B-to-B Insights: Everyone Loves a Story
According to copywriter Heather Sloan, case studies are often more effective than brochures and traditional sales collateral. Why is this the case?
“Everyone loves a story,” explains Sloan. “An old adage says, ‘A picture is worth 1,000 words.’ Never did this wisdom ring truer than in sales conversations and marketing pieces. Stories paint pictures. Stories evoke emotions. Stories are memorable. Stories give your presentations sticking power. The easiest way to tell a marketing story is by case study.”
A case study is a product success story. It tells how a company solved a problem using a specific product, process, method or idea. As with other marketing techniques, case studies fluctuate in popularity. While almost any company profitably can market with case studies, an informal survey of B-to-B Web sites shows most companies don’t take full advantage of the power of case study marketing.
An effective case study makes the reader want to learn more about the product it features. It’s a soft-sell proposition designed to compel prospects to request more detailed information. If you’ve mirrored the readers’ problems successfully, the case study will propel them deeper into the sales funnel and closer to buying.
Tell a Story
For the most part, case studies are not overly technical: They are written in a style similar to that of a magazine feature article.
The average case study is relatively brief—one to two pages or approximately 800 to 1,500 words. More complex or in-depth case studies can run 2,000 to 2,500 words. The intent of a case study is not to present in-depth minutiae and analytical data, but to briefly describe how a product or service can effectively address and solve a particular problem.
“We don’t have formal guidelines for case studies,” says Mark Rosenzweig, editor-in-chief of Chemical Processing, a trade publication that has been running case studies for decades. “Generally, we’re looking for a relatively recent installation, say within the last two years, of innovative technology. What issues prompted the installation? What did it involve? What results have been achieved? We’re generally looking for 1,500 to 2,000 words.”
Because case studies are presented in a story format, readers are naturally more inclined to take interest—especially if the story has some sort of benefit to them. Unlike sales presentations, case studies are all about showing, rather than telling, how a product or service works. Because the product benefits are extolled by an actual user—and not the manufacturer—the claims are more believable.
Create a Sense of Trust
By using a satisfied customer as an example, a case study essentially demonstrates how well your product works. Rather than present a pile of facts and figures, you tell an engaging story that vividly shows your product’s effectiveness.
An equally strong selling point is the level of empathy a case study creates between your prospects and your satisfied customers. People tend to identify with people like themselves. Prospects feel far more at ease listening to their peers. They relate better, because they often share the same issues and problems.
The readers also believe case studies more than other sales literature. They are skeptical of ads and find brochures full of puffery, and even podcasts and company blogs seem self-serving. But in a case study, a customer who has no motive or financial incentive to praise the product does so, creating instant credibility.
What makes case studies so attractive to marketers and B-to-B prospects alike is they’re based on real-life experiences. Case studies are viewed as credible, third-party endorsements that carry a high degree of believability.
A survey by Forrester Research shows that 71 percent of buyers base their decisions on trust and believability. Relating your customers’ positive experiences with your product is one of the best ways to establish credibility in the marketplace. Giving your customers confidence in what you’re offering dramatically increases the likelihood they’ll do business with you.
Get the Sales Force Involved
One of the best sources of candidates for case studies is the sales force. You can get your sales force interested in finding case study candidates by offering them tangible incentives if one of their candidates is chosen and profiled in the case study. When offered a nice incentive, the sales force gets excited about the candidate search. The incentive does not have to be huge, but it should be desirable—a new iPod, for example.
Put Pen to Paper
To prepare the case study, a writer interviews the person in the customer organization who is most involved in the application. For a small business, this may be the owner; for a larger company, it could be a plant manager or engineer. Before the writer calls, the vendor salesperson or account manager handling that customer should call and make sure the customer is willing and even eager
During the interview, get as many good quotations as possible. Reason: The quotations in published case studies can do double duty as testimonials. Often interview subjects are vague with their answers, and it is up to the interviewer/writer to wring the specifics out of the interview. Whenever possible, get the subject to give you numbers, so claims and results can be specific.
For instance, if the subject says the product reduces energy costs but can’t say by how much, pin him down: “Did it reduce energy consumption more than 10 percent? More than 100 percent?” He will give you a guesstimate, which you can use as an approximate figure, i.e., “The XYZ system reduced plant energy consumption by more than 10 percent.”
Before the case study can be released, the subject of the case study—the person you interviewed—must approve and sign off on the case study. Keep these releases on file. If the subject takes a job with a different company, you may lose track of him. So you can’t afford to lose track of his signed permission form. Otherwise, if your authorization to use the case study is questioned, and you can’t produce a signed release, you may have to remove that case study from your Web site.
Ask subjects of case studies whether they are willing to serve as reference accounts. That way, a prospect whose needs relate to a particular case study can speak with the product user featured in that case study. Check your reference account list periodically to make sure names and numbers are current, and update as needed.
Bob Bly is a freelance copywriter who has written copy for more than 100 clients including IBM, AT&T, Praxair, Intuit, Forbes, and Ingersoll-Rand. McGraw-Hill calls Bob “America’s top copywriter” and he is the author of 90 books, including “The Copywriter's Handbook.” Find him online at www.bly.com or call (973) 263-0562.