Joel Klettke is a conversion copywriter by trade, helping SaaS companies like HubSpot (ever heard of ‘em?) drive sales through the roof.
But this work also leads him to create Case Study Buddy, a productized company focused exclusively on… you guessed it: case studies.
Here’s where Case Study Buddy came from, how they structure interviews to get exactly what they need to produce revenue-generating case studies every time, and where to use case studies to produce the best ROI.
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Why Joel created Case Study Buddy two years ago
Case Study Buddy arose out of a personal need (like most great business ideas).
Joel was busy helping WP Engine improve conversions when his point of contact had a built-in referral for him.
“Hey, there’s this company, Pingboard, and they need a case study done. Is that something you do?”
And like any good self-employed freelancer, Joel responded, “Well, if you’re the one asking, yeah, I do that.”
Crafting case studies wasn’t necessarily his forte at the time. But the lightbulb moment dawned on him nonetheless.
“Here’s an asset that companies will pay a premium for because it’s tougher to do. It’s really, really versatile, but it’s something that I can build a process around. Like this is repeatable. The process I used to do this is repeatable, and I could teach that to someone else.”
The scalability was a huge bonus. Especially compared to his bread and butter — conversion copywriting does not scale. You need to be a multidisciplinary maven, capable of jumping back and forth between quantitative research, qualitative emotions, and results-driven writing.
Case studies, on the other hand, were reproducible. And the fact that there was demand, coupled with a gap in the market, inspired Joel to take a few steps further.
“So I got curious about it and thought, ‘Well, who else is doing this?’ Surely somebody, like, planted the flag and said, ‘This is our thing, and we own it.’ And aside from one woman (Casey Heather), like nobody. I looked and asked him, like, there’s…like, ‘The odd Freelancer kind of doing this?’ There’s the agency has it as an add-on, but nobody had said like, ‘We are the case study company,’ and thought, ‘I’m gonna build it. I’m gonna be the person to say like, ‘This is us. This is our thing. We do this better than anyone else.’’”
Unlike most overly ambitious entrepreneurs, Joel immediately had the self-awareness to know where his skills sets fell short, and how his limited time as an in-demand copywriter could hinder future projects.
“I’m really good at the marketing side, and I’m an ideas guy. I needed someone who was good on the sales side and execution and cold calling, things I’m not very good at. And so I went back to an old agency pal that I used to work with, and she came on board, and we just got things rolling.”
How Case Study Buddy scales case studies with templates like “BDA”
Content is subjective. There’s no one-size-fits-all offering.
And that makes it tough to scale.
It might be easy to find one or two people who intuitively ‘get’ what you’re looking for. But scaling into the dozens, across hundreds of pieces of content? No chance.
This problem compounds if the founder is intent on removing him or herself from the day-to-day. Creative enterprises, like design or development, are often led by the chief ‘creator’ for this very reason.
Case Study Buddy, however, was always supposed to be a scalable enterprise. And that changes everything about how they approach their work, to even who they decide to hire.
Fortunately or unfortunately, Joel had already learned a few hard lessons from several missteps.
“Before I did Case Study Buddy, I tried to scale up content for like blogging. And the reason I failed that, it’s a multitude of reasons. The reason I failed at doing it at scale is I couldn’t build a process for it. At the time I just had dollar signs in my eyes, and I was thinking, ‘Well, everyone’s gonna write to the same standard, and everyone’s gonna know how to do voice and tone.’ And as you would know, running a business in that space, like that is very, very much not the case.”
The beauty of case studies, on the other hand, is that most seem to follow a similar framework or template: Before/During/After (BDA).
The BDA format helps gives writers a template to fall back on. “That is the way that we train our team, talk to people, to interview people, to run an interview,” confirms Joel.
Writers don’t have to stick directly to it when writing. But having those foundational elements exist means each piece will almost always be perfect. That underlying process is one of many. However, it’s helped to give Case Study Buddy specialize by going deeper, as opposed to what other agencies do in going horizontally across multiple services (which only makes delivery more difficult).
“We got really good at defining our formats early and saying, ‘This is what we do, and this is how this looks at anything outside of this, we’re gonna have to either charge more or just turn it down because we can’t be at our most effective if we do that.’”
The benefit of going deep allows you to notice (and enhance) the tiny details that most others miss. Take a simple headline choice or layout option:
“There are things that we have templated within the studies themselves. So the way we write headlines, the fact that we have a sidebar, you know. At this point running this, I have easily read 500 case studies, not just ours, but just around the web, seeing how others do these. One of the early things we brought in was that sidebar. Having a highlight section, and I had to kind of go back to my roots and think, okay, well, we’ve got readers and scanners, how do we cater to them? How do we make a long-form asset appeal to a short, you know, someone who’s tight on time? So we have templates within the studies themselves on how we do that.”
