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Qualifying Case Study Candidates

by | Mar 24, 2022 | Blog | 0 comments

A Four-step Process for Ensuring Customer Story Success

Qualifying case study candidates

Case studies are one of my specialties. I write a lot of them for my clients. Recently, though, I had a couple of case study projects that, through no fault of my own, didn’t go so smoothly.

Both were for a client for whom I’ve written several successful customer stories. These two projects, however, were different. The initial briefings my client gave me about the subject customers seemed… odd.

Like George Clooney’s character Matt Kowalski in the film Gravity, I had a bad feeling about these missions.

Still, I took both jobs and hoped for the best. I’ve since realized I should demand more information from my client before agreeing to write a case study. I’ve also learned that some marketers need to collect more information from their customers before embarking on such projects.

To that end, I’ve come up with a four-step process for qualifying case study candidates.

Case study qualification red flags

What was “odd” about those two initial customer briefings? In both cases, my client wasn’t able to tell me much about their customer’s application or the results they had achieved. Bad sign. I now recognize such circumstances as warning flags.

A customer non-story

In the first of these projects, my client’s customer had agreed to participate in a case study in exchange for a licensing fee discount. When I contacted the customer to set up an interview, however, they demurred. They had had one junior employee do some experimentation with the product. Beyond that, they’d done nothing. The project wasn’t worth starting. My client and I agreed to apply my fee to a subsequent customer story.

A story the customer couldn’t remember

For the second project, my client’s customer was happy to talk. But when I interviewed him, I found that his organization had been using my client’s product for more than ten years. The personnel involved in the implementation were no longer with the company. My contact had only a vague recollection of how things were before adopting my client’s solution. They had tracked no metrics, so there was no way to quantify their results or make any before-and-after comparisons.

Luckily, I was able to spin a tale of how my client’s solution had stood the test of time and had continued to satisfy the customer’s needs as they evolved over more than a decade. Otherwise, there wasn’t much of a story to tell. There was little to show in the way of concrete results.

An unfinished story

It’s easy to imagine other circumstances that could put your writer in a similar situation. Say a customer has been using your solution for a while, but not quite long enough to show consistent, measurable results. Even if they’re very happy with your product or service and your support, it’s probably not yet time to tell their story. After all, what’s a customer success story without any success to talk about?

A four-step case study qualification process

The way to avoid such circumstances, I believe, is to pre-qualify each customer story candidate using a standard process.

Let’s say a sales rep, service rep, account manager, reseller, or other partner has nominated one of their customers to be the subject of a case study. They’ve sent you a description of the customer and their use case in an email or via an online form you’ve created for candidate submissions.

What you want to do now is make sure you’re not going to launch a case study project that is doomed to failure and will waste valuable marketing resources. You want to avoid the red flag scenarios listed earlier: the customer with no results, the customer with no memory of what came before your solution, the story that’s not ready to be told, etc.

You want to put that customer story candidate through a systematic vetting process—like this four-step case study qualification process I’m about to describe…

Step 1: Decide if the story is useful (the needs assessment)

The candidate information you get from your rep or partner should include basic background information on the customer, their history with your company, your products and services they’ve used, and any notable results they’ve achieved.

From that description, try to determine if this customer’s story will fulfill a marketing need. Do you already have stories about similar customers? If not, is this customer in a sector you seek to serve? If you have stories in the same sector, is this customer’s story significantly different from those? Did they use a different product or service?

If you can’t answer these questions from the description you received, or if you feel anything is missing request additional details, contact the source for further details.

Case study writer Casey Hibbard, author of Stories that Sell, suggests performing a customer story needs assessment and creating a customer story wish list.

The customer story inventory matrix

A good way to begin a needs assessment is by creating (or updating) a customer story inventory matrix. Easily created in a spreadsheet, this matrix lists your existing stories in the left column, and selected segments of your target audience and your product/service spectrum across the top row.

Thus, your matrix will have columns for each of your products and services and each segment of your audience. You might segment your audience by target industries, geography, focus (technical problem, business case, etc.), and any secondary themes that are important to your company, like flexibility, scalability, and technical support. For each customer story inventory, check the boxes under the solutions and the market segments the story covers.

