Most business case studies are nothing more than informational reports where concepts are discussed in generalities.
Many are formulaic, starting with an overview of the customer and a general outline of their problem and, in very general terminology, how your company solved that problem.
What’s missing are the specifics that allow you to create and write an engaging story that resonates with prospects.
Jack Hart, a newspaper writing coach and collaborator who helped several reporters win Pulitzers, addresses the difference in his latest book, Story Craft.
For years, he says, reporters were directed “to show not to tell.” But in reality, he says, to tell a good story, you need to do both – tell and show – by moving up and down the abstraction ladder.
A case study must describe a general problem that many have encountered, but make us feel the pain of the problem by providing specifics and highlighting the pain of a single customer. The key is to make us feel the pain, not just describe it.
So how to you do that?
First, ask the right questions in the interview process.
Identify the pain points. There is a big difference between “having an antiquated phone system” and having the press box phone bank go dead during the championship basketball game.
Or between “maintaining an old PBX system” and having to wait four days and then pay $1,500 for a service provider site visit only to tell you it will take another five days to get the part you need.
Your customers call you for a reason. Listen to what they say and start capturing that information.
During a case study interview, ask them to tell you what they are trying to do and why it is important to their company. What problems are they running into, and how does it affect the overall business?
Get really specific and ask how, why and “what happened then” questions.
Don’t settle for generalities like “our computer system was very old.” Dig until you hear “many of our customers wanted to place bets right from their mobile phone while the thoroughbreds paraded to the track. But our network couldn’t handle every new device and we knew we were losing millions of dollars.”
Second, quantify results people can relate to and understand.
You didn’t just save your customers time and money. You can now get the press box phone system up and running in five minutes from your home at any time rather than driving 25 minutes to the field, figuring out what is wrong and without making a $150-hour service call.
You didn’t just add new servers and a T-3 line, you provided Internet access to 400 students who used to sit in the library and find the information they needed in the school’s single set of 10-year-old encyclopedias.
Ask customers what benefits they now receive from your services. Ask them to contrast the task now to what they did before, and to quantify how easy it is to accomplish now.
Armed with these specific details, you should be able to write a chronological story, starting with your customer’s biggest headache and progressing to how you solved the problem and how his life is much, much easier now. Weave historical details and company background throughout the introduction rather than blurting it out at the beginning.
Tell prospects a story; don’t dump information in their lap. The story is in the details; you just need to dig them out.
Photo: Morguefile by Indenture
Are you tired of the formulaic method of writing case studies? How are you making your case studies more engaging?