Quantifiable, well-presented customer case studies are how business-to-business (B2B) companies prove their solution works. And what does a great B2B case study come down to? A compelling customer story that demonstrates the success of your product or service, and makes others want to buy.
It’s no secret that consumers rely heavily on reviews, and buyers of enterprise software or other services are the same:
- Prospects view case studies before requesting demos
- Sales teams rely on case studies to support and close deals
- Executives use case studies to prove to investors that your company’s product works
So, when customers will vouch for your company and back up your claims with numbers, that’s gold.
But now we get to the reality, which is that finding and producing effective B2B customer case studies is challenging for marketing teams. Why? Customers are busy, they might be unhappy with your company, or they simply might not be ready to share their story. Often, case study requests end in some form of “no” or a non-answer.
However, great case studies can be created! We’re here to help customers marketers rise to the top with 16 case study tips, organized by each stage in the case study process.
- Rely on your internal contacts.
- Scour your customer relationship management tool.
- Read your online community digests faithfully.
- Keep track of your comprehensive company outreach.
- Communicate internally about what's needed.
- Prioritize your leads.
- Ask for a call, then follow up.
- Ask open-ended questions.
- Make it all about them.
- Don't be afraid to ask for numbers.
- Follow up with next steps.
- Seek sales and executive buy-in on what you produce.
- Optimize for search and the user experience.
- Tell a compelling story about their company.
- Ask for their review and any feedback.
- Remember to be patient.
How to Create a Great B2B Case Study in 4 Stages
The stages of case study development will look different at every B2B company, depending on your role, the software you use, and your customers. But we hope organizing the process like this helps you think through the steps at your own company.
Stage 1: The Research
1. Rely on your internal contacts. Customer success managers, sales and marketing teams, anyone in a customer-facing role like implementation, onboarding, or services can help you understand where your customers are in their journey. Their insight can help you prioritize your time and reach out to customers at the right time for a higher chance of success. They can also suggest the best customer contact to speak with.
2. Scour your Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool. If your company uses your CRM faithfully and integrates with various tools, you should be able to find lots of intel there: Whether customers have open support tickets and how many they have, their latest online community participation, and which marketing emails they’ve opened. Hopefully, you’re also tracking reference requests, so you’re not bombarding customers.
3. Read your online community digests faithfully. If you have a customer community, it’s a great tool for finding your customer advocates. As you peruse discussion posts, see which names keep popping up. Are their comments favorable or unfavorable to your product? Do they deflect support tickets for you by answering questions? Do they openly praise or defend your company on the community? You can find great case study leads by staying engaged and in tune with your community.
4. Keep track of your comprehensive company outreach. Disjointed communication is going to frustrate your case study prospects, so before you reach out, make sure you’re aware of who has talked to them before you (and when), so there is no confusion or surprises. Often you can track this by leaving a note or adding an activity in your CRM.
5. Communicate internally about what’s needed. Your executive leadership, sales, and marketing teams will know who they’re selling to and what they need to win their business. Communicating regularly about what’s cooking in terms of case study leads and what they need for their purposes will help make your case study project successful by meeting your company’s expectations.
6. Prioritize your leads. This is where internal communication is critical. If you have lots of customers interested in sharing their story, you’ll need to prioritize who to focus on first. Sometimes you’ll want to take all you can get, but sometimes you’ll need to be pickier so that what you’re producing aligns with your company’s needs. All that said, any opportunity you have to interview a happy customer and produce a quote is a win (and well worth the brief time it takes to check in). Now, on to the interview tips….
Stage 2: The Interview
7. Ask for a call, then follow up. If you were able to connect with any internal contacts (see #1), they might be able to introduce you to the customer contact. If not, email your customer to see if they’re available for a no-pressure, introductory call, including a few times that work for you. If you don’t get a response, your email may have caught them at a busy time. Use your best judgment about how many times to follow up. Check with your internal contact to see if they have any additional information from them about why the customer might not be responding.
