August 12, 2016
How to Write a Persuasive Case Study Without Any Numbers

So your client won’t give you any firm success metrics, and you’re ready to kill the case study.

Whether it’s pesky NDAs, tight-lipped customers or a complete and total lack of tracking, getting concrete success metrics to share in a case study can feel like herding cats with Red Bull for blood.

What do you do when your client can’t – or won’t – give you any numbers to work with?

If your answer is “Scrap the case study,” a lot of (wrong) people would agree with you.

There are plenty of case study puritans who turn up their noses and argue that a case study can’t carry any weight without firm success metrics.

I’m happy to let them waste their time arguing and spend that time helping customers win leads and close deals, even if their customer success stories don’t have a single number in them.

How?

Case Study Buddy’s strategy is simple, and you can steal it: We help readers see themselves in the story.

Yes, big numbers are impressive attention-getters, but a well-told story pulls people in and persuades them because they can relate to it.

Of course, you came here for the “how”, and that’s exactly what I’m going to give you, along with some examples you can learn from along the way.

1. Shift your from thinking “Problem/Solution/Results” to “Before/During/After”

When you’ve got the benefit of big numbers, a few bullets will carry you a long way. But when you need to tell a story, a narrative arc makes a whole lot more sense.

That means following the customer journey from the start:

  • Before they found your solution,
  • During the decision-making process and early days, and
  • After they implemented and saw results

This is the format you’re going to use when you interview your clients, asking them about their experiences at every stage – and the approach you’ll use when writing the case study.

Now, you might be thinking – “Hold up! Interview?!”

Many businesses believe they can write their case studies without involving their clients in the process – and that’s a huge mistake. Your clients will always be more persuasive than you are.

That’s because they’re a third party who can substantiate any claims to greatness you try to make. You can’t tell their story without them.

On that point…

2. Lead with social proof

Here’s how you start using the quotes you get from that interview:

Where traditional case studies might lead with a big metric (“How we helped X company grow Y%”), narrative case studies can use a quote from a client to set the stage and hook people in.

For example, check out some of the lead-ins we’ve used for Pingboard:

DemandBase

This quote appears right at the top of the case study and immediately makes an impact with heavy social proof. Landon’s headshot, company logo and quote all add credibility to his claim and make it impossible to ignore.

What’s more, his quote speaks to the nature of Pingboard as both an administrative and culture-building tool, two items we know are on many leads’ checklists.

braunability

This quote from Beth speaks directly to Pingboard’s ease of use – a huge pain point for people looking for a software to solve to their staff communication problems. If I’m someone who shares that concern, I’m definitely going to read more.

sumologic

…And this quote from Brian focuses on a totally different set of features – integrations. It’s specific and compelling, because any company currently using Google Apps will immediately relate.

When choosing a quote to lead with, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Make sure it’s specific.
    A broad, sweeping accolade like “It’s great! We love it!” won’t carry the same weight as something that speaks directly to a pain point or feature people go looking for.
  • It should sum up the customer’s story.
    If the customer’s story primarily speaks to how integrations saved their life – the intro quote should be about integrations. If it’s the ease of use that’s the star of the show, the quote should be, and so on.
  • Keep it short.
    Two sentences. Max.
  • Don’t be afraid to splice quotes for a SUPER quote.
    If your customer didn’t say exactly what you need in one quote, combine two different quotes from the interview and get their approval to use it that way. We’ve never had an issue getting sign-off as long as we never change the sentiment of what was originally said.

3. Make your customer the hero, and the story personal.

Too many case studies focus on “the client” or “the company”, without any emotion or personal struggle involved. But let’s face it: People buy your products and services, companies don’t.

It’s people who hire you to solve their problems and make their lives easier – so if you want tell a compelling story, it’s got to be a personal one.

For example, check out this case study snippet:

accounting case study

Now, I’m not trying to dump on this company – it’s awesome that they’ve put together a case study at all, and there’s a lot to like here. It’s simple, direct and just detailed enough to feel credible.

But it’s also emotionless and dry – NOT a good mix when telling a story meant to engage the reader.

Now, contrast with this snippet from a case study we put together for Inbound Law Marketing:

hero

Right away, the case study shifts into a customer success story, with Michael Oykhman as the protagonist with a problem other lawyers can relate to.

We also do our best to get interviewees to describe the process used to solve the problem. That’s because an interviewee can speak to their own skepticism, fears and worries while sneakily giving our client credit for the way things turned out.

For example, in this case study we created for Ravenshoe Group, Morgan’s surprise at how easy the process was makes a much bigger impact than had we simply said “Ravenshoe’s process was efficient.”

ravenprocess

But there’s another layer to all of the above examples that you can learn from…

4. Use the “Call-and-Answer” approach.

In an impersonal case study, the company who’s writing the case study is the one filling in all the details. That won’t fly here. Instead, we use our own voice sparingly and let the client own the story.

For example, read this…

accounting2

We introduce the fact that Jarret was impressed by something (the call), but then let Jarret own the conversation by explaining the nitty gritty details of that claim (the answer).

We repeat this style over and over again in the study, using Jarret’s own words to substantiate every claim and tell the entire story:

Accounting3

The end product reads more like a magazine interview or Forbes article – and that’s exactly what we want it to sound like. It’s story-driven, with the hero taking ownership over everything we say.

Even if we wind up wrapping the case study in a Problem/Solution/Results format or use that format in a sidebar to help scanners with less time to read, we keep the body of the case study as story-driven as possible.

And finally…

5. Gather experiential quotes – not accolades.

This entire strategy hinges on your ability to conduct an interview, ask the right questions and probe into your customer’s experience.

Even if they can’t say, “We generated $1,000,000 revenue!”, they CAN give you the “So what” behind that number.

  • What can your client now do with the time and money you’ve helped them save?
  • Have they been able to expand or grow in a new area of the business?
  • Perhaps they’ve been able to cut spending in other areas, or attract a new type of client?

With this type of insight, that same quote becomes much more powerful.

Getting to this level of detail is as simple as asking, “What has that meant for your business?” – getting a client to describe the impact and the difference it’s made in their own words. (pssst – here’s how!)

Don’t let a lack of metrics hold you back from publishing great customer success stories.

Even if you can’t talk numbers, a narrative, client-driven customer success story will still do a lot of heavy lifting for winning over leads and closing deals.

We know, because we’ve already made it happen – and if you’d like, we’ll do the same for you.

4 Comments

  • Well written and collected all thought.
    I personally believe in making customer hero and collecting data from quotes helped a lot.

  • I didn’t think I had this problem but I read the post anyway.

    Framing things as “Before/During/After” is great to do even when you can share the data and stats. I don’t do this enough – having the story and the narrative makes the case study stickier and memorable.

    Aside: I like to use the “Before/During/After” framework for testimonials which I learned via Derek Halpern.

    • Joel Klettke

      Cheers, Doug!
      Yes – the Before/During/After is always our approach – whether it’s a testimonial or a full-blown study – because that’s how stories are told. When you can combo that with the stats and metrics, it’s even more potent, but at least when you interview and structure your approach this way, you can get quotes for every section and add depth across the board.
      Appreciate you reading 🙂

  • In a world where some clients say, “I don’t need figures. I already know them. Show me how you are gonna do it!”, this becomes realit. Very useful read.
    Thanks Joel. Keep up the good work.

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