Making a sale can be a long and winding road, especially for a B2B business. It’s easy to promise the world in your marketing material, but no matter how persuasive your arguments are, they can fall flat if there’s no proof to back it up. The missing piece in this puzzle to skyrocket your sales is a B2B case study.
While there are plenty of methods available to B2B marketers, it’s not always clear which of these is the best choice. In 2019, however, there’s one marketing technique which proves successful time and time again – and that’s social proof.
In a nutshell, this is a demonstration of trust. It’s simple psychology – people are likely to want the same things they see others enjoying. It’s why testimonials are so effective for consumer purchase decisions, and explains why you want to be friends with people who seem to have lots of friends already.
In business, social proof is seen often in the form of customer reviews, but for B2B businesses, there’s a bigger content marketing tool in the shed: case studies. Like any writing project, it’s half science and half art, with one goal: telling a success story to show what you can do in the real world.
In this guide, we’ll explain how to craft an effective B2B case study that’s not just fun to read, but actually sells.
How B2B case studies differ from B2C case studies
Before we dive in the detail on exactly how to build an effective lead-generating B2B case study, let’s first define exactly what B2B case studies are.
One thing to note is that the initial purchase price for B2B is often much higher than that of a consumer purchase. Also, the lifetime value (LTV) of a customer is usually higher, either via high-ticket business tools and equipment, or as services provided over the long term.
Therefore, B2B prospects will often want as much information as possible to make an informed decision. A case study can be an excellent tool for this decision-making process, because it allows the prospect to see how your product or service has helped another business – hopefully one of their peers.
So, a B2B case study will usually include the following elements:
- An in-depth explanation of the problem which the customer faced, along with how the solution was implemented.
- Interviews with key employees of the case study subject sharing the positive results of working with the business.
- Statistics outlining key improvements seen by the company in question; for example, improvements to turnover or a positive return on investment.
- Interspersed relevant quotes from key team members of the subject company.
Now that we have the basics down, let’s look at each of these in more depth and learn exactly what goes into creating a B2B case study which generates real leads.
Ingredient 1: A rich and compelling story foundation
Genuine customer success stories are at the heart of any B2B case study, and all of this begins with a little bit of storytelling. We usually find storytelling in fiction, but there’s no reason you shouldn’t set the scene with a little bit of panache. And B2B customers are humans, after all. They like to be told a tale.
There are two sides to every case study: a problem and a solution.
The first part of a successful B2B case study will be to tell the story behind the customer’s problem, the “why” behind the need for your product or service in the first place – and why solving this problem would lead to positive change for the subject.
We’ll talk more about the use of interviews and quotes later in the guide, but it’s a great idea to include a quote from a key stakeholder during this initial section of the case study. This will offer some valuable insight into why exactly the subject business chose your solution.
Ingredient 2: The development (and deployment) of the solution
Once you’ve set the scene and explained the problem faced by your subject, it’s time to explain how your company solved it. Every part of a case study is important, but this section is where the real magic is.
At this point in the case study, prospects will want to learn:
a) How your company goes about solving problems. This refers to the way you analyse a problem, as well as how you propose solutions. A common question might be, for example, Can you offer one single solution, or will multiple options be offered?
b) How your company implements those solutions. This simply refers to the mechanics of deploying your product or service. Is it time-consuming? Will it require certain parts of the subject business to close down temporarily? Will any training of employees be required to use the new solution? How easy are you to work with?
This section of your B2B case study should be as thorough as you can possibly make it, and every problem you mention should be countered by the solution you deployed.
Ingredient 3: Interviews and quotes from key personnel
When it comes down to it, businesses are just groups of people, and finding the human angle can really make a difference with your case study. Many employees, especially those who manage businesses, have become a little jaded by material that’s too sales-driven or insincere.
A solid B2B case study can tackle this by including interviews with real people explaining in simple terms exactly why they’re so glad they used your services.
The social proof concept can really be put to work here, too. If you can find someone high up the corporate hierarchy to interview and quote from, it’ll likely have more compelling results.
For example, if the business has a well-known CEO or Managing Director, it’s a great idea to interview them and be sure to include a photo too. Their gravitas will shine through and lend credibility to this section and the B2B case study as a whole.
