A Step-by-Step Guide to Generating Clients by Writing Case Studies

case study

You can use many methods to improve your conversion rate.

But very few can improve your conversion rate as much as case studies can.

Case studies have a few big benefits:

  • they resonate with prospects
  • they show that your product or service can work
  • the transparency increases the trust a reader has in you

All of these benefits are important, but the last one—in particular. 

Trust is one of the most important factors in conversion rate optimization:

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Why is trust important? The reasons might seem obvious, but data explains these reasons to eliminate all doubt.

A study by Edelman showed that gaining a customer’s trust has many rewards:

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Obviously, most will buy your products if they trust you and need what you’re selling.

On top of that, they will recommend you to friends. And because they trust you, they would rather pay you more for a product than go to a competitor, all because they know what they’re getting when they buy from you.

But trust is getting harder to earn.

The same study showed that 62% of people (worldwide) trusted corporations (businesses) less than the year before.

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I don’t blame them.

You read story after story about shocking business practices (even from brands such as Amazon).

Without trust, there can be no loyalty. And loyalty is another key factor behind purchasing and recommending you to others.

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There’s a reason I’m telling you all this.

Trust is something you can earn before or after a sale.

Both of these time periods are important, but one is harder than the other: gaining trust before a sale.

It’s tough to convince people to give you a chance when they don’t really know you.

And that’s where case studies come in: case studies are one of the best ways to not only attract the attention of prospects but to also gain their trust and get them to convert.

It’s for this reason almost all your favorite email marketers include case studies in their sales funnels.

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3 reasons why case studies blow away all standard “trust” tactics (i.e., testimonials)

The case study is the perfect combination of content that can attract traffic and increase trust in your brand.

According to a survey of content marketers, 70% believe case studies are very effective as a marketing tactic.

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The only tactic that’s rated higher is in-person events (tied with webinars).

Essentially, a case study is social proof on steroids, and I’ll explain why.

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Reason #1 – They’re more detailed: A typical case study is at least 400-500 words. It describes the customer, their problem, and how the product helped them.

Compare that to a typical testimonial:

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A testimonial is usually between 50-100 words.

Put simply, there’s no possible way to go into any serious detail in just a few words.

But when most people are trying to learn about a product or a brand, the number one thing they’re looking for is detail. You have to convince them that you’re the real deal, and providing detailed information is the best way to do that.

Reason #2 – They’re data-driven, and not just a bit: Part of being able to include more detail means being able to include data (and lots of it).

In a testimonial, you might be able to say that “[someone’s] traffic increased by 20%.”

But with a case study, you can provide graphs or snapshots of reports showing the traffic increase over time.

Furthermore, you could compare this to the year before, project future growth, and show how the increased traffic led to more traffic.

Reason #3 – They feel more “real”: Anyone can fake a testimonial pretty easily. I don’t recommend it, but obviously it happens.

You’ve probably seen testimonials that just seem made up:

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They’re too perfect and sound like some intern from a marketing department wrote them.

Not surprisingly, people don’t put the same stock in testimonials as they used to.

But a case study is different.

You’re featuring actual customers who can be looked up. You’re including not just one quote, but several.

You’re also including real proof of your product or service being used.

For 99% of prospects, this is enough to ward off any suspicion of your case study being fake.

And because case studies include real details about your customer (or their company), they often resonate with readers. It helps them picture your product or service bringing them exactly the same success as your past customers had.

I probably don’t have to tell you that if you can get a prospect to picture your product helping them, a sale won’t be too difficult.

Where case studies fit in with your business

Here’s the bad news:

Case studies aren’t for everyone.

For some types of businesses, case studies are amazing. For others, they can actually be detrimental.

The basic guiding principle behind case studies is this:

The more uncertainty there is behind your product or service, the more case studies will help you.

The key word here is “uncertainty,” which is always defined from a prospect’s point of view.

You may need to survey your prospects in order to see what they are uncertain about. In general, potential buyers wonder:

  • Will the product work for me?
  • Will it work as well as I want it to?
  • Does it justify its cost?
  • How long will it take to get a result?
  • Should I trust this company?

Take a complex product or service such as marketing consulting as an example.

An average client knows they need help with marketing, but not much more beyond that.

So when they come across a sales page of a marketing consultant, they are interested but feel a lot of uncertainty. They don’t know what “marketing consulting” really is or whether they need it.

One option for you would be to describe your process in great detail on your page. Many have tried that…and failed. People don’t care about the process—they care about the result.