Obsessing over the tiniest of details has allowed Joel to create processes and templates for almost every aspect of Case Study Buddy.
“We have templates now for outreach emails. We have templates for reviving dead leads. We have templates for, you know, how we onboard somebody and how we make the asks to even get a client to buy in. So everything within Case Study Buddy has a process and a template, and we’re always…well, we were happy with where we’re at. My job now, fundamentally, day-to-day, aside from hiring people and managing kind of that, my core job is just to keep looking for ways to make us more efficient and to make this better and to refine those templates so we get a better product and less time with less effort and with happier clients. And that’s where my effort goes now.”
Systemizing a creative agency to this degree might seem like a contradiction on the surface. However, in practice it’s not.
In fact, it’s the only way to deliver quality consistently.
“Everyone knows now coming in what to expect, how we’ll deliver, what they’re gonna get, and there’s power in that. And I would argue that like because we have these templates, because we have constraints, our writers feel more empowered to be creative because constraints breed creativity. When you know, okay, this is the type of story I have to tell, this is the point I have to make, you know where the goalposts are. But just because they’re goalposts doesn’t mean it’s the soccer game, or the hockey, whatever, doesn’t mean it’s boring to watch, there’s just rules, and then how you get to, you can be fabulously creative. So falling in love with process made all the difference for the success of Case Study Buddy versus my past, you know, felt for is into growing things beyond myself, and like I say, it’s most of my job now, is just making that stuff better.”
Why most interview questions are bad (and what to do instead)
Everyone knows case studies are important. Everyone knows they should be doing more of them.
Why don’t they?
There are often multiple problems, from the lack of a scalable template to the fact that most customers and clients are busy as hell, or that they’re less than eloquent when it comes time to hit record and talk about their experience.
Joel elaborates, stating that they often only have a “half hour of time” with someone to “turn them into a storyteller.”
Counterintuitively, the trick is to steer clear of opinions.
“I say this a lot when I give talks, both on the conversion side and the cases, we’re not interested in this person’s opinion. We couldn’t care less. We don’t care that they say, ‘Oh, this company was great,’ right? Not helpful, not useful. We care about their experience. And when you get people talking about their experience, instead of setting them up, people come in nervous because they think that they’re gonna have to give this big glowing platitude and the shiny polished copy and they get weird about it. You can see them early in the calls when I used to do this myself, you can hear them trying to say the things they think you’re looking for, and it comes off really fake.”
In other words, people will often just say what you want to hear when you ask their opinion. They’ll give stock answers, instead of the meat you need to make the experience jump off the page.
And this subtle mindset shift has to happen immediately with the first few things you say to each person.
“So the first question is, after Lindsey’s kind of broken the ice to get them comfortable, she says, ‘What does success look like for you in your role? Like, what do you measure it against?’ And it catches them off, and they go, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s a great question. Well, these are the things I’m responsible for and this is how I get measured against them.’ And now they’re starting to relate the story to themselves, they don’t know, but they’re starting to relate it to themselves. And now we can frame the story instead of being about a company who did a thing with another product and they got X result, now it’s a human story. Now it’s, ‘Well, this is what I was being evaluated against. This is the pressure I was under and the stakes for the company were high. We have to get this done.’
The questioning sequence comes back to BDA. It’s like an infomercial, where you walk people through what their life was like before your product or service existed, and then illustrate change with measurable improvements.
Again, this doesn’t always happen naturally. Left to their own devices, interviewees aren’t always attuned to what you’re trying to do. So you gotta prep ‘em.
“So part of what we do now, too, is before that interview even happens, we prime them. These are the types of things we’re gonna ask you, don’t worry about being eloquent, just be you. By the way, here are the types of things we’re gonna want to know.”
After you’ve prepped them, you ask them. And then you ask them again.
“One of the hidden skills when interviewing others is that you can’t be afraid to ask the same question two slightly different ways. Good interviewers don’t feel silly doing it and they don’t feel like they’re wasting the person’s time. Because just like on this interview, if I like fumble over my words, I’m gonna want to do over. I’m gonna go, ‘I wish I would have thought of that.’ When you ask the same question in a slightly different way, you’re giving your customer or client that do over, you’re giving your interviewee, I should say, the ability to go, ‘Oh, yeah, and this,’ right? To be human on a call.”
How to get customers to willingly give you case study fodder
If the actual interview isn’t the case study bottleneck, systematically getting new people to say “yes” usually is.
Joel’s Ace is a SaaS favorite: the Net Promoter Score (NPS). In other words, you start with running surveys consistently to a wide audience, then segment and follow up with your Promoters.
