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The Zen of Case Studies: How to Finish Them on Time

Image by Jay Castor for Blog Post on How to Finish Case Studies Fast

In the ideal world of marketing case studies, content managers would never have trouble booking time with client sources, obtaining the right data or getting approvals from reviewers.

As a case study writer, I’ve run into all sorts of roadblocks, but I’ve learned to write around many of them. If you wait until everything is perfect, you may never finish your case studies.

Here are six ways to stop stressing and keep your customer success story on track:

1. Get background information from the account manager

Sales most likely suggested that content marketing write the case study in the first place. Or marketing reached out to sales and asked, “Which of our clients is open to a case study and best reflects the primary benefits our product or service offers?”

In either situation, the account manager knows all about the challenges the client faced and how your company’s solution came to the rescue.  Get the account manager to share this knowledge in Google Docs or some other platform before you even engage a writer.

This way, you’re no longer dependent on an interview with a source to get everything you need. It also saves the client valuable time, since you won’t ask for information you already know.

2. Verify the goal of the case study

While this may seem like marketing 101, it doesn’t always top the list for some folks. But it’s one of the first questions you should ask, because it frames the entire case study. A clear goal facilitates the process in so many ways, such as:

  • Who your primary audience is for the case study
  • What client sources are best for the interview
  • What questions to ask the source or sources during the interview
  • What marketing messaging to highlight in the case study
  • What data to include
  • What SEO to use

It all comes down to this: What are you trying to prove? If you know the answer, and everyone on your team agrees on the goal, everything else falls into place. You’ll spend less time going down the rabbit hole, chasing down irrelevant data or the wrong sources.

3. Send the case study interview questions ahead of time

Send Case Study Interview Questions in Advance

Interviews are often brief, and for good reason. Sources have no obligation to help out your business with a case study. They’re doing you a favor, because you helped them through a difficult time.

So it behooves you to make sure the interview is short and sweet. The best way to do this is to provide questions ahead of time. With the questions on hand, the source can mull over answers and figure out what examples might best highlight certain points. It also alleviates any stress of answering questions on the fly.

The other advantage is the source might jot down answers via email and send those to you. This can save both of you precious time during the interview. Examine the answers and figure out what needs more info and what doesn’t need any follow-up.

This leads us to the next tip….

4. Write the case study without interviewing the source

Sometimes it’s tough to track down a source. On one recent case study I worked on, the source had to cancel the interview three times. His reason was legit: he was busy. But after the third time, I figured we needed to move ahead without him.

Fortunately, the account manager not only had a lot of background information, but had also sent the source the interview questions in advance. The source answered these via email prior to the interview, so we had enough to go on.

With the first draft in hand, the marketing manager I reported to sent it to the source to review, and with minimal changes, the draft was approved. Over the years, I’ve discovered that really busy people like to see some type of draft to move forward. Then they fill in the gaps, and presto! It’s done.

5. Create placeholder quotes for your case study

Add Placeholder Quotes to a Case Study

Quotes are definitely better when you get them from a live source. People express themselves differently in casual conversation than they do in carefully crafted emails.

However, if sources aren’t available and all you have is background information and answers via email, go with it. I’ve created placeholder quotes more times than I can count, and I try to make the quotes lively, interesting and informative.

As I’ve mentioned in other posts, this isn’t the New York Times, where you have to stick to what someone actually said to quote correctly. This is a marketing piece, with multiple reviewers, and one of those reviewers is the source.

I come up with placeholder quotes when the clock is ticking and the source isn’t available. For example, I once had a case study assignment from an agency where I had to rewrite the work of another freelancer within 24 hours.

I interviewed the agency client, but not the client’s client. I came up with quotes based on that conversation, and the client’s client approved them. Done!

6. Write the case study without the data

This certainly isn’t ideal. Case studies require data or some compelling before-and-after scenario to be persuasive. However, I recently wrote the first draft of a case study with no data whatsoever.

The case study focused on a company that had scrapped its old web presence and launched an entirely new mobile-friendly website with updated messaging. That in itself was a dramatic shift, but the agency I worked for didn’t have the data (increase in number of visitors, time on site, etc.) to show what a difference it made.

So I wrote the case study without the data, and the first draft was approved without it.

If we’d held up the case study until we had solid numbers, we’d have made no progress. Instead, with a clear goal, background information and interviews taken care of, we moved forward. And now it’s simply a matter of plugging in the data the headline, call-outs and the results section.

Need a case study writer?

Case studies are a great way to show potential customers that you offer an effective product or service. If you’ve got a client willing to be a source for a case study, then that’s great news.  Now you have a few extra tips on how to move that customer success story along.

Need help with case studies? Feel free to contact me.

Bonnie Nicholls on Linkedin
Bonnie Nicholls
Bonnie Nicholls is a freelance writer specializing in thought leadership content: case studies, articles, white papers/ebooks and blog posts. She supports industries such as Agile/Scrum, defense and leadership training.