joel klettke
Joel Klettke

It’s well-known that people trust the opinion of their peers far more than they trust messages directly from brands, and are more likely to purchase a product or service as a result of a peer’s words. Case studies are a great way to show off the authentic stories of peers who have used your products or services, on your own channels. But how to optimize them to improve lead generation and sales?

Joel Klettke, case study expert and founder of Case Study Buddy, has had a front-row seat in planning case studies for over 350 companies. He’s identified seven key ways that the top 1% of companies best optimize their case studies to successfully improve lead buy-in and increase conversion rates. And all seven are strategies your own company can steal, to create the strongest, most compelling case studies. Check out these secrets below, as shared by Klettke in his webinar with Clearscope. 

What case studies should and shouldn’t be

Before we dive into the seven strategies, let’s lay the foundations of optimal case studies based on Joel Klettke’s expertise. According to Klettke, case studies should be strategic, not incidental. They should be an inevitable outcome within your system. And they aren’t just a project for the marketing team to take on – instead, they’re a “team sport,” and the entire company should be involved. 

Strategic case studies are curated stories, planned for and chosen on purpose. Rather than just showcasing every company that volunteers for a case study, the top 1% of companies start with a strategy for the stories they want to tell, intentionally curate real stories that fit the strategy, and align all teams on case study goals. 

“We can get to a place where case studies are inevitable, the outcome of systems and processes – we can be strategic about it. That is the first shift that we need to make because the best companies already have.” – Joel Klettke

Case studies should also be repurposed for many types and channels of media, for many goals, on many points in the buyer’s journey. So, what do the top 1% of companies do differently to create these strategic stories? Let’s dive in.

1. Have all teams within the company collaborate on case studies

Many companies think of case studies as a marketing team task. But isolating case studies to the marketing team is not the best approach. In the top 1% of companies, multiple teams (or all teams) collaborate in the process of planning and writing case studies.

This makes sense because: 

  • Sales owns the process of building the first relationship with a lead and convincing people to become customers. They know the goals that brought a new customer in, and they know what convinces someone to close a deal.
  • Customer success nurtures customer relationships, and doesn’t want to lose customers by asking too much of them during the case study creation process. They also have a deeper understanding of the wins customers have had with the product 
  • Marketing best understands the creative and copy side of executing a case study. But since the marketing team doesn’t work directly with customers, and isn’t often aware of selling points and sales goals, they must be aware of what the other teams need and what roles they can play.

For the best case studies, leadership representing all teams (including the company’s overall leadership) must meet to align on the following:

  • What case study success looks like for your brand
  • How to select situations to showcase in case studies
  • How to track case studies
  • How to format them
  • How to process them
  • How to produce them, in what time frame

Keep in mind that case study formats need to be diverse to serve all teams. Don’t let marketing dictate the format in isolation, as all teams need something different. And make sure leadership understands what all the teams need from case studies. In particular, remember that the sales team needs stories to access to help with specific contexts, objections, and situations where leads are looking at certain competitors. 

All teams should be involved at all points in asking for and developing a case study, as all teams have different levels of customer access and different strengths.  

Pro tip: Organize case study data in a spreadsheet that all teams can access and add to. On this sheet, track the stage of study, owner, timeline, dependencies, resources, and other notes. 

2. Intentionally choose stories

People want to relate to case studies in business size, industry, and situation. They want to see the goals that companies similar to theirs achieved, and how they could achieve the same goals – not in terms of metrics, but in the story of the problems solved. 

An intentionally written case study is credible, compelling, relatable, and prescriptive (it shows how a problem was solved). Some of the highest-performing case studies are relationship-based and focus on how to solve a problem, with no metrics included at all. 

“What [customers] really want is something prescriptive or informational, something deep enough to actually help them make a decision. It has to be deep enough for them to relate. A list of bullet points and nice sounding quotes is not a customer story… A story is something that I can sink my teeth into, that I can relate to, aspire to, that I believe is credible and that helps me do something, whether that’s implement it myself or make a decision.” – Joel Klettke

You must always showcase an implicit promise in your case study that delivers value. Ask yourself when writing a case study: What situations do leads relate to, and what are they looking for based on their problems? 

