Business case studies are powerful tools for marketing, teaching, and training. They help to create valuable learning experiences that can be shared with others.
A well-written business case study can also generate leads, increase customer loyalty, and boost sales.
But writing an effective and compelling case study can be easier said than done.
Great case studies aren’t something that you can write by yourself.
You’ll need help from existing clients who are willing to talk about their problems publicly, and you’ll need to safeguard their reputation while you tell their story.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at how to write a business case study, including best practices, case study templates, real examples, and more.
Let’s jump in.
What is a business case study?
A business case study is an in-depth look at a specific company or organization that examines how a business solved a problem, achieved success, or faced failure.
Case studies are often used by businesses to demonstrate the effectiveness of their strategies and solutions.
They can also serve as inspiration for other organizations that may be considering similar approaches.
The idea is simple: Stakeholders evaluating a product may be able to see the value of that product by learning how other companies have tried and succeeded with it.
For that reason, 42% of marketers still list case studies as a top media format used to generate leads and sales.
Strong case studies are often based on interviews with actual customers to highlight the effectiveness of a specific feature, explain a certain use case, or emphasize benefits or results of note.
Done correctly, a case study combines customer testimonials, process information, and usage data to tell a unique story about how a product or service helped a company succeed.
That’s why case studies are sometimes known as customer success stories.
What makes a strong case study?
Before we jump into the details of how to make a great case study, let’s take a closer look at what a strong case study actually looks like.
To create a great case study, you’ll need each of the following:
- Clear, compelling storylines. A good case study should include a clear story line that conveys the problem, solution, and the impact of the solution.
- A strong presentation of data. Demonstrate how your product or service has made an impact on the customer’s business with documented facts and figures.
- Credible client testimonials. Include feedback from real clients and users about how your product or service solved their issue. With permission, use a person’s real name and job title and personal experience to add credibility to your case study.
- Streamlined visuals. Graphics, photos, charts and/or videos can help illustrate results in an engaging and easy to understand way.
- Call to action. Always include a link to more information or a contact form at the end of your case study.
While all of these components are essential to great case studies, they aren’t always easy to acquire. Be prepared to dig for information and work closely with customers to build compelling content.
Why use case studies at all?
Great case studies can take some time to create.
Considering budgets and deadlines, why should you even bother using them when you could create more landing pages, buy more ads, or write more blog posts?
It’s a fair point to consider.
Case studies come with a unique set of benefits for your marketing strategy that other forms of content simply can’t fill.
1. They can last a long time
A single case study can be used as sales and marketing collateral as long as the feature products or services are still relevant.
If your products have a long lifespan, the same piece of content may be useful for months or years.
2. They’re relatively inexpensive
Case studies are relatively inexpensive to produce compared to other forms of marketing, such as white papers, e-books, and long-form blog content.
3. They drastically boost your credibility
Done correctly, case studies demonstrate the effectiveness of your products and services from the perspective of customers who have benefited directly from using them.
In a sense, case studies represent your products and services through the eyes of customers who have already taken the proverbial leap of faith.
When speaking to prospects and leads who aren’t fully bought in, they can minimize risk and offer assurances in a way that no other piece of sales and marketing collateral can match.
With all of that preliminary information out of the way, let’s take a closer look at how to actually build an effective case study.
Before you start: Understanding stakes and obstacles
The strongest case studies are usually created in collaboration between two companies: Your organization and that of a current or former customer with whom you have a good relationship.
At a high level, the process is straightforward:
- Question creation. Your team compiles a list of interview questions designed to tell a compelling story for new, prospective customers.
- Interview. Your team interviews a representative or stakeholder from the customer-partner organization.
- Draft. After the interview is complete, your team transforms the interview into a complete narrative.
- Feedback round. The customer-partner reviews the draft and provides feedback and input.
- Final draft. Your team makes corrections based on that feedback and resubmits for final approval.
- Final approval. The customer-partner approves the draft.
- Publish. Your team creates marketing collateral and publishes or shares the case study.
Unfortunately, the process is rarely this smooth.
There are several outlying factors that can stop your case in its tracks or prevent it from ever seeing the light of day.
Here are some factors that you’ll need to consider before you start the case study process.