Don't forget: Return the favor to other department teams and note when you contacted the customer in your CRM, so that others in the company are aware.
8. Ask open-ended questions. Your customers are sharing their story with you, so that you can help them tell it to the world. Your questions should empower them to tell their story in a genuine way (rather than come off as prodding for specific answers). Of course, it’s okay to ask more specific questions later in the conversation, but using open-ended questions will help you get the conversation started.
9. Make it all about them. Don’t just ask self-serving questions. Don’t focus only on your product. Ask questions that will help you tell a story and support your content marketing strategy. For example:
- Can you share some of your team's or organization's latest initiatives?
- What kinds of issues or goals led you to adopt our product or service?
- What kind of feedback do you get from customers about our product or service?
10. Don’t be afraid to ask for numbers. Nice quotes are great, but if you can get metrics on how they’re proving their return on investment (ROI) from your product, these numbers will be instrumental for your sales team. Even though you might be focusing on storytelling in your content marketing strategy, you'll want numbers to back up your points and prove to prospects that an investment in your product is worth it.
11. Follow up with next steps. Whether you’re seeking a quote, speaking engagement, written case study, or nothing at all because you decided not to move forward, make sure to follow up. Let them know what the next step will be and when they can expect it if there is one. If you decided their story wasn’t the right fit, send a brief note or email to thank them for their time.
Stage 3: The Final Product
12. Seek sales and executive buy-in on what you produce. You’ll need to decide the format of what you’re producing as the case study deliverable, and whether it’s working. Again, interdepartmental communication is key. When it comes down to it, the case study is meant to encourage prospects to decide in your favor, and sales knows what’s working or not. Their feedback can help guide your program. Your executive team may want to see something different. Whatever they want, staying in touch with these teams will improve your success.
13. Optimize for search and the user experience (UX). In today’s digital age, prospects can find a lot of information about you before they ever request a demo. You want them to find success stories, so make sure your case studies are easy to find and navigate online, through search engine optimization and a great user-oriented design.
14. Tell a compelling story about their company. Of course, telling a compelling story depends on what your customer is doing. But if you ask the right questions, you can help lead them to the story. The more you can showcase the great things your customer is doing (and sneakily give yourself kudos along the way) the more likely they’ll be willing to approve it.
Visual learner? See below for an example of a video case study we created with our customer, Promotional Products Association International (PPAI). We love how it tells their story while also conveying how well online communities work.
(Sidenote: Are you a Higher Logic customer? We’d love to tell your story. Get more information here.)
Stage 4: The Approval
15. Ask for their review and any feedback. Make sure you follow up. If they’re not responding to emails, see if a personal call might help. If that doesn’t work, see if there’s anyone in your company that has a connection with them that might be able to mention it. At the end of the day, the ball’s in their court, and you don’t want to come across as rude or desperate. But you can follow up creatively to ensure your hard work doesn’t evaporate.
16. Remember to be patient. Your customers have a lot going on too (maybe they’re working on finding great case studies). So remember to be patient, and see it from their perspective as you follow up, and thank them for their help.
Finally: Promote Your B2B Case Study
Once you’ve created your work of art, talk with your sales team to make sure they’re aware of what you created, so they can use it for the sales cycle. We use our internal community to host case studies and related materials so that everyone knows where the latest, updated files exist. You may already have a method of promotion, but whatever it is, ensure it’s working for sales, because if not, you won’t be effectively creating case studies for sales enablement.
Now get out there and tell your customers’ powerful stories. Questions? Leave us a comment below.
In the meantime, get your copy of our Customer Marketer Success Kit below. It’s an ungated (no email address needed to access) resource with all our favorite customer marketing content pieces to guide you. Enjoy!
Food for thought: Incentive programs. Have you tried incentivizing case study participation with customers? If so, comment below to let us know what you did and how it worked!