The customer story wish list

Next, perform a gap assessment on your updated inventory matrix, or update your existing one.

Look down the columns of your matrix and see which solutions and market segments are sparsely covered by your existing story inventory. You can also sort your inventory matrix by market segment and see which of your market segments lack stories for specific products services or themes. From this gap assessment, make a wish list of stories you would like to publish to better cover your market.

Alternatively, you can simply compare each candidate in your inventory matrix and see if the candidate fills a gap. Building a wish list, however, can help you prioritize incoming projects and your search for new candidates.

Finally, if the candidate looks good on paper and fills one of your needs, proceed to the next step: the pre-qualification interview.

Step 2: Conduct a pre-qualification interview

In the pre-qual interview, your goal is to gather additional information that further qualifies the customer as a success story candidate.

To that end, you should develop a set of generic questions you can ask in a 20-to-30-minute interview with the customer. With these questions, you’ll try to assess:

  • The customer’s level of satisfaction with your solution
  • The customer’s willingness to participate in a case study project
  • How you’ll gain corporate approval for the project from the customer’s organization

Your questions might include:

  • What business or technical objectives were you trying to achieve with our solution?
  • How effectively and efficiently were you able to meet those objectives?
  • What would you say are the top three benefits you’ve gained? (Please elaborate on each.)
  • Can you tie any measurable results to the adoption of our solution?
  • On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your level of satisfaction with our solution?
  • On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your satisfaction with our customer service?
  • On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your satisfaction with our company as a whole?
  • Would you recommend our solution to a colleague?
  • Would you be willing to participate in a public case study?
  • Who in your company would need to provide clearance for a case study project?

Consider recording the pre-qual interview. Having an audio recording of the candidate’s responses can be helpful when preparing to brief your writer on the project, especially if the customer mentions something unusual that you believe will add value to the story. A solid background briefing will help your writer develop a more insightful interview questionnaire for capturing the details of your customer’s success.

Step 3: Decide if the candidate is worthwhile

Once you’ve conducted your pre-qualification interview, assess the information you gathered. In general, a good case study candidate will have the following characteristics:

  1. The customer is very happy. They’re pleased with your product or service, your support, and your responsiveness. They see real business value in your solution.
  2. There’s an interesting story to tell. That is, the customer’s story should be of strong interest to a significant segment of your target audience. Examples of such stories include:
    1. The customer overcame a pesky problem that widely afflicts their industry.
    2. The customer used your solution in a novel or nuanced way that might provide insight to other customers.
    3. The customer’s solution dovetails nicely with a hot media topic, like achieving compliance with a new industry standard.
  3. The customer has achieved tangible results. Ideally, these should be quantifiable. At the very least, they should demonstrate real business benefits. The customer perceives that they’ve made significant improvements to their business.
  4. The timing is right. The story should align with the messages you want to communicate right now. If your resources are limited and the candidate doesn’t line up with your immediate marketing goals, you may want to prioritize other stories or projects. If the customer lacks quantifiable gains, you’ll likely want to wait until they’ve accumulated more significant results and greater enthusiasm. You may even want to suggest metrics they can track to demonstrate improvement over time.

Step 4: Determine if the project is feasible

Finally, find out what it will take to gain clearance and approval for the project.

Find answers to the following questions:

  • What will the customer allow, in terms of employee involvement and use of their company name?
  • Who will need to give go-ahead approval for the project?
  • Who will need to review the draft case study?
  • What hurdles will the story need to clear for final approval?

Be sure you’re confident the project can be approved and that the finished story will meet your marketing objectives before dedicating resources to it. After all, diving into a case study project only to find that it isn’t feasible or won’t satisfy your company’s needs is just a waste of time and money.

Take-away points

Before investing time and budget in a customer case study project, you need to make sure you’re project is likely to provide a good return on your investment.

A good way to do that is to qualify each customer story candidate using the following four-step case study candidate qualification process:

  1. Decide if the story is useful (through a needs assessment)
  2. Conduct a pre-qualification interview
  3. Decide if the candidate is worthwhile
  4. Determine if the project is feasible

Next steps

Need help crafting effective case studies that will give prospects the proof and confidence they need to move forward? Contact CopyEngineer at

Contact CopyEngineer



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