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6 Steps Every Marketing Manager Should Take Before Hiring a Case Study Writer

by | Oct 25, 2022 | Collateral, Case Studies, Content Marketing | 0 comments

6 Steps Every Marketing Manager Should Take Before Hiring a Case Study Writer

I’ve been writing case studies for clients for nearly a decade. And in my time as a case study writer, I think I’ve learned what makes for a good customer story.

I’ve also learned to recognize when one is going to be trouble. By trouble, I mean that either the project will be very difficult (perhaps even impossible) to complete, or the story will be very difficult to tell and probably not what my client had hoped for.

In fact, I can see right from the start if a project is going to be difficult.

How can I tell?

Well, in my experience, problematic case study projects are almost always the result of the client not doing enough legwork and properly vetting their customer’s story before they contact me.

Having analyzed what went wrong with these projects, I’ve come up with the following checklist of six steps every marketing manager should take before contracting an outside writer to craft a customer case study. I’d like to share those with you now.

Step #1: Make sure your customer has a story to tell

One of the most surprising mistakes marketing managers make when planning a case study project is also the most common: They get a customer to participate in the project without first finding out if they have a good story to tell.

This can happen for a variety of reasons. Usually, it occurs because no one in the company is actively following the customer’s progress with their solution. For example, the customer may have agreed to participate in a case study in exchange for a discount on their purchase price or licensing fee. When calling in the debt, however, the account manager doesn’t verify the progress the customer has made. The customer may then feel obligated to sit for an interview, as per the agreement, but they’re unable to articulate sufficient results or benefits to make the story worthwhile. They haven’t been using the solution long enough. This happened to me once. The client had to cancel the project.

If there’s no story there, the project will be a complete waste of time—yours, your customer’s, and your writer’s. You’ll also be putting your writer in a bind; if you lack results, benefits, and rich detail, your customer story will be vague and bland.

How to know if your customer has a story worth telling

Here are four things to find out from your customer before embarking on a case study project with them.

  1. Are they using your solution to contribute to their bottom line? Make sure they are using your solution in ways that are increasing earnings or lowering costs.
  2. Can they articulate the challenges that led them to your solution? In practical terms, this means that they haven’t been using your solution for such a long time that they can’t remember what life was like before they adopted it. The personnel involved in the adoption are still with the company.
  3. Can they articulate the tangible results they’ve gained from using your solution? To do that, they need to have used your solution long enough to achieve good results. It’s a good idea to track how long it takes various types of customers to achieve their desired benefits. That way, you’ll know when to get back in touch with them about a case study. When that time comes, check to find out what results they’ve been getting.
  4. Can they contrast those benefits with what they had before? As with their challenges, it’s best if the customer can describe their condition before they adopted your solution, so readers can understand the difference your solution made for them.

A client once asked me to write a case study on a customer who had been using their product for over 30 years. The current users could tell me what they like about my client’s product and why they keep using it, but they couldn’t say a word about the challenges that had led their organization to adopt it or about the improvements it had made. The folks who had been at the company at the time of purchase were long gone. In the end, by talking about the benefits of the product’s features, I was able to put together a story on how my client’s product had helped the customer’s system stand the test of time. The result, however, was not up to the standard I felt I had achieved with other case studies for that client.

Another question to ask yourself is this: Does the story fill a hole in your case study portfolio? You don’t want to waste your budget creating a customer story that’s just like another you’ve already documented. Ask yourself if this customer offers you something your current collection lacks. Is the customer a big name that will attract readers’ attention? Does the story feature an industry you’re trying to break into? Is this customer using your solution in an innovative way? Be sure you’re adding value to your portfolio

Step #2: Obtain a commitment from your customer champion

Once you know your customer has a good story to tell, the next thing to do is identify your customer champion and get them to commit to your project. A good customer champion is a person within your customer’s organization who:

  • Wants to see their success story published
  • Has sufficient clout and connections to gain the permissions and approval necessary to realize the project
  • Is committed to making the project happen within their company

A customer champion is essential to you, the marketing manager, and to your case study writer as well. Your champion will help you:

  • Navigate the project pre-approval process within their company
  • Shepherd the draft case study through the customer portion of the review process
  • Shepherd the final case study through their corporate approval process

For your writer, your customer champion will identify and set up contact with the right people to interview for the story. They’ll also make sure the writer’s follow-up questions are properly routed and answered in a timely manner.