Potential interview targets are more likely to agree to an interview if they have a strong relationship with someone on your team, like an account manager or a longtime sales rep.
Without a way to get your foot in the door, your interview request may be politely declined.
People are busy.
It’s not uncommon for the interval between reviews and approvals to take weeks at a time.
Because case study drafts need to be approved by both parties, expect delays while your drafts are circulated through your partner organizations.
Even if your product or service helped an organization overcome a huge obstacle, they may not want to talk about that weakness in a public forum.
Many companies are very cautious about anything that portrays their brand in an unfavorable light.
If your customer-partner doesn’t like what you’ve written, they may simply forbid you to use their name, logos, or data as part of your case study.
Moving forward without their permission could cause legal issues and damage customer relationships.
Sometimes, it’s impossible to get final approvals from the appropriate individuals in the customer-partner organization.
If HR or legal needs to sign off on the final product before it can be officially released, it could take weeks or months before that final approval comes through.
Above all else, remember: The customer-partner that agrees to help you create a case study is doing you a favor.
Most of the time, the customer-partner receives no benefit from the time and effort spent creating this piece.
They can’t use it to sell their own services, and they may reveal information and data that demonstrates a weakness in their management or internal process.
Keep that information in mind as you select your customer partners.
Be sure to treat these partners with care and respect, as a bad case study experience can damage a healthy customer relationship.
Step 1: Planning and prep
Business case studies will usually fall under the domain of your marketing team, but you’ll need to be specific when assigning project tasks and responsibilities.
Here’s what you need in order to create a case study:
- Internal project stakeholder. This individual oversees the project internally. They assign tasks, handle outreach, and oversee the production and delivery of the case study.
- External project stakeholder. The individual at the customer organization who agrees to help. This person may or may not be the individual who is interviewed by your organization.
- Interviewer. The individual who conducts the interview.
- Writer. The individual who writes the case study.
- Project manager. The individual who manages the case study project and ensures that deadlines are met.
- Internal editor or approver. The individual who reviews the case study and provides feedback or final approvals.
- External editor or approver. The individual at the customer organization who reviews the case study and provides feedback or final approvals.
- Designer. The individual who formats the case study, provides data-based graphics and illustration, or produces the final product file (typically a PDF or web page) with the case study and all relevant content.
Sometimes, these roles are combined.
The internal project stakeholder may also manage the product and provide editorial feedback after the case study is written.
Or, if you’re working with a freelancer for this process, they may conduct the interview, write the draft, and furnish a final design.
Next, consider your goals:
- Why are you writing this case study? Do you have a specific goal, such as boosting lead generation or improving customer lifetime value (CLV)?
- Is there a specific win or customer feedback you’d like to highlight?
- If your case study is angled to grow business with existing customers, you may select different features from case studies meant to introduce prospective customers to your products.
- Do you have any lesser-known products, features, or services?
- This could include add-on services or premium product features.
- Do you have any new products, services or updates you’d like to share with the world?
- Do you have a new positioning strategy?
After you’ve defined your objectives, it’s time to start considering who you might want to interview.
1. Make your list specific
Include the company name, any relevant notes and the name of the intended stakeholders to be interviewed.
2. Only include notable candidates
Make sure that your interview targets have experienced substantial or notable results with your product.
Look for clients who have experienced exceptional and transformative outcomes while using your product or service.
3. Consider existing relationships
Look for clients that already have a strong working relationship with you.
If they regularly work with an account manager or are in constant contact with specific team members, consider bringing those individuals into the conversation early.
Once you have your targets, reach out, explain your project, and see if the customer is interested in participating.
When you ask for an interview, be sure to mention the following details:
- The purpose of the case study and what you’re ultimately trying to accomplish.
- A brief overview of the case study process (including the interview process and what happens next).
- Timeframes and estimated deadlines.
- A general idea of the kinds of questions they may be asked.
- Explain scenarios for how and where the case study may be used (you’ll need their permission to share it with your audiences).
- Thank them for their time.
If they agree, start scheduling your timeline.
Work backwards from the date you’d like to publish, then build in dates for reviews and edits. Also create a flexible internal deadline for securing a client interview.
Since you’ll need to align your schedule with that of your interviewee, pinpointing an actual interview date can take some time.
