Case studies are one of the most powerful content tools in the GTM playbook

Buyers are looking for third-party validation, and what better than a perceived peer who’s made a similar decision? In case studies, sellers have an external voice sharing what your solution provides and the value it delivers.

Here are three things you should consider to make the most of them:

  1. Case study objectives. When considering the objective of the case study, you have to consider the audience. Salespeople are an audience and your prospects, which means you need to use the case study to help your sales team sell and tell a story to your customers.
  2. Case study structure. Don’t rush to the outcome and KPIs. Instead, start with the problem. When did the prospect realize they had a problem, and what did they do first? The case study should start early in the customer journey to help develop empathy with the prospect and where they are, not only focusing on the product and the value it adds.
  3. Case study activation. Tie the case study back to relevant news so it’s topical to the buyer. If your solution doesn't relate to one of the top three things on your buyer’s mind, you need to find another buyer!

Let's explore in more detail what makes a case study so effective in your content-led approaches.

Case study objectives

When you write a case study, you're telling a story. That's obvious. What's less obvious is: who's the audience?

That's a trick question. 

There are two audiences: prospects (or customers) and salespeople. Therefore, each case study has to do a lot of heavy lifting. They have to resonate with your prospects while also being a good tool to help salespeople accelerate opportunities. 

This dual purpose means that the story starts earlier than you’d think, and its key points should help the prospect understand and measure your value while also helping the salesperson understand the prospect’s journey through the sales process.

Essentially, case studies have to tell a differentiating story that creates a sense of urgency (in other words, your story should be compelling). Additionally, every piece of content must help the salesperson move a prospect along the sales cycle while also educating the prospect.

Consider the following questions as you create your case study to ensure that it resonates with your audiences: 

Have you created a sense of urgency so that there’s motivation to take action?

Have you laid the groundwork for differentiation so that action will be taken with your company instead of a competitor?

Now, let’s look at how to best structure your case studies for maximum effectiveness. 

Case study structure

Writing good case studies is an exercise in storytelling. 

Good storytelling can’t be rushed and has a cadence that naturally highlights the important parts of your story. I realize we often have to fit these case studies into a fixed-length template. 

However, it’s also important to make sure you capture the whole story and retell it with empathy for the prospect.

Here are three points to consider when crafting more impactful stories in and from your case studies:

1. The story starts way earlier than most people think. 

The story should start the moment the customer realizes they need some help.

It should walk through the process the customer used to evaluate alternatives. Then, it should talk about the implementation and results of the solution. Too often, case studies start by defining the problem without walking through all the crucial steps before a solution is selected. That's a missed opportunity.

2. The story engenders empathy in the reader. 

Case studies often stick to the facts, but the richness of the best case studies I've read lives in the color outside the pure facts. 

Write the story in such a way as to bring out the people in the story, their roles, and the challenges they were facing. Give the reader someone to empathize with, to relate to.

3. The story has measurable metrics.

While empathy is important, so are metrics. 

These can be pre-purchase metrics, too. Anything from the sales cycle is fair game. At my current company, we do POCs in under an hour. See which metrics you can surface because it’s always a good idea to measure results. And, sometimes, you'll find the best metrics are the internal ones your customer uses to measure results, not the ones you wish they'd use. 

For example, ROI is the most obvious metric, but it’s not the only one. Time to value (how long it takes until the prospects extract value from your solution) is as important as time saved with your solution relative to the current way of working. 

Increased technical metrics - like helping increase uptime or decrease mean-time-to-resolution - are also worth considering. Or business-level metrics such as how fast your software helps companies adapt to changing business requirements. 

So, to sum up, we've got a story that's focused on outcomes, written in a differentiating and compelling way. In that story, we start from the very beginning, engender empathy in the reader by telling the story of the people, not just the product, and provide measurable results that the customers themselves use to judge the project.

However, there's one last step.

Creating urgency.

Case study activation

Whether it's a landing page, social media, or a PowerPoint... your case study gets activated somewhere (likely in more than one place). It needs highlights that you can use to get people's attention, and once again, people miss one useful step that I find important.

They miss relevancy.

Specifically, they miss the opportunity to make themselves compelling when relevant news hits the wire.

Grab headlines. Tie the headline back to the use case. For example, I used to work in the integration space. We had healthcare API stuff. Did you know that over $2B is wasted in US healthcare because of missed appointments? That's a pretty catchy headline. Could I frame my solution inside that $2B opportunity? You bet I could.

And it doesn't have to be that complicated. 

I now work for a company that has solutions in the network security space. Each time a vendor “end-of-lifes” a product (meaning, announces that it won't be supported after a certain date), I can remind prospects that keeping these products in their network is risky. 

In response to this, when I see end-of-life notices published by vendors, I write a blog post or do some social media campaigns to get my message out, and I’d link back to the case study relevant to this use case.

But it's the headline that's going to be compelling. Complement the headline with quotes from your customers (that should be in your case studies) and the winning metrics from your case studies. This thruple - the headline, the quote, and the metric - becomes your highest-level elevator pitch to get people's attention.

So, to wrap up this point: Find the stories your prospects are reading, tie the compelling event back to your stories, drop in a customer quote and a metric, and you'll find that your case studies hit much harder than they otherwise would.

It's going to be repetitive

A final point to keep in mind: as you build your case study library, it will feel repetitive. That's okay! 

Everything we do in content generation is repetitive. That's the whole point. We understand our unique value propositions and competitive differentiation, and that doesn’t change. 

We then put our messaging out into the market with stories that create a sense of urgency to drive the pipeline. But all of our stories are grounded on the same messaging! That's GTM.

This tweet by Alex, a prolific content creator, sorta sums it up:

Key takeaways

Case studies are one of the most powerful tools you could have in your GTM playbook because they take the voice of the customer and present it as third-party validation of what you’re saying during your sales motion. 

They’re real-world proof of what you’re telling prospects, and they eliminate the fear in your prospects of doing something new. A good case study will help prospects understand that you empathize with their pain and have experience solving it.

However, creating case studies that stand out takes some thought and practice. There are three key considerations when crafting case studies that stand out:

  1. Start your case studies earlier in the “story” than you think. Set up the ‘pain’ the prospect felt and explore what caused them to consider the need for a solution like yours. Your prospects are going through the same process; don’t start in the middle of the story by starting the case study with how your solution helped. Doing so misses all the good stuff that happened as the prospect realized they had a problem and evaluated solutions to arrive at yours.
  2. Create a sense of urgency by pulling relevant news from the headlines and relating it to your customer’s problem. If you can’t create urgency, perhaps the problem you’re solving isn’t so important.
  3. Your content’s going to feel repetitive, and that’s good. You have the key messaging that you’re infusing into these stories. The story adds color and social proof, but your messaging is at the core of each story.