To learn more about recruiting your customer champion, see my article on securing customer pre-approval of a case study.

Step #3: Find the people who know the story details

To bring your customer’s success story to life on the printed page, your writer needs details, examples, anecdotes, quotes, and color. These rich details can only be provided by the people in your customer’s organization who have direct knowledge of how your solution was implemented there, how it’s being used, and the results they’ve seen.

It’s important that your writer has access to these folks for interviews and follow-up questions. Through your customer champion—and before you put your writer on the clock—be sure you’ve identified everyone the writer should interview and confirmed their availability.

Step #4: Identify the story you and your customer want told

When you engage a case study writer, you should provide them with a general overview of the story, preferably in the form of a creative brief (more on that in Step #6).

Your writer will need this overview to formulate a set of incisive base questions for the customer interview. Without a solid overview to work from, your writer’s questionnaire is unlikely to solicit the right information needed to tell the story you were hoping for.

So, in consultation with your customer champion and your account rep, you need to examine your customer’s success and find the story you want to tell your prospects.

Normally, this is not a difficult task. You’re just collecting the basic facts of the story:

  • What your customer’s company or organization does
  • The challenges they were facing that set them on the path to finding your solution
  • Why the customer chose your solution
  • How your solution was implemented, including any customization involved
  • The results and benefits the customer achieved with your solution
  • Any plans they have for expanding their use of your solution in the near future

You should present this overview both in a written creative brief and also in a kickoff call where the writer can ask questions about it (more on this in Step #6).

This step may seem obvious to some, but I’ve been hired to write customer stories by clients who had no idea what their customer had achieved with their solution. Other clients have had only a vague idea of the story they wanted to tell.  Believe me, your chances of being pleased with a finished case study go up dramatically if you don’t skip this step.

Step #5: Obtain customer pre-approval

The next thing you’ll need to do, again with the help of your customer champion, is to map out the approval trail within your customer’s organization.

Find out who must authorize the project before it can begin. Find out from the approval authority how they will allow the story to be used, and whether they will allow the use of their company name and employee names in the story. It’s important for the writer to know of any such restrictions on the text of the case study before they begin writing.

You’ll then have to decide if the usage your customer will approve is sufficient for you to meet your marketing objectives for the piece. For example, if your primary reason for publishing a specific story is to boost the credibility of your solution by associating it with a well-known name, it probably doesn’t make sense to pursue the project if the customer won’t allow their company name to be mentioned.

If you’re satisfied with what your customer will approve, you’ll want to obtain pre-approval from your customer. Pre-approval authorizes your company to interview the customer’s employees, craft a story of their success with your solution, and submit that story for final approval. To learn more about how to accomplish this step, see my article on securing customer pre-approval of a case study.

Step #6: Put together your creative brief

Finally, your last step before turning to your case study writer is to build your creative brief.

A good creative brief will contain all the information your writer needs to bid and start the project, including:

  • Some background on your customer’s business
  • A brief overview of the challenges that brought the customer to your solution
  • A brief summary of how the customer is using your solution and the benefits they’ve gained from it
  • A list of topics to discuss or points that should be made within the story

Your creative brief doesn’t have to be long. A page or so should suffice. Your writer will likely want to start the project with a kickoff call to get some background on the customer and their use case. This is so they can ask well-focused questions during the customer interview. A good background call will fill in any additional detail the writer needs to get started.

Once you’ve accomplished these six steps and have your creative brief in hand, you’re ready to hire your case study writer and start the project.

Takeaway Points

Customer case studies, also known as customer success stories, are usually straightforward projects for experienced content writers to put together… provided the customer has a good story to tell.

To make sure your customer has a story that will appeal to other organizations like theirs, be sure to accomplish these six preliminary steps before hiring a case study writer:

  1. Make sure your customer has a story to tell
  2. Obtain a commitment from your customer champion
  3. Find the people who know the story details
  4. Identify the story you and your customer want told
  5. Obtain your customer’s pre-approval of the project
  6. Put together your creative brief

Taking these six steps before committing to your case study project will greatly improve its chances for success.

Next steps

Have a customer success story you want to tell the world. Once you’ve accomplished the six steps just described, contact CopyEngineer at info@copyengineer.com and bring that story to life.

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