It might be tempting to polish the wording a little, but this might not be needed. Business owners can be rather perceptive, and perhaps a little jaded, so a shot of real honesty from the top dogs can be entertaining and persuasive.
Ingredient 4: Vital statistics and positive outcomes
You’ll have now reached a point in your case study where the “soft sell” is done and it’s time to whip out some numbers. The human angle can be a powerful tool, but it’s only truly effective at lead-gen if it’s backed up with some cold, hard facts.
Luckily, because your business managed the product or service provision end-to-end, you’ll have all of the vital statistics to hand and should be able to present them in a way which is convincing and impressive. Note, of course, that this does not mean “fudge” the numbers – always be ready to show your sources for any numbers used in a case study. Even one ever-so-slightly inflated statistic could undermine the entire enterprise, so tread carefully and be brutally honest.
So which statistics should you include in this section to portray the positive outcomes of working with the subject business? Here are a few popular options to get your creative juices flowing. These are both quantitative (i.e. pure numbers) and qualitative (i.e. overall positive changes) examples of change metrics:
- Return on investment (ROI). Did the subject business make a positive return on the money they invested in you? For most service-based businesses, the answer should always be ‘yes’, so this is a great statistic to lead with.
- Increased number of total sales.
- Reduced running costs.
- Reduced time spent on customer support resolution.
- Improved customer satisfaction.
- Improved employee satisfaction and productivity.
The list really does go on and on, but you can hopefully see that there are plenty of ways to innumerate the positive change your product or service has had on the subject business. When it really comes down to it, you need your B2B case study to communicate that your business will help a prospect’s business run more cost-effectively, make more money, or grow larger – all core goals of any business. For them, it should essentially be a no-brainer.
Formatting, design and repurposing for B2B case studies
You can’t forget the design, of course.
While simply publishing as a blog post or web page is perfectly acceptable, there’s the opportunity to make your case study look beautiful, too.
Why not contact a designer ? Or you could use a tool like Canva to rustle up a handsome PDF file that can be downloaded or printed for a handout.
This can be done as part of a wider content strategy. Case studies, due to their wealth of data, can be repurposed and ‘mined’ for content that can be used on other channels.
So, if you find yourself with a 1200 word case study, you could reuse that in a number of ways:
- Quotes posted in images for sharing on Twitter
- A video slideshow for LinkedIn
- Text snippets to be shared on your product pages
- Extracts for slideshows and onsite product demonstrations
- Content for your email newsletter
- Content for printed brochures
- Anything else you can think of
And by simply going through the process of interviewing your clients in the first place, you might end up with valuable insight into their opinions, which you might not have had access to before. So you can share those opinions with your product managers to inform future decisions.
Examples of great B2B business case studies
There’s a couple of good examples over at Timetastic, with case studies for their b:Friend and Sookio clients (which – disclaimer – we wrote!). Starting with stories and fun facts about the businesses – before getting into the problems and solutions – is a great idea to keep a reader’s attention.
Accenture have a wide range of case studies for their consulting business, and this one for a Carlsberg project shows how a dilemma was tackled in their IT infrastructure, with a clear use of statistics as proof.
Final pointers on the goals of your B2B case study
Before we wrap things up, we’d like to just mention a few quick pointers to remember as you begin production of your own B2B case study:
- Don’t be afraid to discuss the challenges you faced in delivering your solution. Sometimes being open about challenges (and how you solved them) can be very endearing.
- Try to format the piece with an eye on storytelling. It doesn’t need to be a complete narrative, of course, but framing your case study as a story can help motivate readers to reach the end. Feel free to use a member of the subject business’s team as your ‘main character’ if you’re having trouble formulating a storyline.
- Case studies shouldn’t read like an advertisement. You should try your best to avoid sounding like an advert and instead act as a documentarian explaining, in objective terms, what you did and what the positive outcomes were.
If you’re considering exploring the potential of B2B case studies for your business, this guide will hopefully have provided you with the building blocks you need to hit the ground running.
Remember that, as with any form of marketing collateral, it’s all about testing and experimentation – don’t be afraid to tweak the format and try again if it’s not delivering. With this ethos, you’ll be able to create supercharged lead-generating B2B case studies in no time.
If you’re looking for a copywriter for your B2B case studies, your search has come to an end. Get in touch to see how we can help you tell the story your business needs.