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How Do You Create a More Effective Case Study? Think Outside the Box

Case studies are designed to do one thing, and one thing only: prove that you are capable of delivering the results your prospects want. 

Results aren’t always sales-oriented. So why are sales numbers the default when showcasing results in a case study? 

Because sales numbers are expected. And sure, they’re also easy to appreciate and value. But sales-oriented results don’t always tell the most important story. Remember, your prospects need reassurance that you can solve their problems. Problems. That’s the operative word. And not every problem can be solved by a sale. 

So how do you show them you are up to the task? By thinking outside the box. 

How Your Ideal Prospects Use Case Studies 

Case studies are rarely what hooks your prospects and reels them into your site. Rather, the hook is typically an informative, relevant blog article that ranks organically. 

Case studies aren’t even the next page your prospect is likely to visit after reading a blog. Usually, it’s a positioning page — like your website’s home page or a service page — that provides a deeper look into the how and why of your business. 

Prospects read case studies when they are already 3-5 pages into their journey on your website. By the time a website visitor is primed to read one, they’re familiar with your business. If they’re the right fit, they should only need to read one case study to get the motivation to reach out. 

Prospects click on a case study because they want to know you deliver on your promises. Cater to that by making your case studies short, scannable, and, above all, results-focused.  

Three Ways to Prove Your Capabilities Through Case Studies

How do you give prospects confidence in your abilities with just a single case study? 

With three forms of proof

  1. Proof of fit, which shows your ideal prospects you have solved problems like theirs successfully. This typically takes the form of a client testimonial that builds credibility with your prospects. 
  2. Proof of quality, which illustrates your experience and consistency in delivering the kind of services your prospect needs. This is delivered through examples that illustrate the impact of your products or services.
  3. Proof of measured results, which demonstrates to prospects the impact they can expect from working with you, through data points and specific, measurable outcomes. 

These three proof points converge to convince a tentatively interested prospect to take the next steps. Proof of fit and proof of quality can typically be proven with content or testimonials you already have. But many firms get stuck on proof of results, especially when they can’t directly tie their efforts to sales activity.

Cold, Hard Sales Data Isn’t the (Only) Answer

Showcasing past sales data as your proof of measured results can be an effective way to persuade prospective clients to get in touch. A 45% increase in sales year-over-year is an exceptional result — one you’d certainly want to highlight. But that single data point isn’t enough on its own to demonstrate those three important proof points your future clients are looking for. 

Your prospects are looking for your services to solve a problem. Your results should tie directly to the problem your services solve. If your service isn’t designed to directly impact sales, then sales aren’t the most salient proof point.

The bottom line? Case studies need to be relatable above all else. If your prospect doesn’t see their business goals aligned with your offerings — and, more importantly, your results — they won’t buy your services.

This is actually good news. A lot of expertise-based B2B businesses don’t have clear-cut data showing a direct and measurable impact on sales. Often, that’s simply not possible given the nature of the work they do (even when that work clearly influences sales).  

Other times, sales data just isn’t available. Perhaps you’ve worked with sensitive clients who can’t share information, or you’ve recently rebranded and want to change your positioning. Or maybe you’ve expanded your offerings, and don’t have the data for the new types of work you want to be getting. In any case, don’t let a lack of hard numbers elude your ability to provide that all-important proof. 

So how do you draft a credible case study without sales data? The answer lies in getting creative about the data points you choose to highlight. 

How to Think Outside the (Sales Data) Box

Specific, measurable, and relatable data points are what elevate your case studies above the rest. To discover alternative proof of results that serve as the core of a solid case study, consider your ideal prospect’s perspective. What impact do they need your services to make on their business? Not every firm impacts their clients’ businesses at the sales level. Measurable results can be qualitative or quantitative, and they can come from a variety of categories.

The following results represent measurable outcomes that are meaningful to clients even though they don’t relate to sales. 

Process Pain Points

These are results that show your impact on clients’ business processes, like capturing new efficiencies or improving internal team collaboration by de-siloing departments.

Practical Gains

Practical gains are quantifiable results that aren’t necessarily sales-related, like enabling a client to collect and analyze data on a new audience or integrating new research sources. Though these might not lead to a specific end-point, gaining the capabilities solves a problem in and of itself. 

Conceptual Business Impact

This category includes results that impact how a brand, company, service, or offering is perceived, like helping a brand refresh its positioning or improve its reputation. 

Audience Growth and Engagement

Results around growing an audience include the growth of new or existing audiences. For example, reaching a specific segment of a new demographic for the first time during a product launch.   

Competitive Advantages

These are results that show how you excel in your niche, like showing how you’ve solved the same (or similar) problem for a dozen companies, all in different industries. Perhaps you’ve helped a dozen companies automate the same part of their financial reporting process. Even if those companies have nothing else in common, you’ve shown the capability to solve an important problem for your prospect. 

Relevant Data Resonates Best 

The relative value of each of these results categories is directly tied to your unique situation: what you do for your clients and why it matters to them. It’s important to select results that speak directly to your ideal client’s challenges and goals. Sometimes that will mean using sales data. Other times, it won’t.  

To dig into the nitty-gritty results that will resonate with your prospects, ask yourself: 

  • What does my business deliver to customers? 
  • How do my ideal clients leverage my expertise? 
  • What outcomes are they hoping to achieve in our work together? 
  • How do my clients measure the return on their investment with my firm?  

Framing your thought process this way helps you identify truly valuable results that will outshine generic sales data. 

For example: Does your project consulting service reduce time spent prototyping by 20% percent, reducing the client’s overall project timeline by 6 weeks? Many organizations face similar time-sucking process pain points that equate to money wasted. 

Or perhaps you helped a manufacturing client incorporate eco-friendly business practices into their facilities and processes. That’s not something that can be measured in sales data. But the conceptual impact on the perception of the brand, company, and product is a result worthy of a case study. 

The Best Results Data = The Best Results From Your Case Studies 

At the end of the day, most organizations do want to improve sales. That’s why so many marketing and business leaders focus so heavily on cut-and-dry sales data for case studies. 

But a return on investment on your services doesn’t always mean an increase in revenue for your client. It can mean enhanced research capabilities, realized process efficiencies, or improved brand perception. Some of those results have a quantifiable impact on the bottom line, and some don’t. 

In the end, they are all interesting to your prospects, relatable to their business needs, and illustrative that your services make an impact. And most of all, these results prove to your prospects that your problem-solving capabilities are just what they need.  

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