Here’s a stat worth paying attention to: According to a 2014 study from the Acquity Group, 94% of business buyers are conducting online research before making a purchase.
Think about that. Your potential customers are out there reading about your services, looking at your website, searching for reviews, and more – and you’ve got an increasingly-small timeframe to spend actually talking with those prospects to try and close business.
Because so much research and information-gathering is taking place before any sales conversations begin, it’s never been more important to make sure you’re getting the right message out the door – one that showcases your value, and speaks directly to your target audience.
There’s another problem, however. In today’s hyper-competitive market, you need proof that your products and services function as described, and that your customers will actually be able to realize the benefits you’ve promised them. And as you might have guessed, this proof can’t come from you – it has to come from a customer, a real person – and a case study is the perfect delivery vehicle. In marketing, this is often called “social proof”.
The (Social) Proof is in the Pudding
HubSpot defines social proof as “the positive influence created when a person finds out that others are doing something.” This is exactly what a case study aims to do – showcase one customer’s success, with the hope that others will be more inclined to do business with you after having read it.
So what makes a good case study? What questions should you be asking? And once you’ve got a few testimonials, how do you go about promoting them?
This post is the first in a two-part series designed to jumpstart your case study efforts, and help you build strong and effective testimonials you can share with potential customers.
Types of Case Studies
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to successful marketing, and the same is true with testimonials. Your prospects have unique preferences around what content they’d like to see, which products or services they’re interested in purchasing from you, and more – and your case study library needs to be diverse enough to meet the interests of all potential customers.
Similarly, you shouldn’t limit yourself to only PDF formatting when building out your case studies. PDFs are great – they can be distributed across a number of channels, and designed however you see fit – but more modern mediums should have their place in your library too. Here are a few other options to consider:
Posting a testimonial (or an excerpt) directly to your website can yield some great results, as it allows you to display social proof directly alongside features and benefits information. This can help you build trust with prospects before they’ve engaged with any downloadable content on your site, particularly if you’ve got an eye-catching quote or two right on your homepage.
Infographics are a great way to produce easy-to-read, digestible content. From a testimonial perspective, these are best-suited for customers who can provide solid data and metrics around how your solutions have helped their business (i.e. improved efficiency by X% or helped achieve $X revenue in 6 months after deployment). With the right visuals, these numbers can really jump off the page and grab some attention.
Video testimonials are powerful because they’re a bit more dynamic and engaging than their text-only counterparts. Reading about an organization’s success is one thing – but seeing an excited CEO or President talking about how thankful they are for the solutions you’ve provided adds another dimension to the testimonial.
Identifying the Right Customers
Not every customer is going to be a great candidate for a case study or testimonial. Case studies are designed to showcase how great your offerings are – so start by going straight to your all-stars. Find folks who really understand your product, and who are leveraging it to the fullest. If you’ve got any commonly-recognized or big name brands in your base, get in touch with them. And if you have any customers who were previously leveraging a competitive product, get them talking about why they made the switch to yours.
If you’re not sure where to start, see which of your customers are talking positively about your brand on their own—review sites, social media and online communities are all great places to look.
Once you’ve identified which customers you’d like to target, the next step is to get in touch with them and do some interviewing.
Remember to keep the conversation open-ended, and avoid asking questions that can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no”. Let your customers do the talking – remember, the point here is to tell their story – you’re just helping frame it appropriately. In some cases, you may only need to ask one or two introductory questions before your customer dives into a 30-minute explanation of how you’ve helped their business succeed. Let them talk.
Here are some key questions you’ll want to ask when conducting an interview:
- How did this customer learn about your business?
- What market(s) does the customer serve? Are there any specialized verticals or niches worth mentioning?
- What challenges or pain points was the customer facing?
- What solutions were deployed?
- What were the results?
- What are the company’s future growth plans?
There’s no denying the importance of case studies and testimonials in modern marketing – but they need to be properly thought out and executed. A good case study will showcase the success that one of your customers has realized since doing business with you, and in turn will help build trust between your brand and prospects.
This post is the first in a two-part series. In part two, we’ll look at how to actually write your case studies now that you’ve identified and interviewed a few customers – and we’ll have a fully-customizable template available for download that you can use to start creating professional-looking case studies in no time!