By Joe Gillespie

GettyImages-185496686.jpgCase studies are one of the most powerful types of content in the inbound marketer’s toolbox. When done right—with descriptive storytelling and a powerful visual presentation—a case study can deliver a clinching message to leads in the decision stage of the Buyer’s Journey. Prospects who already know they need a solution to their problems read the case study and see how your company has helped others, thus moving these leads closer to becoming customers.

That said, case studies are a different animal than other inbound marketing content, such as blogs and e-books. Whereas most content in the awareness and consideration stages of the Buyer’s Journey doesn’t self-promote much—and instead relies on giving the reader information—the decision stage is a chance to persuade leads that your solution is their best option. Switching gears usually isn’t much of a problem for marketers, but the case study format can be. The process is more journalistic—you conduct interviews, gather information, and weave a narrative—and that can be daunting for someone more accustomed to blogging than article writing.

Don’t stress out: Case studies aren’t difficult if you take your time, are diligent about gathering information and writing the content, and ask the right questions. And we can help with the questions: Here are 22 to ask when you are conducting interviews for your case study.

Questions to Ask Your Company’s Project Manager

Usually, you will interview someone at your company—whether it’s a project manager, salesperson, client manager, customer liaison, or other colleague who deals with customers—who worked with the client you are profiling for the case study. Often, this interview will occur first and give you a good launching point for subsequent interviews with the customer’s representatives. You might already know the answers, but ask anyway: You may get a deeper explanation from your interview subject and something quotable you can use in the case study.

(Note: I am using product, solution, and service interchangeably throughout these questions; simply use the term that best applies to your company during the actual interviews.)

  • What initial challenges did you encounter with the client that could be helped with our product? This question is good to establish what problem the customer was experiencing and how your organization was poised to help.
  • What was the process you followed during implementation? Again, this may be obvious to you, but it is worth hearing from the PM. A little bit of process info in your case study can go a long way toward showing leads how you can help solve their problem.
  • What roadblocks with implementation did you help the client overcome? Highlighting how you assisted shows that no matter how messy a customer’s status with its previous solution is, you are positioned to overcome any hurdles that get in the way.
  • How have we helped the client since implementation/introduction? Some customers are good to go after your solution is implemented, but others rely on additional support—be sure to find out what that support entails.
  • What kind of success did the client enjoy with our product? Results, results, results!
  • Was there anything about the implementation/results that positively surprised you? If the success the client enjoyed was unusual or the application of your solution was innovative, don’t be shy about including that in the case study.

Questions to Ask the Client

If a client has agreed to be the subject of a case study, it obviously is happy with the service you provided. Take advantage of this enthusiasm by asking open-ended questions and letting your interviewee gush about your organization and the solution you provided.

Some of the questions listed here may seem redundant to the ones you asked internally, but ask them anyway. You want both perspectives, and often, the best quotes you hear and use will be from the client.

  • Give a brief description of your company. If you aren’t that familiar with the client, ask for some basic background. Yes, you usually can find such information online as well, but this is a good icebreaker to get the interviewee talking.
  • How did you first hear about our service? If the client learned about you via other case studies or articles in outside publications or websites, or simply knew about you by reputation alone, you definitely want to include that in the case study—for the reader, this info strengthens your industry presence and thought leadership. This question is also a good lead-in to learn about how the deal between the client and your company was finalized.
  • What challenges/problems necessitated a change? Listen carefully during this question—ideally, the challenges and problems the client was facing are exactly what your organization’s product addresses.
  • What trends in your industry drove the need to use our product?
  • What were you looking for in a solution?
  • What made our solution stand out over others that you researched? Ideally, you want the interviewee to say up and down how great your product is. This and other questions lead him or her to be your greatest advocate.
  • What feature of our product was most appealing?
  • How did you implement/introduce our solution? The rollout, and the steps taken to get to that point, can make or break the success of the solution. Ideally, the client will say how the process was seamless and that your product and team were the reasons for such ease.
  • How did our team help with implementation?
  • What was the initial reaction to our product? In other words, how did the client’s users and customers accept and utilize the solution?
  • How has our solution helped since implementation? Now you dig into the success realized by your product. This is so important because it provides the basis of the case study: “X Company Used Our Solution and Achieved X Hundred Percent Growth.”
  • Has this solution saved money and/or increased productivity?
  • Can you share any metrics/KPIs that show the success you have enjoyed with our service? The more hard numbers, the better.
  • What have you been most impressed with? Here’s another chance for the client to gush.
  • What plans do you have to use our solution in the future? After initial success, many companies expand the use of your product, either to more people or additional applications. This info is also important to include in the case study because it shows that the client is not only sticking with your product but also using it to foster more growth and productivity.
  • Is there anything else we should know? If you’ve been thorough, the answer to this is likely no, but the question still offers a chance for the interviewee to conclude.

A case study is a wonderful inbound marketing opportunity for your organization. Ask these questions, and use the answers to help your product and your company shine in the eyes of leads.

What has been your experience with writing case studies?


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Joe Gillespie

About the author

Joe Gillespie is a Senior Brand Journalist for SmartBug Media. He graduated from Marquette University with a B.A. in journalism and is a two-decade veteran of the newspaper industry. As a Senior Brand Journalist, Joe writes and edits inbound marketing content for SmartBug's clients. Read more articles by Joe Gillespie.