Why case study creation shouldnt be a teeth-pulling exercise

Why case study creation shouldnt be a teeth-pulling exercise
In 2015, Sarah identified an ongoing challenge within professional services and public sector organisations to create, manage and publish case studies, so she developed a software platform and service offering to tackle this. Beta testing for CaseStudyNinja subsequently began in January 2016 and will officially launch on June 30th, 2016. Sarah has specialised as a Knowledge Management leader for over 20 years and has achieved successful programme delivery, at both a global and UK level, for companies including: National Audit Office, KPMG, Ernst & Young, HM Treasury, Tribal Group, PwC, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and IBM. As a regular conference speaker and writer, Sarah has published a number of enterprise technology articles focusing on business development, product reviews and market activity analysis. Sarah has a PGDip in Information Science from City University and a BA (Hons) in English Literature from Essex University.


Reviews, evidence, references. People increasingly expect to do business based on trustworthy proof of prior success.

So why do so many professional services organisations and marketers struggle to produce compelling, timely case studies?

It doesn’t matter whether you call them case studies, client stories or credentials, it all looks easy on paper.

In an ideal scenario, you deliver some great work. You write up the challenge, how you solved it and the positive impact that you had for your client. You gather testimonials, photos and perhaps even some video. And then, you save your case study in a sensible place where everyone can find it.

This case study is used to build your company’s reputation and win work via proposals, pitches, marketing and PR.  And, If you’re lucky you will also have a stellar marketing team to support you during every step of the process.

If this is how you run your case study process, then congratulations! You’ve nailed it!

Not so straightforward…

Unfortunately, it’s not always smooth sailing. The fast pace of work, the way organisations are structured and human nature itself can all contribute to create a perfect storm that turns this seemingly straightforward activity into a frustrating teeth pulling exercise with mediocre results.

Let’s unpick this from the perspective of the people on the ground.

Teams need to collaborate to develop the case studies that will go on to win the right work from the right clients

A project comes to an end. The delivery team have been pulling 10+ hour days and they are tired. The last thing they want to do is face the dreaded blank Word document and produce a 500+ word case study.

If they are senior and/or great at what they do, they are already earmarked for the next piece of work, which means that they are very time-challenged.

Common (and understandable) responses are to procrastinate; dash out a quick piece or delegate to a junior member of the team – who may lack necessary insight.

This is where many case studies die a slow death. They may never see the light of day due to lack of sign-off, poor quality writing or burial on a team’s shared drive.

Marketing team involvement

At this point the delivery team could use some marketing support. Delivery teams have a tendency to focus on the technical solution part of the case study. Marketing understands the power of showcasing the impact of the project, and often excels at writing copy that appeals to the target client.

Yet, the marketing team is also very busy. Typically, supporting bid teams who urgently need to locate and polish existing case studies to hit tight proposal deadlines.  

And even these aren’t readily available because, well, they have not yet been signed off, are poor quality or are have been buried on a team’s shared drive.

The marketing and bid teams tackle this by sending out blanket emails (‘Does anyone have any case studies on educational software in Europe?’); and digging around on CRMs and finance systems to chase down the individuals from the original project.

This is all very time consuming.

A culture where a case study is written in response to someone screaming for it against a deadline is unnecessarily stressful.

In the worst case scenario, a vicious circle is created where strategic, proactive case study development gets pushed down the to do list as a result of consistently fighting fires.

Taking a step back and improving case study management is not easy; And It can take the loss of a significant bid to change the status quo.

Evaluating the case study process end to end, through creation, management and publication involves looking at the sales / delivery cycle as a whole, to identify and address the pain points.

Collaboration needed

Be wary of jumping to the ‘let’s build a database’ solution.

It’s tempting, but it risks ignoring subtle underlying issues of time pressure, lack of writing skills, concerns about colleagues misusing case studies, confusion about the purpose and audience of your case studies, as well as confidentiality and sign off requirements.

Teams need to collaborate to develop the case studies that will go on to win the right work from the right clients.

Once you have a decent set of case studies, it’s wise to maximize your return on investment – uploading them to your website and vaguely hoping that your clients will see them doesn’t cut it.

Think about pitching to key media titles first – this will help raise your industry profile and boost your SEO.

Here is a checklist for putting the best processes in place to get those case studies done:

The goal:

  • Identify potential case studies as part of strategic business development
  • Approach clients during the project, with early draft review
  • Ensure everyone understands their role in the process, and communicates well. Ideally, someone would take project ownership from the start
  • Aim to have case studies signed off within a month of project close
  • Maximise business development activities to enhance the value of case studies, such as tailoring them to particular bids, or generating press

These processes help you not only save time and stress, they allow you to increase your focus on deepening existing relationships with your clients, and delivering true value.

That’s a great place to be.

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