“Sure, sure. But why should I believe you?”
This is the perfectly fair question that marketing and advertising professionals dread from customers. Because it’s a very good one!
Why should customers believe someone who they know is trying to sell them something?
That is exactly why case studies are so powerful, and why knowing how to ask the right questions to get the right information can mean the difference between a game-changing new piece of marketing collateral, and just another forgotten PDF.
Here at Wordsmithie, we’ve taken a look before at how to conduct great interviews. Now let’s break down how to ask the right questions to make your next case study a home-run!
Know the story, and lead them where you want to go
“Well, we don’t want to lead our customers into giving the answers we want…”
Pardon my French, but that’s bull hockey.
In this situation, you are not a journalist. You are not the final brave paragon standing between journalistic integrity and a world of cable-news agendas. You’re just not. You’re a marketer.
Which is why it’s perfectly fine—and indeed, extremely wise—to lead your subject into telling the story you want to hear.
Whether it’s your customer or the customer of a client on whose behalf you’re acting, get together with anyone familiar with the account beforehand and discuss why this particular client’s story is so compelling. Perhaps they switched from your primary competitor? Maybe they’re getting a ton of value out of a brand new feature?
Whatever kernel of information is the golden nugget for you, guide the questioning in that direction, linger longer on that topic, and ask lots of focused follow-ups to fully flesh out your subject.
After all, it’s your case study.
In your case study, you should design the questions to milk the maximum information—and value—out of the topics you care about.
Not every study needs to tell the whole story
Similar to the above, not every case study needs to tell your whole story.
Yes, you’ll want some case studies to be grand, sweeping, 30,000-foot views of everything you can offer a customer. Those have value. But, eventually, they will all start to tell the same narrative. And then you’ll run into diminishing returns as customers grow weary of reading the same exact story over and over again.
But just like in football, where some players are experts at throwing the ball, while others can catch it better than anyone alive, while still others are just really good at smashing the poor guy holding the ball, so too should your case studies specialize in whatever that client is good at.
Say your client is a content agency (never heard of ‘em!). You’ll want a few of those case studies to highlight how they delivered a massive portfolio of varied content for a particular customer, from blogs to videos and everything in between.
But the rest should focus. “Our case studies, thanks to our highly-trained interview team, yield better results like XYZ,” or, “Client Q struggled with low email open rates, so our team split-tested over ten design and copy variations and analyzed the results, optimizing the process.”
In these situations, forgo the usual boilerplate questions you have about all their other offerings and services, and instead focus, dig into to, and spend your time on that one juicy area.
Look: it’s fine to have your case studies tout that your client can do it all.
But you’ll want many to specialize, so that at least one of them is bound to ring that one, specific bell in the mind of your reader and make them give you a call.
Don’t take “No” for an answer. Don’t take “I’ll check and get back to you,” either
As we mentioned in our first point, you should enter the interview with an expectation of what you want to hear. Know which quotes you need to get to support that story, and keep asking questions until you get them.
Often, that will mean asking essentially the same question several different ways. But that’s okay! Because your language and terminology are not necessarily what your client uses.
For example, take the question “Have you noticed any improvements in operational efficiency since using our product?” That may yield a low-effort, but sincerely honest, “No.”
But, if you ask, “How has your performance in your job improved since using our product?” Or, “How is your daily routine different now since using our product?” you are much more likely to get an answer. Clients don’t always think in terms of ROI or your own internal messaging pillars. They think in terms of themselves. So ask about them, and how your product affects them.
Another pitfall that many good interviewers fall into is the old, “I’ll check on that and get back to you” diversion. Don’t fall for it, friends! Sure, perhaps Jerry in Accounting really will look up those answers on his own, take time out of his day after he’s off the phone, and remember not only to send them to you, but what you asked and what your email address was, too.
But just as often, “I’ll check on that” is an evasive tactic to either get off the phone faster or avoid having to search for information.
So instead, find different ways to ask the question to get the information you need, right then and there.
“I’ll check on that and get back to you”? That’s okay, you have another question you can ask instead!
Conducting a client interview for a case study doesn’t need to feel like wrestling a bear.
Ultimately, you are on a mission to get the information you need. And you are allowed to ask whatever questions, in as many different ways, as you need to in order to get that juicy money quote from your subjects.
So don’t be shy, and be persistent. You’re in charge, you’re running the show, and you call the shots.