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Case Study Guide

Posted by Evelyn Wolf

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09-Dec-2015 18:33:18

One thing I really wanted to get off the ground fast in my role were case studies. We had some wonderful testimonials and compliments given directly to our engineering team (especially via the support channel) but no full case studies yet.

The big challenge for any startup is to show businesses that they can trust you. Human nature falls back on the Jones’s here: have others used it? How did that go? Are there any businesses like mine that have experience? And who else is trusting this new kid on the block? 

The Process

I have a playbook for the process which begins with this graphic showing the steps. Have a look at the playbook article as to why I write these playbooks up and how.

1. Identification of prospect

Probably the hardest bit in the process is finding the right process. Established organisations may hold back sharing their story first. If your tool, similarly to ours, makes up part of their end product, they may even be reluctant to share at all.

We identify prospects in one of two ways: either during the sales process or via a marketing research. The latter means that I go through past sales of the last year or so and actively reach out to prospects.

To make it easy for yourself, be sure that your sales team asks at the close of each sale whether the new customers is open to becoming a case study. Right after the sale, customers are the most motivated and open to take things further. Also, your sales person has an established relationship, whereas you come in as someone unknown from the marketing side.

2. Reach out / intro email

I have a friendly, brief email here. Outlining why case studies are important to us but more importantly why we want to feature the particular customer.

I outline also what’s involved. People are busy and unsure whether embarking on a case study will take up a lot of their time. Keeping it simple and with least amount of effort to your customer is key.

3. Case study release form
This may seem like just a formality, but it’s vital. You want to publish the case study and be sure there is no call for any reason to take it down again at a later stage.

We’ve added options in our case study form. We ask whether they are open to a written case study, a possible video, whether they’d be open to becoming a customer reference and help us close future deals.


4. Questionnaire

The questionnaire is really important for me. I would not be able to hold an interview with a developer and ask the right high-level technical questions (and understand them) to make a great case study. This is why I send a written document. It has a number of key questions that will help me write the story but also get the deep technical info we need to make the case study valuable to our potential buyers.

When it comes to the questions to ask, I really liked this approach written by Zapier:

  • Hero suffers a loss or experiences a serious problem…
  • Hero attempts to resolve issues through usual means, and fails…
  • Hero goes on a journey and discovers an ally or new approach…
  • Hero overcomes tremendous odds to resolve the problem…
  • Hero returns triumphant and tells all about his conquest.

I, therefore, start by asking what the problem they were trying to solve, what is the goal of the project. Then I move forward asking about how they approached the project and how they came to the conclusion our software solution was needed. The story then moves on to the development project and how the customer applied the product. Before asking about success. A final question is around what they would want others to know about dealing with Cesanta.

It’s broad. So gives the recipient enough room to tell their story their way while still given direction so they don’t feel at a loss of where to start telling the story.

5. Interview

A very big term for a phone conversation. I read through the responses and then like to call the customer to go through any follow-up questions. Always do this, as you are likely to get more nuggets of insight and some great quotes.

6. Write up

Now the writing starts. And the format is similar to the questionnaire. Telling the story of how the customer's project came up, how they went about overcoming challenges, the role we played and the success they have seen. I’m sure to also include any issues they may have had during the implementation and how these were resolved. I want the case studies to be more than a “hey, look how great we are” but a true story of the experience.

While I do the writing, I already identify quotes that can be used to promote the case, or be used around our website or our collateral.

A final step for me here is to get one of our software engineers to proofread the piece. I’ve been called out on some developer boards for writing ‘marketing fluff’. This feedback comes from our buyer persona, so anything we produce has to be very tech focussed and valuable to them. I’m not a techie and while I’m learning more and more about the terminology and what’s important, I will never have the insight of an engineer. My colleagues will check this and even add parts if they were involved in the sale or any support.

7. Final sign off & images

The draft is then sent over to our customer for sing-off. Any changes are made and the last images sourced (be sure to ask for permission to use logos, customer headshots, product shots etc).

8. Publication

So now we are ready to publish. I ensure a good spot on the website and pepper some quotes on the site where it makes sense. Social media also gets a good push. 

I also publish it internally. Letting the team know about the case study, what the key points of it are and how important case studies are. This gives me an opportunity to remind colleagues to keep an eye out for any potential customers and ensure that sales is aware of the new case study to refer to during the sales process.

I really enjoy writing case studies and talking directly with customers. It’s a great learning for me about how our software is used (IoT and embedded web servers - the applications are endless) and hear the language our buyer persona uses to describe their work.

Some great resources I used to get this process up and running are:


And if you google ‘case study release form’ you’ll find a few great examples that can help you get your form set up right.

Topics: Strategy

About Inbound Wolf

After working in marketing for many years the outbound way, I realised it wasn’t working. Not for me as a marketer and not for the people that I wanted to market to. After a stint in HubSpot, advising businesses around the globe on their marketing strategy, I now apply my knowledge in the startup space. 

In this blog I want to share my thoughts and ideas with you – and no, I don’t know it all, so please correct me, discuss things with me and point me to fresh sources!


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