The better option would be to create case studies that focus on the results, allowing you to clear up those questions that cause uncertainty.

Case studies are not for everyone: Wait a second, but what if you sell a really simple product? There’s not a lot of uncertainty for a customer.

If I am buying a five-dollar spatula, I’m not very worried whether or not my purchase pans out.

Can you imagine how ridiculous it would be if you created case studies for a simple product like a spatula?

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Visitors might start to wonder if it’s a joke or why you’re trying so hard to sell a simple product. A case study for a simple product like this would have very little effect on your conversion rate.

So, what kind of companies should create case studies?

The answer is simple: any business that sells a complex product. Notice that I didn’t say expensive. Although price is often a source of some uncertainty, it’s only one part.

The most common products and services that benefit from case studies are:

  • Software
  • Consulting
  • Web developer services
  • Copywriting services  

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Step 1: If you mess this up, no one will read your case study

By now, you should know if case studies are a good fit for your business. If not, go back and read the last section.

When you’re ready, let’s get started.

Now picture what a visitor to your website sees when they are checking out your products or services.

If you have case studies, you’ll either want to incorporate them into your existing sales page (like Ramit Sethi does), or you can make a separate page for just your case studies.

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Either way, you can’t just shove your case study in front of your prospects.

Even though you’ll likely find that visitors who read your case studies convert at a much higher rate, you need to get them to read the case study first.

And it all starts with one thing: a descriptive headline.

A great case study headline is different from a great headline for a blog post.

Think about it: the context is completely different.

If you’re trying to get someone to visit your website and read a blog post, you need to stand out from all the competing content on social media, forums, or in search results.

You do this by crafting a headline that provokes curiosity and interest.

But when someone is already on your website and has shown interest in your product, you don’t need to create the curiosity (it’s already there).

Instead, when creating a case study headline, you need to be descriptive and results-oriented.

Include percentages, sales numbers, or any other relevant metrics that show that your product or service produces the results that your prospect is interested in.

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Numbers are huge for case studies. Quantifying your results makes everything more tangible for your readers.

Sometimes, however, numbers are not an option because that wasn’t the desired result.

A good headline, in those cases, describes the result.

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The two highlighted examples in the picture above both emphasize a unique type of result.

On the right, the headline tells you that HubSpot software was used to grow TechShepherd’s client base. But not just any type of client—enterprise clients.

HubSpot knows that some visitors looking at case studies are wondering if the software can help them get more enterprise clients (a very specific type of client). This headline will immediately draw clicks from those prospects.

In the second example, the headline tells us that the software can be used to improve lead nurturing and sales productivity of chat services. This is a result that HubSpot knows other chat services would be interested in.

A great case study headline consists of 3 things:

  1. The customer – You need to either name the customer if well known or specify the type of company if relevant (e.g., live chat service provider). Optional: do both.
  2. The benefit or result – The main focus of the headline is to tell your prospects how your past customer benefited from your product or service. Use numbers when possible, but a description is better than nothing.
  3. The service or product – Prospects want to know if there is a specific product or service that you offer that they should be interested in. If you sell multiple products, specify which one.

If you ever need some good examples of case study headlines, take a look at HubSpot’s continuously growing collection of case studies.

The reason why it’s so important to be descriptive is that you want to have headlines that appeal directly to different parts of your audience.

The more relevant a case study is to a prospect (in terms of niche and use), the higher your conversion rate will be.

Step 2: How to put the case study in terms your visitors will understand

After you get your prospects hooked on the headline, your next goal is to focus on the customer in your case study.

You want to describe not only the company but also the big problem they faced before using your product.

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The reason behind this kind of description is to help your reader relate to your case study customer as much as possible.

You want your prospect to think: “They’re basically describing my company.”

That’s what resonance is.

If you can get them to think that, what do you think will happen when you reveal that you tripled your customer’s profit (or some other benefit)? They’ll have no choice but to try your service.

Now, you’re not likely to perfectly describe your every prospect, but the more aspects of your customer they can relate to, the better. That’s why it’s important to describe your case study customer in detail.

The situation matters just as much as the company: Start by describing the company and their main product(s).

After that, you want to describe the problem your past customer faced.

But don’t just describe it, agitate it.

Chances are if your prospect works for a similar type of company, they’re facing the same problem themselves. Take this chance to spell out the problem so that your prospects are able to relate to the difficulties your customer faced:

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Many potential HubSpot customers (for whom the case study in the above picture was created) are trying to compete with big, “deep-pocketed competitors.”

