Today’s the first day back to school where I live. Neighborhood kids are donning their new backpacks, books and shoes.
Homework isn’t just for school kids. Now’s the perfect time to talk about the studying you have to do as a case study copywriter.
Say you’ve just signed a new client for case studies. How do you get started?
By being studious. Don’t just jump into the actual case study, no matter how much of an urgency there is for that story.
If you don’t fully understand your new client’s products and services, you’ll be hard-pressed to interview, understand and write well. The risk? Your story may not deliver maximum sales potential.
Simply said, if you know your client’s solutions well, you’ll be a more valuable asset.
Here’s the step-by-step on how to study a new client’s products and services:
1. Ask your client which products and services will be featured in the case study(ies).
2. Does the client have current, available marketing materials on these solutions?
3. Ask about product datasheets, brochures, press releases, white papers, existing case studies, demos, videos and any other materials.
4. Find out where these materials reside.
5. Spend 1-2 hours reviewing available information.
6. Lifesaver! Look up terms and acronyms you don’t know in search engines or www.Wikipedia.org.
7. Create a “Cheat Sheet” for yourself of terms and key messages. (If your client ever goes a while without doing case studies, and picks back up, consider this Cheat Sheet your way to refresh your memory on solutions.)
8. As you study, look for answers to questions such as…
How does the company refer to its products and services? What product names and industry terms does it use?
What do the featured solutions do?
Who uses them?
What problems do they solve?
What are the main business benefits that users can expect?
9. Write down the product/service questions you have for your client, and don’t be afraid to ask them!
10. Also as you study, start a draft of your customer interview questions for these solutions.
Never forget to stop and do your homework. You’ll make the grade much faster with your new client.
What else is in your ramp-up process with new clients?
Customer case studies pull major weight among your marketing and sales materials. But they are just one way that a customer can serve as a reference for a business.
Customer stories fall under the bigger umbrella of customer reference activities, which can involve anything from taking a phone call from a prospect, speaking to an analyst or agreeing to a press release.
Smart companies manage their customer references, and even smarter ones manage them well to ensure every reference is maximized - without overusing precious customer contacts.
But it's a hard sell at most companies to add reference management.
What's the payoff of a well-functioning reference program? Good metrics can be hard to come by.
A webinar put on by Gartner last week featured impressive stats:
Buyers trust references most
In Gartner surveys, the #1 thing that buyers said influence their preference to purchase is references from the IT provider. (The survey focused on technology purchases.)
Why? Because it reduces risk, according to those surveyed. If another company like them has done it, then they can reasonably expect to achieve similar results.
Moreoever, they are 2.5 times more likely to buy from a provider that can quantify the value proposition. That means creating materials - like case studies - that demonstrate the return on investment of a solution.
References get customers to buy sooner
Gartner referenced the CIO Insight survey results that indicated prospects buy 25% faster when a relevant reference is provided.
References are so valuable that a strong one can actually shorten the sales cycle.
What's the monetary value?
Even more impressive is just how much references mean to buyers - so much that sales reps may be able to bypass other steps in the process.
Gartner told the story of an IT provider that offers pre-sales assessments, which can cost up to $30,000 each.
However, “skillful use of customer references actually reduced the need for these assessments by a third, saving the company almost 200,000 last year while accelerating the sales cycle.”
It's not easy to make the case for true reference management, but these stats should go a long way.
Ever heard this popular expression regarding presentations?
"Tell them what you're going to tell them. Tell them. And then tell them what you told them." Or something along those lines.
Why should we repeat ourselves? Because people have short attention spans. By repeating, audiences hopefully go away having heard your most important points at least once, if not more.
In a written story, repeating ensures that skimmers catch your main ideas.
So how do you apply the "tell 'em, tell 'em, tell 'em" advice to case studies and success stories?
Try applying these three ideas to your next case study project:
The Intro Summary
In longer magazine features or even the evening news, the story often kicks off with a brief summary of what's to come - usually only about a paragraph.
For each of its case studies, Microsoft includes a summary just under the headline, before the body copy starts.
Keep it short and to the point. Ideally, mirror the rest of the story in that single paragraph by briefly mentioning the main challenge, how it was solved and the biggest benefit the customer experienced.
The Body Copy
Before you ever start writing, ask one question: What is the most important thing I want the audience to know? Then, structure your story around that message.
For example, maybe the #1 take-away is that the featured product enables faster customer support.
Early on, talk about the challenges of delivering customer support and how slowness has affected the business.
Follow that with solution delivery that indicates HOW the solution expedites support.
Finally, let the reader know that customer support is indeed faster, and back that up (hopefully!) with metrics.
Include customer quotes that touch on the speed of delivery through your story, and headlines as well.
With multiple mentions of your main idea, you not only "tell 'em," but a case study lets you SHOW the audience.
The Wrap-Up Quote
Personally, I love ending a case study with a quote that's the equivalent of a big bow around the whole story - something that truly encapsulates the customer's experience.
Who should have the last word in a customer story? The customer. A quote feels more authentic than ending with a summary paragraph.
The perfect wrap-up quote doesn't introduce anything new, but rather reflects the relationship in a nutshell.
To get a spot-on final quote, I usually ask this simple question, "Is there anything else you would like to add that we haven't talked about yet?"
Often, the customer provides his or her own summary of the relationship.
If not, try, "What would you tell others about your experience of working with ABC Company?"
With your story written, go back and count where your key points pop up to make sure you've told them, told them and told them again.
Seen any great examples of companies that do this with their case studies? Send them my way and I'll feature them on the blog.