Types of case studies that resonate well with leads include: 

  • The story of someone who left a competitor
  • The story of someone who upgraded
  • Demonstrating a specific use case that many leads wouldn’t be aware of
  • An appeal to employees in specific roles or positions; 
  • “Here’s how to do x based on what y company did”
  • The story of how an objector was ultimately won over 
  • Describing how a business solved a problem
  • A focus on individual features of your product, and how a company used them to drive results
  • A profile: “Who are the kinds of people who choose our company?”

How to plan for and write an intentional case study? Check in with all departments with what they need, align with revenue goals for real-world businesses, find KPIs that matter in the realm of customer stories, and then go looking for stories that meet your team’s and your leads’ needs.

Pro tip: Remember that the best and most relatable case studies show the customer as the hero. Your brand is simply the tool the customer uses to achieve their goals.

  • Celebrate the impact the featured customer had prior to using the product/service, and how your product/service made their processes better. 
  • Then, show how the reader can be a hero too.

3. Use proactive prospecting

Proactive prospecting means knowing when and how to ask for a case study. All teams must understand what companies (and what stories) to go after, including key themes to go after, before reaching out to businesses and asking them to contribute a case study. 

Intentionally find targets who fill “content gaps” you haven’t covered, and then ask for the case study or gather feedback during the product use process in a natural way. 

Pro tip: Incentivize employees who successfully search out stories that fill content gaps, and celebrate the employees who find winning case studies (at team meetings and employee communications).

Don’t send a marketer your client doesn’t know to make the case study “ask,” and don’t ask for a case study out of the blue. Rather, it’s best to “escalate the commitment” of feedback, especially when you’ve found a suitable story:

  • Ask customers in your content and your customer portal: “Do you have a win that you’re interested in sharing?” 
  • If you have a SaaS, ask for customer stories at natural points within the use of your software or app
  • Create a brand advocacy program, such as an ambassador program, and ask those who participate if they would like to share a more detailed story
  • Or offer rewards for case studies themselves, when they fit your goals (but be sure to disclose publicly if a case study was incentivized) 
  •  Leverage surveys and feedback discussions to encourage (and ease into) the sharing of a case study
  • Leverage conversations with reps to ease into the case study “ask”
  • Know the metrics and KPIs you’d use in a case study, and intentionally check in with customers regarding these metrics before the case study “ask”
Pro tip: To incentivize or not to incentivize? It’s up to you, and an incentive can definitely help move the needle. Keep in mind that incentives could be backlinks or something else beneficial to the client – they don’t have to have monetary value.  But you’ll need to disclose if someone was incentivized to complete a case study, no matter how you reward them. 

People don’t always need incentives as long as it’s time-efficient and attractive to be a part of a case study. You could incentivize different types of advocacy instead (like referrals), and then reach out to ask for a case study with no incentive for the case study itself.

4. Make it normal to talk with customers about ROI and KPIs regularly

The top 1% of case study-crafting companies get success metrics from companies at the outset, and make ROI and KPI talks normal. They seed the specific ROI and KPI data they want before a case study conversation.

Getting metrics for your case studies starts long before the “ask,” and long before a customer identifies a win. Making KPI and ROI discussions normal, throughout customer check-ins, will make these discussions a lot less awkward if and when you ask them to share a case study. So, schedule frequent touchpoints with customers, based on your existing processes.

  • What existing check-ins can you use to talk about KPIs throughout customer relationships? 
  • What types of calls and check-ins can you use for KPI discussions (say, Zoom meetings or emails)?
  • Who will check in about KPIs? 
  • How often will check-ins happen?
  • How will client KPIs be shared? 

Then, once you’re ready to write a case study, be specific about the KPIs, and other winning moments within their story, that you want companies to bring in and discuss. They’ll be more prepared since you already seeded these types of discussions. 

Pro tip: If you’re a SaaS business, create baked-in KPIs and make them easily accessible for clients to find. For instance, Loom shares how many meetings its clients save with videos. And Referral Rock returns robust data on referrals made, brand visits from referred leads, and referral conversion rates. 