Highlighting problems like these ensures that your case study resonates with your readers as much as possible.

Step 3: Leave out the bias, focus on the customer

The next main part of writing a great case study is to explain your customer’s thought process and research.

There are two main reasons why you would want to do this.

First, it makes the case study seem less biased. You don’t want it to read as a typical “sales page.” You want it to be a real account of your customer’s experience. Try to use your customer’s actual words as much as possible.

Secondly, it also prevents your prospects from spending time on your competitors’ websites.

Imagine if your prospect lands on your site first to begin their research. Although they may also be planning to research your main competitors, if your case study can make them feel as if they are reading about themselves, chances are they will stay on your website instead of going to the competitors’.

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You’ll notice that in most great case studies, the reason why the customer chose your product is usually given as a quote.

It’s kind of weird to write something like: “Customer X chose Quick Sprout for marketing help because we’re obviously amazing.”

It doesn’t sound real or convincing compared to a quote from an actual customer.

Step 4: You’ve earned a chance to explain

Up until this point, you’ve focused solely on your customer.

You’ve captured your prospect’s attention and made your past customer’s story resonate with them.

Because the reader already knows the end result (from the headline), they are insanely curious at this point, wondering what exactly did you do?

Now, they are more than willing to hear more about your products and learn about their main uses.

Mention all of the key aspects of your product that the customer used and explain how they used them:

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If you were selling a consulting service, you’d want to talk about how you helped conduct an audit, develop a strategy, and then implement it.

You can expand this section from a single paragraph to two or three if there are a lot of important parts to your product or service that led to the end result.

Step 5: Show that you’re not all talk

You made bold claims of great results in the headline, and now it’s time to back those up.

Just like when writing a data-driven blog post, you never want to just claim that your product produced a result.

You need to support it by either the data that your customer supplied you with or by a quote from your customer.

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Numbers will stand out automatically. On top of that, you can also use bold or italics to make the most important results stand out further.

This is the point where you want your reader to say, “I want that too!”

Step 6: Make your case study more compelling by including these

If you implement the first 5 steps, you’ll have a very solid 400-500 word case study.

But there are a few more things you need to include if you want to maximize your conversion rate.

Considering that case studies take a lot of time and effort to put together, you need to make them as effective as possible in order to achieve a good return on your investment.

One of the main ways you can maximize the effectiveness of a case study is with images.

First of all, images help break up the text and make the case study more readable as a whole. Even though your prospect is highly interested in the subject, it’s hard to just read text (think of reading a textbook with no pictures—boring).

But the most important reason to use images is that they convey complex results in a way that is obvious and easy to understand and that they add yet another degree of realism to your case study (I’ll explain more soon).

Image type #1 – images of results: One of the best types of images to include are charts.

Charts allow you to show the most important result (profit, leads, conversions, etc.) over time. This makes any impact of your product obvious:

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HubSpot usually includes at least one chart per case study, partly because the graph is generated by their software:

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But you can incorporate other types of images as well.

Ramit Sethi includes screenshots of his students’ successes, e.g., being featured on big sites such as Lifehacker:

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Any image that shows the results that a customer has gotten is worth including.

Image type #2 – images of customers: Part of having content resonate with your readers is finding as many ways to connect with them as possible.

You started making a connection with your prospects when you described their company, products, and problems.

But there’s one other way that people love to connect through: other people.

It’s nice to see a face behind an article. Or, in this situation, a case study.

In addition to typical case studies, HubSpot also features their partners, complete with relatively large pictures of them:

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On top of that, you’ll also see at least one picture of the customer (or their team) in the actual case study itself:

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I would recommend going a bit bigger with the picture

In the case studies on I Will Teach You To Be Rich, the customer is usually featured right away under the headline in a large picture:

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The sooner you introduce the “face” of your customer, the sooner a reader can tie all the information in your case study to an actual person.

On top of just including a picture of a person, it’s always great to include a picture of the customer’s result.

For this particular product, the result was creating a highly successful book:

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Including a picture of the end result is also a viable strategy for some companies. It helps the reader picture what the product will look like in their own life:

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Step 7: Don’t let the fire burn out

You’ve led your prospect through quite a story.

First, they empathized with your customer, and now, after learning of all the results, they envy your customer.

Your prospect is pumped and in the perfect state to enter your sales funnel.

Even if you just end your case study here, you’ll still get a good conversion rate. Readers will navigate around your site and find a way to purchase your products.

However, you will lose some of your potential customers.

