If you think testimonials are powerful – and they are, wait until you present a great case study to current and prospective customers.
They’re the proof in the pudding: engaging stories describing exactly how a client used your product, service, or process to beat a challenge or gain success. In fact, according to a B2B Marketing survey of 112 marketers, 66% said case studies were “very effective” for securing leads and sales while 32% called them “quite effective”.
So in this article, we’ll guide you through the essentials of how to write a business case study – with best practices, case study templates, real-world examples, and all.
What is a business case study?
Oxford Languages defines a case study as “a particular instance of something used or analyzed in order to illustrate a thesis or principle”.
Meanwhile, Macmillan Dictionary defines it as both “a set of events that is a good example of a particular idea or situation” and “a piece of research that records details of how a situation develops over a period of time”.
In more simple terms, a business case study is a real-life business scenario describing how your customers have used your products or services to achieve certain goals.
They’re 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.
You might also hear case studies referred to as customer success stories or success stories.
You can talk about your benefits and features until the sun goes down, but remember: stories sell.
So transform your features and benefits into the kind of real-world examples that will immerse your readers into what you’ve been trying to tell them all along.
They’re memorable, personal, effective, and real. Getting actual people to sing your praises for you…could there be a more compelling way to make the sale?
“Stories create community, enable us to see through the eyes of other people, and open us to the claims of others.”Peter Forbes, photographer and author
9 reasons why case studies are great for business
For potential customers:
- Attract new business
- Provide powerful tools for your sales team’s arsenal
- Introduce new products or services
- Provide proof of results
- Increase brand awareness
- Highlight your expertise
For current customers:
- Retain business/thwart the competition
- Create upsell opportunities
- Introduce new products or services
- Provide proof of results
- Highlight your expertise
Case studies also come with a unique set of benefits for your marketing strategy:
- As long as the featured products/services are still relevant, they can be marketed for months (evergreen case studies, though less common, can be marketed for years).
- They’re inexpensive to produce compared to other forms of marketing, such as white papers.
- They remind happy customers how much they’ve benefited from your products or services .
- Featured customer challenges can help other prospects and customers find solutions to the same or similar problems.
- They prove the effectiveness of your products or services.
- They represent your products and services through customers’ eyes.
- They can inspire new ways to use your products or services, presenting more opportunities to improve relationships with your existing customer base and attract new customers.
- They validate your credibility.
- They’re like supercharged testimonials but with in-depth stories, richer details, and an emphasis on results.
Planning and prep
First, develop your team. Business case studies will usually fall under the domain of your marketers, but now it’s time to get specific.
- Who will be the stakeholders and decision makers?
- Who will review and approve the study?
- Who will be responsible for project management?
- Who will do the actual writing? Will it be you, someone else on your team or an experienced freelance writer?
- If a freelancer will write your study, who will be their point of contact?
Next, 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.
Next, consider your goals:
- Why are you writing this case study?
- Is there a specific win or customer feedback you’d like to highlight?
- Do you have any great yet lesser-known products, features or services?
- Do you have any new products, services or updates you’d like to share with the world?
- Do you have a new positioning strategy?
Common objectives include increasing revenue, generating more leads, growing business with existing customers, entering a new market, increasing market share, and improving customer lifetime value (CLV).
After you’ve defined your objectives, it’s time to start considering who you might want to interview. Make your list specific. Include the company name, any relevant notes and the name of the intended stakeholder to be interviewed (one interviewee per case study is ideal).
No matter who you decide to interview, make sure they understand your offerings well and that they’ve experienced substantial or notable results. If they were disappointed by one of your competitors then came to you…that’s even better. And, when possible, the biggest and most impressive names work best.
The interview process
It’s a privilege to secure case study interviews. Sure, it might give your customers more exposure for their own businesses, but they’re probably very busy with other aspects of marketing and sales.
So make the interview process as easy, streamlined, and stress-free as possible – and always thank them for their time.
The first time you get in touch about the interview, mention the details below:
- The purpose of the case study – and the benefits they stand to gain
- A brief overview of the interview process
- 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
How case studies help your clients
Always ask yourself, WIIFM, or “What’s In It For Me?” whenever you communicate with clients. Why should your clients take time out of their busy schedules to record their experiences and chat for your case study?
Here are some common ways clients win:
- Increased exposure
- Increased traffic online
- Demonstrated expertise/thought leadership
- Free publicity promoting their success
- Special incentives – such as a discount
For more tips on reaching out to interviewees, check out our case study proposal template.
Have they accepted? Great! Send the interviewee a questionnaire before the interview. It will help you get insights into anything requiring research, like key metrics and tangible ROI. It will also serve as a guide for brainstorming your interview questions.
- How many team members use our product/service? Which departments?
- What were your challenges before using our product/service/process?
- What made you leave our competitor to come to us?
- How do you use our product/service/process? Please share a high-level overview in your own words.
- 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?
And here are a few tips to shape the actual interview:
- Review your client’s questionnaire responses, your objectives and your pre-planning strategy to come up with questions that might help you meet your goals.
- Ask open-ended questions that set the stage for sharing notable experiences.
- The better your questions are, the easier the case study writing process will be.
But don’t stick to the script during the actual interview. You’ll need to listen actively and engage in some real-time decision-making to ask additional questions based on the answers you receive. That’s another reason why it’s important to interview a key decision maker from your customer’s company.