Step 2: The interview process
As we mentioned above: Most of the time, the customer-partner that agrees to help you with your case study receives no major benefit from the project.
It helps you, but it doesn’t usually help them.
With that in mind, your goal during the interview process is to make things as easy, streamlined, and stress-free as possible.
One major step that you can take to calm nerves and prevent misunderstandings is to send an interview questionnaire prior to your interview.
This will help your customer-partner understand your main objectives and prepare their responses in advance.
Here are a few sample questions you might use:
- How many team members use our product/service? Which departments?
- What were your challenges before using our product/service/process?
- What made you leave your previous solution for our product?
- How do you use our product/service/process?
- What features or tools have been the most helpful for your business?
- If you asked us for help, how did we provide you with what you need? We’d like to understand this from your perspective.
- How have you benefited from our offering–and what have been your greatest results to date? Please provide specific metrics, if possible.
- What surprised you most about using our product/service/process?
- How have your customers or clients benefited from your use of our products or services?
- Is there anything else you would like us to know?
When you sit down to interview the client, it’s easiest to follow the interview questions that you sent over and simply record their responses.
However, don’t just stick to the script during the actual interview. Listen and actively engage with your interviewee.
Ask follow-up questions. Clarify details. Explore the answers in real time with your interviewee.
Use the opportunity to dig deeper and gather all the information you need to tell the right story to your prospects and leads.
You might also use a tool like Otter.ai to record and capture the transcript at the same time, but be sure to have your customer-partner sign a recording permission release if you intend to use sound bytes from that recording as part of your final case study.
Step 3: Writing your business case study
Ideally, the interview is the last piece of information you need before writing your case study.
All of the background information and preliminary work should be done as part of the interview preparation.
When you finish speaking with the customer-partner, it’s time to consolidate your notes and write the draft.
Before you begin, take a moment to review your overall objectives and the story that you want to tell. From there, select a format for your case study and start the draft.
Regardless of the modules, headings, or illustrations that you use, the case study should cover what life was like before the customer started using your product or service and what happened after they adopted those products/services into their workflow.
Sample case study outline
A brief description of the case study’s contents (bullet point key metrics and successes).
2. Company overview
A brief description of the featured company — what they do, who their customers are, what they sell, etc. Include brief background/context as to how they use your product, service or process.
3. Problem / Challenge
Describe the business problem or opportunity that your customer was facing before they started using your product or service.
Include strong quotes and fully illustrate why the issue was a problem that needed to be solved.
Explain how the customer used your product to solve their problem.
Share their decision-making process, how they arrived at your solution, what convinced them to purchase, and how they implemented that solution internally.
Share benefits and features that stood out to them. Reinforce these details with quotes from your interview.
Summarize the outcome from the customer’s implementation of your product, service, or process.
Recap their wins, as well as the major improvements that they have seen over both the short and long term.
Add data and metrics, where relevant. Include quotes about how the current solution empowers the company and solves their problems.
6. About us
Share a brief explanation of your company and the products or services you provide.
7. Call-to-action (CTA)
Add a call to action with the appropriate contact information (or a contact button, if this is a web-based case study) so that users can get in touch for additional information after reading the case study.
When it’s time to start writing, gather all relevant information and relevant links (white papers, other case studies, sales and spec sheets, etc.) to make sure you have access to the full scope of information related to the products and services mentioned in your case study.
Your goal isn’t to overload the reader by explaining everything. Instead, focus on creating a benefits-driven story around the features that your products and services provide.
Use data and details to provide precise information at key points.
It’s likely that you will need to bridge the information gap between your interviewee and your target audience.
Since your clients know you understand your product or service, they’re likely to answer your questions in broader terms.
However, your readers will not be as familiar with your organization and may only have limited experience with what you sell.
Instead, you’ll need to provide context as you write. If your business has buyer personas or ideal customer profiles (ICP), it’s a great idea to keep those on hand.
It’s also important to reserve enough writing time to get creative. Thoughtfully work your way through your materials to come up with the type of angle that will make your case study worthwhile.
- Start with an attention-grabbing, relevant headline.
- Opt for shorter, more succinct sections.
- Avoid lengthy explanations unless you’re working on a more complex case study.
- If you’re writing a business case study that’s complicated because of the subject matter or necessary background information, consider starting the content with an executive summary to improve readability.
