Let’s face it - case studies are some of the toughest pieces of content to create. With so much to love about your product, it’s common to feel tongue tied, over-communicate, under-communicate, or focus on the wrong information. If you’re struggling, you’re not alone.

Almost every demand generation strategist, sales leader, and relationship manager has experienced the pain point of putting their best stories on paper.This challenge boils down to one word—process. Before sitting down to write, you need to make sure that you’re focusing on the right stories and key points. Once you’ve identified the themes that matter most to your customers, the writing process becomes simple. Your product pitches will become stories about your customers solving their most pressing stories.

No matter where you fall on the writer to sales strategist spectrum, this 7-step guide will help you create your best case studies yet.

Before You Start Writing

Step 1: Study your most successful customers

Success furls more success. That's why it's important to identify prospects who share qualities with your best customers. Depending on the size of your business, it may make sense to source examples by vertical or segment. Rather than looking for customers who are spending the most money or using particular features, dig deep for your favorite stories. Talk to your account management team to uncover their proudest moments, favorite conversations, and strongest relationships. What captivates you will likely captive your target audience too.

Step 2: Ideastorm

Take 5 minutes to jot down some notes. Do some background research into your best customers, and think about what makes them interesting to you. Take this time to pinpoint questions that you’d like to ask—why they chose to work with your business, what challenges they were experiencing, and what ROI they’ve seen since leveraging your product or service.

In addition to thinking through ‘the big picture,’ create a list of details that will communicate the most tangible and direct story possible. If it’s helpful, create a checklist of the types of information that your prospects are likely to find helpful: time saved, incremental revenue generated, and costs cut are some examples.

Don’t worry about structuring your thoughts into a story just yet. Just focus on what you want to learn.

Step 3: Hop on a 30-45 minute call

Use your notes from step 2 as a guide, or move forward with a blank slate—it’s up to you and your comfort level. No matter how you’d like to lead your conversation, make sure that you’re fully engaged in the moment. Rather than taking notes, opt to have your call recorded (and then transcribed) instead.

Lead with an open ended leading question like, “what’s a big challenge that you’ve tackled recently?” or “what do you love most about your job?” Then, jump into questions related to your product.

As you progress through your conversation, think like a journalist in focusing on the ‘who, what, where, when, why, and how’ of your customer’s story. As you respond to your customers’ comments, think like a coach in encouraging them to build upon their stories, feel comfortable sharing details, and have fun throughout the conversations.

Focus on listening rather than speaking—don’t feel pressured to fill silences or natural pauses. Be attentive, acknowledge responses, and give your customers room to speak. Make them feel valued and empowered.

Moving to Paper

Step 4: Identify Patterns

This step assumes that you’ve already transcribed your call. Depending on the length of your conversation, you’ll have a 5-10 page document. Read it line-by-line with your word processing software’s highlighter tool. Annotate the quotes and conversation points that look interesting to you.

Extrapolate these quotes into a list in a separate document, and then rearrange the points into a hierarchy of information. You might consider aligning each point to a theme, creating a mind-map, or mapping relationships on a whiteboard. This process will help you identify the right structure and key points in the story.

Step 5: Transition to Storyteller Mode

Now comes the fun part. With all the pre-work that you’ve put into previous steps, storytelling will happen naturally. Imagine that you’re having a verbal conversation with a customer, writing an email about a story that you just heard, or hosting a meeting about a topic that inspires you. This mode of thinking will help you alleviate the pressures of writing.

Let the story flow—you can always edit the document for structure and grammar later. Aim for brevity and clarity, around 600-800 words.

Step 6: Harness the Power of Design

Your case studies should be easy to scan and in-depth enough to tell a compelling story. Audiences have different reading styles, and great design can help you accelerate the pace at which they’re absorbing information.

Ask your designers to break down information into a clear hierarchy. Ensure that important points are highlighted, with plenty of engaging visuals to guide audiences along the way.

Get Closer to Your Audience

Step 7: Face-Test

Once you’ve created a draft, share it with a few trusted members of your target audiences. Ask them to answer three questions:

1 - To what extent was this case study engaging, and why?

2 - To what extent does this case study pique your interest?

3 - What else would you have liked to know?

Many sales enablement teams will limit feedback to their own organizations. At the end of the day, however, your sales reps and marketing leaders aren’t the individuals are converting—it’s your prospects’ opinions that matter most.

Talk to a few people, identify patterns, and implement changes where they make sense. Keep testing, keep sourcing feedback, and keep iterating. This exploratory process will help you create your best story yet.

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Image Credit: Jonny Goldstein

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