Case studies make for ideal content marketing vehicles. Here are a dozen questions that activate the power of storytelling to draw in more prospects, intrigue them with your solutions and convert them to leads. Use this model to develop your questions and structure your case study.

1.    Who is the hero? The hero of your case study (aka your customer) should be introduced similarly to characters in a story – with a little background information. Tell us about who they are and what they’re responsible for.

  • Focus on real people. It could be one customer, or it could be a customer team. But make it about flesh-and-blood people instead of a faceless company. Sharing basic human characteristics like needs, wants, weaknesses and strengths will enable your prospects to cheer for your customer and put themselves in their shoes.
  • Interview or ask for testimonials from the direct client you worked with on the project. But also solicit endorsements from others in the organization. This includes your client’s boss as well as authority figures in the C-suite.

2. What does the customer want?

  • Every hero needs a goal. The bigger the goal, the bigger the stakes, the more we’re engaged in the story. Does your customer want to attract more customers? Lower costs? Sell more products? Break into a new market?
  • What’s at stake if the customer doesn’t achieve her goal?
  • Tell us where the customer is now and where she wants to go. What does she want to do that she can’t do today?

3.    What stands in their way? Here’s where you identify the customer’s problem, issue or challenge. Obstacles make for compelling storytelling. The customer wants something, but it isn’t easy to get it. If the customer doesn’t have a challenge, she doesn’t need your solution. No conflict, no story.

  • What pushed the customer over the edge? In storytelling parlance, this is the inciting incident. It’s when your customer-hero finally decides to take on the challenge, make the journey or fight the good fight.

4.    What was their plan? Did they try (and fail) to solve the problem on their own? Did they research the market? Did they draw up a list of potential solutions?

5.    Why did they choose you? Use the customer’s own words verbatim here. A testimonial is more authentic, believable—and powerful.

6.    How did you respond? If the customer is the hero, you’re the wise mentor who supplies the wisdom and tools to help your customer succeed. You play Obi-Wan Kenobi to your customer’s Luke Skywalker.

  • How did you scope the problem or issue? Did you do research or conduct an analysis? How did you consult with the client to understand the problem and identify a solution? What did you find?

7.    What did you deliver? This is the solution to the customer’s problem.

  • Did you draw up a strategic plan?
  • How did you put the plan into effect on the ground?
  • What challenges did you face in deployment?

8.    What are the measurable benefits?

  • Highlight the key operational and financial benefits of your work. Circle back to the customer’s goals. Were they achieved? Exceeded?
  • Use numbers and statistics to back up and validate your claims. Potential clients want to know more than that your solution worked. They want to know exactly how well it worked. How much? How many? Facts matter.
  • How did your project empower the customer to do or be something they couldn’t do or be before? Remember, solving customer problems is about customer transformation.
  • Focus not only on the immediate payoff of your actions but also on the ultimate benefits of your solution to the customer. For example, let’s say you supplied an energy management solution that helped a client lower their energy bills. That’s great. But what did lower energy bills enable the client to do? That’s the real benefit to the customer.
  • What was the AHA moment? Did you or your customer come to a new realization—perhaps one that neither of you could have predicted?
  • How did the solution help not only the direct customer but also the customer’s customer? When your solution benefits the end-customer in a B2B context, you help your customer look good. Quotes and testimonials from these end-customers will add depth and validity to your story.

9.    How does the client feel? Who says emotion doesn’t belong in B2B marketing? Get real. Business people bleed red, too. Was the client happy, relieved, excited, overjoyed? Let them say so—in their own words. 

10. Can I get a witness? It’s great if your customer provides a testimonial, but an objective perspective or endorsement from a respected external third party is even better. Add credibility and authority to your case study with praise from a recognized university, academic, expert, professional body or institute.

11. Where do we go from here? You want your prospects to see you as a potential long-term partner. The end of one project is the beginning of another, a chapter in a larger book. Show how this project is part of an ongoing partnership with your customer. Looking forward to the future is also a natural way to end your case study.

12. What do we do next? Whether you’re using content to build your brand or to generate leads, you want to it to provide a return on your investment. So make sure you include a call to action in your case study. Invite prospects to talk with a sales rep, schedule a demo or get a quote. Make the call to action stand out by placing it in a sidebar or colored box or by using some other type or graphic treatment.

Case studies are great opportunities to tell your story, set you apart and engage prospects. But you can blow the opportunity if you treat the case study as a promotion piece to hype your product or service. Customers can smell a sell job, and it turns them off if you’re trying to be coy about your intent.  

So make the case study as objective as possible. Collect solid information on the customer, the problem and the solution. Present the information in a brief, easy-to-read story format. If you do the work, you’ll get the maximum benefit from your marketing content.

What’s more, you’ll have a foundational document that can be repurposed into news releases, social media posts and bylined guest articles in trade publications, as well as the basis for future white papers.