- Only include a table of contents for lengthier case studies.
- Write in the third person.
- Avoid alienating your readers by assuming they’ll understand technical details. Skip the jargon and explain every acronym to hold their attention the entire way.
- A good business case study is a story. Make sure it has a strong beginning, middle, and end. A conversational tone often works best.
- Keep it focused. Don’t highlight a million wins for a single case study. Pick one or two combinations of challenges and solutions instead. If you include more, you might dilute your message or bore your readers.
- Always include direct quotes for an added dose of personality, energy, and human connection.
- Include stats or metrics whenever possible, such as increased revenue, the number of new customers gained, or a measurable boost in traffic.
- Graphics and pull quotes can make it easier to digest the content of your case study.
- If you’re in a very visual industry like graphic design, advertising, fashion, or interior design, include on-brand images where relevant.
- While there is no precise rule on length, case studies typically fall into two formats.
- Standard case study length: Roughly 500-1000 words.
- Long-form case study: Roughly 1500-2000 words.
- Make your customer-partner the hero. While your products and services are key to customer success, they are ultimately there to aid the customer in the important work that they do.
Revise and review
Once you’ve completed your case study draft, take a few minutes to re-read everything and ensure that the draft tells the right story.
- Double-check that all facts and figures are correct.
- Set it aside for a time and get some distance. Return to the draft with a fresh perspective.
- Pass it to your colleagues, including internal stakeholders and approvers, for feedback.
- Provide enough details and context so that readers can see customer benefits and how your solution can help them succeed.
Seek client approval
When you’re satisfied with your case study, it’s time to send a copy of the draft to your client for their review and approval.
This is an important step in ensuring maximum transparency and visibility.
Your customer partner should know exactly what you plan to share and have enough time to share it with key stakeholders from their marketing and/or legal department.
It is highly likely that your customer-partner will request changes.
Some changes may be simple (such as clarifying job roles), but others may be more drastic.
Your customer partner may request that you remember sensitive data and details or phrase issues in a more favorable light.
Most organizations seek to avoid bad press and prefer not to point out key weaknesses in their internal processes and strategies.
Be prepared to soften your language or advocate to keep key data points in place.
This is often one of the most critical parts of the case study process. Proceed with caution and choose your battles wisely.
While you can push back on suggested changes, remember that your customer-partner can rescind the use of their name and information in your case study.
Though you can choose to publish anyway (with names and titles omitted), your case study would be far less influential as a result.
Regardless of the potential gains from a case study, it’s not worth poisoning a relationship with a customer that actively uses and promotes your product.
Step 4: Marketing your case study
When you have the finished product, it’s time to share and promote your case study. Think about using these channels:
- A dedicated landing page.
- The resources section of your website.
- Your company blog.
- One or a series of marketing emails.
- Social media.
- Custom infographic.
Requiring readers to fill out a short online form to get the download may allow sales and marketing teams to connect with potential leads.
If you do go the gated route, be sure the conditions of opting in are crystal clear. And feature a couple of non-gated case studies on your site for everyone who’d prefer to skip the forms.
Regardless of how you market your case study, don’t forget about your sales team!
Sales reps will get a lot of use out of your case studies.
They can feature them as links in their email signatures and include them in sales emails and proposals for new clients and potential customers.
Ready to get started? Try out this case study presentation template.
Good case study examples (and why they work)
If you’re struggling with case studies, you can find plenty of great examples around the internet.
Start reading well-executed case studies to learn more about what makes them work.
Below, you’ll find a selection of three very different but successful case studies.
PandaDoc case study
Intro: Before diving into the body of the case study, we briefly introduced the company, TPD, and highlighted three major metrics for a promising start.
The problem: We quickly engaged readers with our conversational tone. We also invited them to walk in TPD’s shoes through empathetic language and relatable context.
Challenges, solutions, and results: We took readers on a storytelling journey to help our case study flow. We gave them enough information to understand the “why”, but never bogged them down with unnecessary details. We were also sure to include supporting quotes and specific, measurable results in these critical sections.
Pull quote: We reserved the very best quote as the only pull quote, ensuring it would receive the attention it deserves.
Format: Finally, every time we mentioned a new company, we gave it a hyperlink to help readers save time.
