So you have a customer that has a good story to tell, perhaps more importantly a story that makes your organization look good.  That’s enough for a case study, right?

Well, no.

Unless you simply want an accolade to hang on the wall (which you might) a case study is a piece of sales collateral.  While having more sales collateral is generally viewed by organizations as good, if it isn’t useful sales content, it’s worthless.  Generating a new piece may have the best of intentions, but unless it fits in with your organization’s communications plan, having more collateral may only overwhelm your salesforce with too much information and not enough focus.

So before even beginning a new case study the two questions to ask yourself are:

  1. Does the case study speak to the how your organization’s specific strengths are capable of aiding a customer segment with its needs?
  2. What’s the shelf life?  That is, when will it need to be reevaluated for relevance?

If the answer to #1 is ‘No’ chances are good that your time is better spent elsewhere.  If the duration of relevance for the case study, answered by question #2, is shorter than the business time that it will take to create the study, then it’s probably better off being designed and disseminated as a press release.

But let’s say the answer to both questions is ‘Yes’.  Below are some standard questions to put to the customer that will allow you too quickly (30 minutes or less!) suss out whether or not this case study will be worth the time and effort.


1.  Please confirm your official title and briefly describe you role with the organization.

Yes, this is a dull and very routine question.  However, you need to be sure you’re working with someone to which people wish to listen.  Also, if you submit a draft to the customer for approval and you’ve got the name(s) or title(s) wrong or misspelled, you can make an enemy of the cranky and the petty.

2.  Can you tell us a bit about your company’s operations (size, scope, markets, competitors)?

Whether or not you understand the customers operations (and shame on you if you don’t) it’s best to have them put it in their own words.  Also, not surprisingly, you’ll get different answers for this depending on who you ask within the organization.

3.  Describe the business challenges/objectives your organization had that led to the conversation.

Before the customer was familiar with your solution, they knew they had a problem.  How did they discover the problem?  Did your organization help make the customer organization aware of it?

4.  How did these challenges and business objectives affect day-to-day operations? Was there a potential impact on long-term strategies if the challenges were not properly addressed?

This question is attempting to find the short and long-term impacts of the pain or opportunity that the solution addressed.  If you’re using the case study to measure how effective your organization’s solution was for the customer, this is the yardstick.

5.  What services or solutions were deployed that addressed the issue / solved the problem / exploited the opportunity?

This is the opening for an important part of the case study – the opportunity to have the customer speak about your organization’s solution.  Due to the simple law of impartiality, this is going to carry a great deal more weight to prospects than having you talk about your solution.

6.  How is the solution being deployed to support your business?

How did your customer roll-out the solution?  Company-wide or piecemeal over a duration of time? Give the client an opportunity to speak about what the deployment looked like so prospects have a fair and honest idea of what they are getting into.

7.  Did you evaluate other solutions to try and resolve your business challenges?

Unless you made your customers aware of the issue, then chances are they evaluated other solutions before choosing yours.  This question is trying to get at what competitors were looked at and why the customer chose you.

8.  What capabilities do you have now with that you didn’t in the past?

This question is attempting to ascertain the specific functions that your organization brought to the customer.  Whether it’s a faster way to count grain as it leaves the silo or deploying database changes in a more systematic fashion, there’s something in the customers arsenal that wasn’t there before you provided it.

9.  Please share any benefits—qualitative and quantitative—the solution has already brought or is expected to bring the organization.

Try to elicit from the customer three specific examples of how the customer has benefited from deploying your solution.

10.  How does this factor into future business plans?

What you’re attempting to draw out of this is how your solution has positively impacted the customer’s future strategic plans.

In the end, what these questions are trying to help capture in the case study is that you understood the client’s need (perhaps even made them aware of it), provided unique insight into the issues, and that your organization has repeatable solutions for known business issues within the market segment you are targeting.  If the 10 questions elicit information that fills these gaps, you’ve probably got a winning case study on your hands.

Matthew McLean
Matthew McLean is a Program Manager at RO Innovation. He has a passion for helping organizations and individuals increase sales and market share through the design and application of software. With over 15 years of experience in customer relationship management, project management, and product management with companies ranging from startups to Fortune 500 in a variety of industry verticals, McLean can help your company grow via sales and marketing best practices.