing. By using as much content from your interviewee as possible, you display a confidence in customers which doesn’t need embellishment: they’re genuinely happy with your service.

Helping with sales enablement

Not only are case studies a great thing to house in the ‘Resources’ section of your website for visitors to find themselves, but they act as a vital tool during sales enablement calls with your prospects, too. Case studies aren’t something to merely write, upload, then forget about; they need to be an active part of your business, with the sales, service and marketing teams all utilising them for their individual needs. B2B Marketing suggests:

“Make it easy for your colleagues to access them...Your colleagues should not be held hostage to marketing every time they need basic marketing collateral.

Similarly, make it easy for your clients, prospects and other stakeholders to find, print, download and share your case studies. Categorise or tag your case studies – for example, by industry and issue – and ideally make them keyword-searchable.”

Other things to consider when making your case studies accessible for your whole business to use include:

  • Find a diverse range of interesting topics to cover – no-one wants to read about the mundane day-to-day workings of your business. Pick out the exceptional, unlikely, exciting and unusual examples of irregular demands from clients, met with superior service from you.
  • Identify your different buyer personas – this will help you select case study subjects to target each of them and ensure the stories you're covering are relevant. You want prospects to see themselves in your case studies. 
  • Be humble and talk about the lessons you’ve learnt along the way. No business sets up already knowing everything – include a section in each case study that explores how you listened, adapted and learnt from your experiences, growing as a business and delivering better service all the time – people love to hear stories about how you’re always looking for ways to improve, based on their feedback.

Top tip: Use a particularly successful, powerful or longer case study as a lead magnet. House it behind a gated landing page to encourage leads to download it, adding value to the content, and capturing precious contacts. You can then support this lead magnet with blog posts pointing towards it, all about the topic of the case study to help promote it via social channels.

If you’re producing content regularly, engaging prospects through your blog, social channels and website, case studies need to be a part of your content strategy. If it comes down to you and another similar competitor, a prospect is far more likely to go for the business who can show proof that what they're offering is valuable and of good quality.

Remember: Don’t underestimate the power of video. Case studies don’t have to be written – in fact, a lot of the time (depending on your audience) your buyer persona might prefer a quick video they can watch while wolfing down their lunch between meetings. Seeing real people face to face and hearing their accounts is even more powerful than reading about them. This could be an opportunity to get your best customers in front of the camera, while also trying out an increasingly vital form of communication.