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Using the case study sequence throughout the sales funnel

Matt Duczeminski investigates the effectiveness of case studies along the sales funnel​

The goal of marketing is simple: Turn prospects into leads, leads into paying customers and paying customers into return customers.

Actually making all this happen isn’t so simple.

As content marketing becomes more and more ubiquitous, B2B companies are focusing more time, money and energy on creating content that targets clients at different stages of the sales funnel. But what if a single document was all it took to guide prospective clients through the sales funnel? A well-written case study can do just that.

What a Case Study Is and Is Not

You might hear novice marketers use the phrases testimonial, success story and case study interchangeably, but don’t let them confuse you.

Testimonials

A testimonial is a quick snippet, usually a quote, from a previous client who enjoyed working with your company. A testimonial might read something along the lines of:

“Company X’s attention to detail and level of expertise is unparalleled. With X’s help, I was able to streamline my company’s content marketing strategy, saving countless man-hours and thousands of dollars.”

Testimonials are short and to the point. They offer social proof that a company knows what it’s doing, but they don’t go into much detail with regard to the process of working with said company.

Success Stories

The differences between success stories and case studies might seem negligible at first glance. But having a thorough understanding of these differences will allow you to effectively create and implement both types of documents.

A success story is an elongated overview of a client’s experiences while working with a company’s product or service. While reading a success story, you’ll learn about:

  • The problem the customer faced that led them to a specific company

  • The solution the company helped the customer implement

  • The positive outcome the customer experienced

While a success story describes a singular experience with a company’s product or service, it really only offers a bird's-eye view of said experience.

Case Studies

Though the outline of a case study is similar to that of a success story, the overall focus of the document is much different. Whereas a success story offers a bird’s-eye view, a case study acts as a microscope. The purpose of a case study is to show exactly what a company’s product or service did while working with a client, as well as how said client’s business improved after doing so. For example, while a success story might explain that a service helped a client increase customer retention by 25%, a case study would look at the exact changes the service helped the company make that led to this increase in business.

It’s through these minute details that a company can differentiate itself from its competitors, and it's the reason case studies are so effective while customers journey through the sales funnel.

Putting a Case Study to Good Use

Though there are a variety of iterations of the sales funnel, we’ll utilize the following definitions in this article:

  • Awareness/Discovery: When a prospect realizes they have a problem, and realizes your company exists

  • Interest: When a prospect realizes your company could help them overcome a problem

  • Consideration: When a prospect begins to shop around for similar solutions to their problem

  • Intent: When a prospect knows he will invest in a solution, but isn’t sure which

  • Evaluation: When a prospect analyzes the pros and cons of purchasing each solution

  • Purchase: When a prospect finally makes a decision

Now, let’s discuss how case studies can provide pertinent information to prospects at each stage of the sales funnel.

Awareness/Discovery

Once a prospect realizes they have a problem, they’ll start browsing the web and physical publications looking for ways to solve it. Creating case studies with specific, descriptive headlines is perhaps the best way to do this. Your case studies’ headlines should generally follow the same format: (Your company name and product/service) helps (customer name) (specific effect of working with you). For example: Company XYZ helps company ABC increase revenue by 25% in six months. When prospective clients search for similar phrases, your case study will likely be one of the first results they see.

Interest

Just because a prospect has discovered you, doesn’t mean they’ll follow through with a purchase just yet. They’ll quickly skim your case study, but if nothing immediately jumps out at them they will likely move on to another solution. Keep their interest piqued by providing unique subheads, bullet points, and pictorials, such as charts and graphs. These page breaks will jump out at the prospect much more successfully than any of the information provided in paragraph form. Make sure the information you provide through these formats is the most important and eye-catching data of the case study.

Consideration

If your prospect is still interested in your company at this stage, they are almost certainly going to be investing in some type of solution. This is where your case study can help you stake your claim as the go-to company in your industry.

In the “problem” section of your case study, discuss some of the other solutions your successful customers have tried in the past, leaving out other companies’ names, of course. Hopefully, for your company’s sake, these problems align with some of the potential red flags your prospect has seen from other companies. In other words, your case study should describe every Murphy’s Law-esque issue that could potentially arise when working with rival companies. Again, no names involved.

In doing so, you can position your service as the best in the business and all but guarantee your prospect will become a customer.

Intent

Your prospects may have whittled down their choices based on the potential red flags you made them aware of. But you still won’t be the only company they are thinking of doing business with. Now they'll want to know exactly what to expect when working with your services.

You’ll need to provide precise details regarding a previous client’s experiences with your company. How long did implementation take? How much did it cost? How long was it until your client started seeing results? When did they break even? How much did they make or save in the first six months after implementation of your service? Furthermore, was it easy to work with your service? What assistance did you provide along the way? Did your client feel as if your team was easily approachable?

Your case study needs to answer both quantitative and qualitative questions about the service you provide. That way, prospects will not only know that your service works, but also be confident that the process of working with the service will be enjoyable.

Evaluation

You’re so close. Your prospects are now weighing the pros and cons of their final few choices - your service being one option. Your case study now needs to hammer home every positive outcome of your satisfied customer’s experience with your company, so your prospects can know with almost 100 percent certainty how you’ll affect their bottom line. However, you need to be careful in how you present these specifics. Don’t inadvertently minimize the impact your services will have on your prospect’s business.

Rather than arbitrarily presenting dollar amounts and other metrics, give your prospect a frame of reference. For example, a multibillion-dollar company won’t be impressed if you helped a startup increase its revenue by $250,000. But it will be impressed if this increase was 500 percent of the startup’s revenue for the previous year.

Once your prospect has evaluated your service and decided your company is the best for the job, you have one more stage to go through.

Purchase

If your prospect has made it this far, they’re almost certainly going to be hiring you to provide your services. But you can still mess things up if you get wishy-washy towards the end. Though not exactly a sales document, your case study should always provide a call to action telling your prospect exactly what to do next.

Think about it: Your prospect has put in all this effort to read about your services. He’s ready to call you up and start talking business. But your case study doesn’t even list a number to call. It shows a generic email address, which is an absolute turnoff for your prospect. He then takes one last look at what was his second choice and sees a contact number for the company’s VP immediately. Which option do you think he chooses?

At the very least, ensure your case study includes a link to your company’s contact page that includes a number and an email address for an actual person. Otherwise, all of your other efforts will be for nothing.

Summary

I’m in no way saying that all your company needs is a case study to bring in more business. There’s definitely a lot more to content marketing than social proof. But case studies have continually been considered one of the most effective pieces of content for creating conversions throughout recent years. Perhaps the best thing about implementing case studies in your marketing plan is that your company can potentially use every successful client you work with to create more content, leading to even more prospects in the future.