Trello case study
Facts and figures: Trello opens the case study with great at-a-glance information, sharing insights into UNICEF as an organization and their relationship with Trello products.
Challenges, solutions, and results: This case study takes readers through a detailed narrative, providing statistics and metrics whenever possible. Readers are immersed into the story of exactly how UNICEF used Trello to help thousands of people during a natural disaster, offering enough detail to spark use case inspiration for other Trello users.
Photos: Trello included photos of actual UNICEF employees working remotely around the globe. The pictures gave the case study a personal feel, which could help readers better identify with the story.
Readers are reminded of the unique challenges of working together while apart to start considering how Trello might be able to help them find the solutions they need. Remember, the best case studies are relatable to all of your prospects!
Format: Its structure makes this longer case study easy to read. Sections of text are kept short while bullet points and pull quotes provide visual breaks.
Finally, hyperlinks to organizations’ websites open in separate tabs to help prevent losing case study readers along the way.
Stripe case study
Intro: In just two sentences, Stripe successfully manages to explain what SimplePractice is, what they offer, who they serve, how they serve them, and the benefits those clients gain.
While it’s not necessary to be this brief, readers will be more likely to read your entire intro if it’s on the shorter side.
Sidebar: The sidebar draws eyes to keep reading with two impressive metrics and a brightly-hued CTA button to “contact sales”.
Challenge and solution: These sections read like a story, with each sentence enticing the reader to continue to the next. It’s also great that a quote from SimplePractice’s COO is used to add context, emphasizing the gravity of their challenge.
Results: Stripe gives a lot of detail here for a strong close to the case study. After explaining how their offering brought ease to SimplePractice’s business, they went on to share detailed specifics on what made things easier and in what ways.
They also explained how their offering improved the businesses of SimplePractice’s clients. It’s highly persuasive for readers to understand they have the opportunity to not only benefit their own companies but also those of their clients.
Pull quote: The case study ends with a strong pull quote in a can’t-miss-it color.
Format: Stripe has a great case study format.
The truth is: No matter how much you talk up your product, you’re a biased participant in any conversation. You have an ulterior motive, and that makes any direct claims you make about your product or service questionable.
Why? Because you want to sell your product!
Case studies offer an alternative way to soften your messaging by allowing prospects and potential buyers to hear from the people who use your products in real-world, everyday situations.
By placing your customers and their experiences at the front of your marketing, you can use trust and relatability to bridge a gap in a way that numbers and data just can’t provide.
Your customers already have great stories about how your solutions have transformed the work that they do.
Help them speak and share those stories with the people who need to hear them most with a case study.
Good luck? Be sure to check out other marketing tips and tricks on the PandaDoc blog.
Frequently asked questions
The best business case study format depends on the nature of the results and what you’re trying to achieve. You can figure that out by carefully reviewing your customer success stories and interviews.
- What stands out the most?
- What are you trying to achieve?
- How can you use your layout to guide readers through your story?
- What is your industry or what is the industry of your featured client?
Pro tip: Some interviews are more quotable than others. If you have too many great quotes to include them in your featured sections, consider adding a few pull quotes to your layout.
To create a business case study outline, list all of your featured sections and use bullet points to note subsections and what should be covered.
Most case studies feature the following sections:
- Brief Description of Customer’s Business
- About Us / Boilerplate
- Call-to-Action (CTA).
But outlines aren’t just for traditional case studies. Use outlines to guide your infographic and video versions too.
Best practices for writing case studies include:
- Crafting short, easy-to-digest sections.
- Weaving in a narrative for engaging storytelling.
- Starting with an engaging headline.
- Writing in layman’s terms.
- Explaining any necessary acronyms.
- Including any supporting metrics or statistics.
- Using direct quotes to bring your customer’s story to life.
Also, be sure to get the approval of your client and their marketing team after you’ve had time to review your first draft and fact-check all information.
You can find a good case study design template on PandaDoc.
Our company’s expertise is spot-on and the case study templates are free. Also, don’t be afraid to branch out. Let’s say you have a big following on YouTube or Spotify.
You might want to create a video or podcast version of your case study for readers who prefer audiovisual information.
Or, you may want to add multimedia content to your case study, such as a video insert or or audio clip.
Originally published October 27, 2022, updated March 30, 2023