5. Set expectations well with templates and standards

Setting and being clear on expectations helps improve buy-in from the companies you ask for case studies.  Be sure to:

  • Get buy-in from all parties beforehand
  • Check that the client’s story is strong, and relevant to your goals, before you start
  • Make the overall case study process clear
  • Respect the client’s time and story by being efficient in your collection process
  • Deliver on your promises about time commitments
  • Check that the story is legally allowed to be released, by checking with the legal team or relevant parties early in the process

The top 1% of companies use lots of templates to standardize and streamline the process, and set up clear expectations. Examples of templates and scripts that these companies use include:

  • An overall case study process template, with steps laid out for your company
  • A case study ask template, where you explain why the client was selected, the parts of their story you want to cover, and the achievements you want to focus on
  • A template for priming, so the customer knows specific metrics and story elements you want. Use this to clarify what is relevant or meaningful in the story you’d like to tell.
  • A legal form, to clear the release of the case study 
  • A pitch deck of what is involved in the case study process, for the customer to review
  • Templates of the format of case studies (you might have different templates for different types of stories)
  • An agreement for the types of media the case study can be used in
  • A template for case study check-ins and approvals
  • A template of how to publish and celebrate a live case study, both on your company side and the customer side

Standardize your case study templates across your company and make them accessible to all teams. But be sure to keep learning as you complete the process with different companies, and refine your templates as you make improvements.

6. Repurpose one case study across many mediums and needs

Be ready to leverage case studies in different mediums, across all stages of the buyer’s journey. Compared to the time, resources, and energy needed to get buy-in and approval, repurposing a case study is extremely cost-effective – and makes sense, because leads have different needs depending on their funnel stage. 

The 1% know that leads at different stages seek different amounts of information, based on where they are on the buyer’s journey. Always ask: Who will you serve with a given case study format, and how will you publish it?

You can make one case study into a:

  • Video
  • Text testimonial
  • Email campaign 
  • Audio bite from an interview
  • Visualization or infographic
  • Blog post 
  • Ad campaign
  • Social media quote… and much more!

Case studies should also cover different levels of details: “nibble, bite, snack, and meal,” as Joel Klettke describes. This way, you’ll meet leads where they are, throughout the funnel, no matter how “hungry” they are for information.

  • Nibble = One quote
  • Bite = Two-minute video or a short read on social media
  • Snack = A page-long story with several strong details 
  • Meal= A super detailed story spanning multiple pages, or a longer-form video

Pro tip: Interesting ways to repurpose case studies include:

  • Animated testimonial videos with voiceovers: The best way to repurpose a case study at first is to combine text and audio with some sort of video, whether that’s live or animated. 
  • Linkedin carousels with many social media-ready images
  • A concise one-sheet review, spun out of a longer case study
  • Multimedia “credibility boosters” with text + audio or video on one combined page 
  • Compilations of many related stories (dealing with one problem or theme) 

    7. Have defined case study playbooks 

    Just like your teams should have playbooks for other standardized company processes, you should create and maintain playbooks for the processes behind case studies. The only difference between these and most other playbooks is that your entire company – all teams – must have a role in creating and updating them.  

    These playbooks must be accessible to all teams, clearly organized, and regularly updated on a schedule. Create them somewhere you can edit them easily, such as Confluence. 

    They should include coverage gaps you’re seeking to fill with stories, how to select customers to talk to, what constitutes a win, who is responsible for what parts of the case study process, and all other guidelines you’ve set forth in the six other points we covered above.  

    Key takeaways: Writing ROI-boosting case studies

    So, how to write case studies like the top 1%? Here are our top takeaways from Joel Klettke’s expert webinar:

    • Be proactive for case studies – plan the types of stories you want to seek beforehand. Don’t just react to any opportunity that might come up and write an incidental case study. 
    • All teams must be aligned on case studies – you need reps from all teams to meet and discuss process for best results
    • Decide on the type of focus you want and then find customers whose stories fit that focus
    • Make getting feedback intentional at all stages, so case studies start getting written naturally.
    • Use different mediums to repurpose case studies for different needs and buyer’s journey stages.

    Want more insights on crafting compelling case studies? Check out Joel Klettke’s full webinar with Clearscope, or visit Case Study Buddy for more of Joel’s expertise.