To minimize that loss, make an extremely clear call to action (CTA) asking them to take the next step (whatever that is for your product).

At the bottom of every HubSpot case study, there is not just one CTA, but 4.

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The CTAs come right at the end of the article and are the only things there. If someone reads the whole case study, it’s very clear what they should do next.

Ramit does it a bit differently. He ends his case studies with a CTA to download a highly related lead magnet.

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Again, the use of color and large text makes the next action obvious to the reader.

This second approach works well if you have a well-developed email marketing funnel or only sell a course or product at certain times (let them know through email when they can buy next).

How to solve the hardest part of making case studies…

The hardest part of creating case studies is writing them, right?

Nope.

Writing them is actually pretty straightforward if you follow all the steps in this post up until this point.

The hardest part is getting customers to agree to be featured and allowing you to publish their data.

However, if you plan ahead and approach it right, you can create a system that regularly produces highly motivated case study subjects.

Part 1 – Pick the right customers: While not all customers will want to be the subject of a case study, you also don’t want to write a case study about every customer.

If you created websites primarily for large companies, would it make sense to create case studies of every customer that owned a small business?

Probably not. You want to create case studies that are going to resonate with the main types of prospects you attract (or want to attract).

That’s because if someone from a big business sees only examples of your work for small businesses featured on your website, they will not relate to those case studies. 

Pick customers that not only love your product and got great results from it but also fit the profile of the customers you’re trying to convert.

Part 2 – Identify them early: Most companies decide at some point that they should probably have a few case studies on their website.

So they contact past customers and ask them to participate.

Chances are that customer won’t have relevant data from their experience sitting around.

You’ll end up producing low quality case studies with this method.

Instead, every time you get a new customer, decide if you want to create a case study with them.

Part 3 – Give value before asking them to participate: Just because you’ve decided that you want to create a case study using your new customer doesn’t mean you should ask them right away.

If you do, it will sound like you’re asking them to do the work for you, which most will understandably pass on.

Additionally, this can turn your new customers off your product, reducing the chance that they will buy again in the future.

The better alternative is to give them value first.

Check in with them often during the post-buy period and make sure that they aren’t having any issues with your product.

Obviously, you should fix any issues they may encounter and provide any required assistance at this point.

Then, once you’re sure they like your product, think about how being involved in a case study could help your customer.

Here are some common benefits:

  • Exposure – being featured positively in a case study can expose their company to a new audience. It’s good for the brand and can even lead to customers. If you can also promote the case study to a large email list, let them know.
  • Extra help (free) – when someone is a case study subject, you have even more incentive to make sure they have amazing results. Offer to assign extra help integrating and optimizing your product into their business for free (and also take care of compiling reports/data so they don’t have to do any extra work).
  • Recognition – if you’re a well-known company in your industry, you can highlight your case study participants elsewhere on your website as industry leaders.

Start with the benefits, and then ask if they’d like to participate.

If you’re really eager to do a case study on a particular customer, you can sweeten the deal even more.

The most common way to do this is to offer a free product or a free month of your product, depending on what it is.

Part 4 – Make it clear what you’re looking for: This is when a case study can either become great or just mediocre.

You cannot make up a case study as you go along. I can’t emphasize this enough. Before you start, you need to outline the problem your customer is facing and know the specific outcomes you’re trying to produce.

That way, you know exactly where to focus your extra attention to produce a great result.

In addition, knowing what you will be evaluating will ensure that you can collect data from the beginning that can be used in the case study.

Unless you sell a product with built-in reporting like HubSpot does, you need to take extra care to ensure that you have the right data (and enough of it).

Start by showing your customer what a good case study looks like (preferably one of your own). While some customers may already know, many may not.

Next, explain what you need from them and provide a document with all the information. Typically, this will include certain data and access to at least one person for quotes and explanations (if your customer is a company).

If you don’t do this, you’ll often have a difficult time getting information from anyone. They’ll all try to say that they’re too busy and try to pass it off to someone else. Get one to three specific contacts who are involved in implementing the product (and make sure they know about it).

Finally, give them a rough timeline so they know what to expect and when to expect any benefits (that you explained previously).

Conclusion

Creating content that both resonates with your readers and makes them want to buy your products isn’t easy.

However, case studies are your best bet at achieving that.

Although writing case studies may seem a bit abstract at first, if follow these 7 steps, you’ll produce compelling high-converting case studies.

If you have any questions about creating case studies or whether they’re a good fit for your business, let me know in a comment below, and I’ll try to help.

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