“Stories constitute the single most powerful weapon in a leader’s arsenal.”Dr. Howard Gardner, Harvard University professor and author
For example, let’s say you have a software-as-a-service (SaaS) product. You ask your interviewee how many people use the solution and discover some surprising departments have been putting it to use.
It would be a perfect opportunity to dig deeper to find out how and why they use it and the extent of their results.
Writing your business case study
Like most forms of writing, the best solution is to use an outline to save time and keep goals clear.
Of course the best business case study format depends on your strategy, but here’s an example of a common format.
Sample case study outline
- Introduction: Brief description of the case study’s contents (bullet point key metrics and successes).
- Overview of the subject’s company: Brief description of the featured company (what they do, who their customers are, where they’re based (if relevant)). Include brief background/context as to how they use your product, service or process.
- Problem/challenge/opportunity: Describe their business problem or opportunity/explain why they started using your product, service, or process. Include a strong quote or two.
- Solution: Explain how they used your product to solve their problem, share benefits and features, include a strong quote or two.
- Results: This is the conclusion – summarize how the subject’s company used your product, service, or process to solve their problem. Briefly recap their wins, alluding to benefits and features. Include a strong quote here, if available and appropriate.
- Boiler and CTA: Share a brief boiler (About your company, Who you serve and how, Summary of products/services/expertise, Contact information: phone number and email address).
- Include a call-to-action (CTA).
When it’s time to start writing, gather your list of goals, your case study strategy, the customer’s interview and questionnaire responses, and every relevant link, white paper, and one-pager to make sure you have access to the full scope of information related to the products and services mentioned in your case study.
You won’t be bombarding readers by including it all– but they can help you fill in the blanks while explaining how your customer got things done.
Since your clients know you understand your product or service, they’re likely to answer your questions in broader terms. This is a possible solution to provide your readers with the crucial details they need.
Also remember who your audience is to write in a way that makes the most sense for those individuals. So 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 yet relevant headline.
- Opt for shorter, more succinct sections. And, while it can be tempting, avoid launching with a lengthy intro 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, kick off the content with an executive summary. A well-written executive summary also makes it more likely that someone will read your entire case study, despite the complexity, because it offers a subject matter overview while serving as a guide of sorts.
- Only include a table of contents for lengthier case studies.
- Write in the third person.
- Avoid alienating your readers by assuming they’ll understand. 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 reads like one. And 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.
- A case study is a story. Make sure it has a beginning, a middle,and an end.
- And 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. But if you’re in a very visual industry like graphic design, advertising, fashion, or interior design, it’s a great idea to include on-brand, relevant images. For example, you might feature your customer’s brand images or visuals from a relevant campaign.
- There’s no rule re: length, but business case studies are often 2-3 pages long.
And make sure your client is the star.
In this piece of content, it’s all about them. Write about your client’s company, challenges, and results.
A case study can’t be as effective if it’s all about you because it’s designed to help clients and prospects relate to the people featured in your story. It can also feel a lot more compelling – and credible – when you let customer experiences do the talking.
Give it a final review
- Double-check that all facts and figures are correct.
- Try to read it with a fresh set of eyes or pass it to your colleagues. It should be interesting and exciting to read while inspiring trust.
- Make sure all claims are backed up with supporting evidence.
- Provide enough details for readers to be able to emulate the actions of your clients on their own if equipped with the same products and services.
Ask your client for the OK
Send a copy of the case study draft to your client. They 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.
Make any necessary changes, then share the revised version for one more round of approval. Finally, ask them to sign a publishing release.
Marketing your case study
When you have the finished product, it’s time to start marketing!
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
Salespeople love case studies.
Your sales team 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.
Good case study examples (and why they work)
Start reading well-executed case studies to learn more about what makes them work. Here’s a selection of three very different yet successful case studies.
The first is one of our case studies; it highlights the success of one of our HR clients, TPD. The second case study is from Trello – it tells the story of UNICEF’s disaster-relief success.
The third example describes how SimplePractice won big with Stripe’s automatic payments offering.
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 (such as the line: “anyone who’s ever been hired, or has hired others, knows that there are multiple forms and contracts to fill out”).
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
“UNICEF + Trello: Helping others when they need it most”
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-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
“SimplePractice launches automatic payments offering for clinicians with Stripe”
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.
And 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.
Consider using it as a guide to create a case study template of your own:
- Brief intro
- Pull quote
- Sidebar with CTA and bullet points of key metrics and wins
Most clients and prospects would rather hear from the people who use your products over a salesperson, any day. So use the power of trust to help you close the sale with a great business case study highlighting your results.
You and your customers already have the stories – now it’s time to share them with the world.
Wondering if you should reference buyer personas or if ideal customer profiles would work better? Get answers on the PandaDoc blog!
Frequently asked questions
The best business case study format depends on the nature of the results and whatever it is 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: Introduction, Brief Description of Customer’s Business, Problem/Challenge/Opportunity, Solution, Results/Conclusion, Boiler, and Call-to-Action (CTA). But outlines aren’t just for traditional case studies. Use outlines to guide your infographic and video versions too.
Case study best practices include planning objectives and goals before selecting your featured client, sending pre-interview questionnaires, and finding an angle that will make the piece compelling to all of your readers. 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.
Best practices for writing case studies include crafting short, easy-to-digest sections, weaving in a narrative for engaging storytelling, and getting attention from the start with an engaging headline. It’s also a great idea to write in layman’s terms, explain any necessary acronyms, include any supporting metrics or statistics, and use direct quotes to bring your customer’s story to life. Check out the featured case study examples in this article for inspiration.
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.