July 22, 2015
This week in Portland is Oscon, the annual celebration of open source software, architecture, frameworks, and tools for today’s engineers....
So you have an early cohort happy customers, and one of them has agreed (or even offered!) to be the subject of your first case study. Now what? A well-crafted case study can help show engineering teams who will use your product that it’s worth changing up their workflow for, while also showing non-technical stakeholders how their business will benefit from using your product. Distilling a customer’s experience into one brief document can seem challenging, but you can streamline the process with a simple framework.
Case studies provide social proof. You’re getting a customer (ideally a high profile one) to say publicly, “Yes, your product solved a problem for us!” For startups, demonstrating that successful organizations are willing to invest on your product is key.
But what makes case studies doubly useful for early-stage companies is that they offer a roadmap for your prospects. If you’re building a solution with a novel approach or in a completely new space, it can be hard to communicate exactly how your solution is useful. Case studies provide context and details about how other teams are using your product. This helps prospects understand specifically how your solution will impact their team. For startups, the goal is to create a case study that shows both the business value and the technical context of your product.
Your case study should reflect the perspective of your buyer — if you’re selling to VPEs, aim to interview the VPE. Depending on the size of the team and who is using your product, you might need to find a balance between someone who is high-level enough to understand the business value that your product brings, but technical and in-the-weeds enough to know how the product is being used day to day.
It’s okay to interview more than one person, but more viewpoints can be hard to wrangle, and for right now we’re aiming for simple and effective, so stick to no more than 2-3 interviewees.
Your case study interview should be a conversation, not an interrogation. Prepared questions help you hit all the important points, but before every case study interview, review these template questions and customize them for the particular use case.
Here are the case study template questions I use when interviewing customers for case studies, roughly in the order I ask them:
One question that isn’t on the the list that I always ask at least once: “Can you tell me more about that?” An interviewee might gloss over a detail that they find mundane, but which will be critically interesting to your prospects. For technical products, this often ends up being something related to their tech stack and the other tools they’re using. Always dig deeper.
As a logistical note, record your case study interviews. Frantic note-taking to capture every word distracts you from staying in the moment and being able to ask meaningful follow-up questions. Just remember to give them a quick heads up that you’ll be recording the call before you start.
Once you have your customer’s story, you’ll need to transform it into a format that has a strong narrative and is easy to skim. This is the case study framework that I’ve found most effective for creating concise, impactful case studies quickly (grab a copy of the template here):
Now you’ve identified and organized your key points and quotes, it’s time to write! Your goal is to craft a cohesive story around the customer’s buying journey and product use. Case studies don’t need to be overly long. Keep it as short as you can without losing the overall context of the use case.
Customer quotes are at the heart of a good case study. But people don’t speak in crisp, clean, soundbyte-ready sentences. Lightly editing your quotes to be clear and useable out of the context of the conversation is an important step. However, when cleaning up your quotes, be careful not to sanitize them too much. You’ll quickly find that they all start sounding robotic and fabricated. If your final quotes read like carbon copies of your messaging framework, you’ve gone too far.
Unless you particularly enjoy speaking with angry communications managers and lawyers, always give your case study subject the chance to review the final version before it goes live. Two things to do to keep the review process quick and easy:
Completing your first case study is something worth celebrating, but your work isn’t done. Publish it to your website, share with your team and other customers, and promote your new case study to your target audience. We’ll dive deeper on how to leverage user stories effectively in another post (which you can now read here!).
For examples of some real world B2B, developer-focused case studies, check out these: