After writing hundreds of B2B case studies in my career, I
have some insights to share.
One of the most critical elements of the process
is the customer interview. It is during the interview process that great case
studies are born. No amount of skillful writing can overcome a poorly conducted
interview. An experienced interviewer knows how to elicit the quotes that
make a case study an effective marketing tool.
In some cases, customers agree to participate in a case
study but are hesitant to divulge the kind of insightful information necessary
for a strong case study. Through careful questioning and follow ups, a skilled
interviewer can guide the customer through the process and extract key data
that a less experienced interviewer wouldn’t.
Over the years, I’ve developed a customer case study questionnaire
that I use as a guide to facilitate the case study interview. The main goal of
my proprietary questions is to facilitate a “conversation” with the customer—not
an interrogation. Often, for instance, customers are reluctant to provide hard
numbers for such things as ROI or labor savings—key elements of a strong case
study. Yet, they often have wonderful anecdotal stories that illustrate these
metrics. Once the illustrative story is told, it’s amazing how often the
customer is then able to provide helpful numbers.
Interviewing is an art. The skill is in steering the
conversation in a direction that serves the marketing purposes of the client
while at the same time bringing to light information that provides for a
compelling story. If these elements are properly drawn out during the
interview, the case study practically writes itself.
Occasionally, I receive a letter like the following, and it makes all the hard work worthwhile:
“The application story you wrote last week involving Armstrong World Industries using SST’s Simulation software for training was very well done. It has already been accepted for publication by Control Engineering magazine.
The quality stories that you created always made the pitch to an editor so much easier. I had feedback from editors on many occasions on the quality of the stories, including technical accuracy and well developed quotes. In fact, I was able to place each story at least once, with some being published in several countries and in multiple languages. Some of the top-tier vertical publications in the automation and controls industry that published stories that you wrote for us include Control, Control Design, Managing Automation, Manufacturing Automation, A-B Journal, I&CS and InTech. In addition to the quality stories that you wrote, I always appreciated the professional manner in which you interacted with our customers for the story interview. Again, I always received positive feedback from our customers.
Finally, I wanted to thank you for the full attention that you gave every project assignment. You always made me look good in the eyes of customers to have a completed story back to them in such a timely fashion!”
–Colleen Dietrich, Public Relations Specialist, SST (part of Woodhead Connectivity)
Asheville, North Carolina, is my town. Recently, I was invited to write two profiles of local coffee houses for Specialty Coffee Retailer magazine.
The second profile, featuring Asheville’s sensational Double Decker Coffee Bus, appears in the August issue of the magazine. The first profile, on Izzy’s Coffee Den, appeared in 2008.
Dan Bolton, the editor-in-chief of the magazine, provided me with a unique opportunity to take a creative journalism approach to these impressionistic, travelogue-esque profiles.