“It starts with NPS scores, where we’re gonna see overall, like how we’re doing, who are advocates, who are detractors. Sometimes we’ll do kind of NPS scores with one or two questions. We’ll ask them like results, like, ‘What kind of impact are we having for you?’ And we’ll just get these little tidbits kind of throughout the year. You don’t want to inundate people. You can’t do this monthly, like, especially if you have a big client base, you’re gonna really exasperate them.”
If monthly is too often, Joel recommends quarterly check-ins to see who’s experienced what, keeping an eye out for “who’s ready to give a story.”
Beyond consistent, time-based surveys, Joel also recommends looking at your onboarding process.
“Software clients will start asking one question when someone signs up and that is, ‘What brought you in today?’ or, ‘What was going on your life that sent you looking for us?’ Now, one question gives us an opening that throughout the relationship we can pull back to how are we doing on this thing that you told us was important to you? And instead of just checking in with these impersonal like, how’s stuff going, now we can orient it around the goal they care about, and as they start seeing results in that area they’re recognizing the value as well, that communication is there too.”
Even review sites like G2 Crowd can be a goldmine, giving you a ready-made pool of people who are already willingly sharing their experience online.
Incentivizing customers, whether that’s through app-based credits or gift cards, can sometimes work to increase response rates. But not always. And the ‘incentive’ often doesn’t have to be grand.
For example, telling customers you’re going to “feature them” on your site can often outperform requests like “Can we do a case study?.”
“It doesn’t always have to be the free iPad contests and stuff like that,” confirms Joel. “You have to determine what’s actually valuable to the people that you try to incentivize.”
Another tactic is to include case study or testimonial clauses into the initial customer agreement. But again, you have to be careful with how it’s communicated.
“It can still feel like an unwelcome surprise because a huge corporate client’s legal team is gonna tear your contract, like tear through and notice everything. But let’s say that you’re like a mid-sized SaaS and you’re dealing with smaller companies. Guys like me, I mean, let’s be honest, I read the contracts I sign but I’m not a lawyer and I might miss something. So we always advise clients like, yeah, include it and let them know, have a conversation during onboarding, and say, ‘Hey, we often do this,’ but make sure you highlight it. Make sure you point out like, ‘Just so you know, this is why this is in here. You’re never gonna be conned into being part of a case study. You’re never gonna be in a situation where you’re like now obligated, you know, against your will to share results.’ That doesn’t make for a good story, but use it as a talking point.
But what do you do with customers who don’t agree to share data?
Because let’s be real:
Some companies like to think they’re a bunch of special snowflakes. Like, what they’re doing is so important and secretive and groundbreaking, that they won’t agree to share anything with you — despite their positive experience.
Joel says don’t worry. You can still get mileage out of these customers… if you know how to do it.
“Keep in mind that the big thing people go to case studies for is the results piece. And so if we have to anonymize the name of the company but we can keep the result, then the factor that plays in most is specificity.”
Here’s how Joel’s previously gotten over this hump:
“A customer had a client who was just not willing to be named. They still really wanted to tell that story so we went, ‘Okay, here’s what we’re gonna do. We’re gonna give the people in the interview gender in specific pseudonyms.’ So names that could be men or women. And what we’d ask is, ‘We wanna keep your quotes, we want to keep most quotes preserved. We’ll give you names nobody can look up. We’ll give you…you know, if you need us to, you know, slightly change the title, not in a deceitful way but if you don’t want to be, you know, VP of whatever, like we’ll find out an ethical way to do that that’s not misleading, but let us keep your quotes in.’
In other words, include as much specific information as possible around the result they received and their experience (the stuff your future customers actually care about), while keeping any sensitive information like names or industries anonymized.
Video is the future for case studies. But proceed with caution.
No one needs another video marketing stat. No one needs another video usage data point.
You know, we know, everyone knows it’s how people prefer content consumption.
The problem is that they’re hard–like, really hard–to pull off properly. There’s lighting. The talent’s delivery. Sound. The story. And, of course, production quality to bring it all together (or, the missing ingredient from that video at the top of the page).
Text-based case studies, on the other hand, are relatively easy to produce. You can record a private interview with someone, and then you have days to massage the language or edit after to make sure it’s exactly what you (and the interviewee) wanted.
Unfortunately, you don’t have that same luxury with video.
“The thing is we can’t screw up a dozen of them because they are high stakes, expensive assets.”
True to form, it took Case Study Buddy a few tries to nail the process down.
“When it comes to video we look for people who can put people at ease and help them feel comfortable and get the story and in the minimum amount of time and let them know, ‘Hey, it’s okay to have a bad take.’”
Finding good partners to rely on has also helped Joel figure out which parts of the process to own and scale.
“I know writing and writing process. If I had to try to figure out editing and all of this stuff for video on my own, Case Study Buddy would never do video.”
Video also requires a more fluid approach. You still need to prep people, give them homework, and make them feel comfortable. But you can’t exactly script the entire thing, either. The key is to flesh out the story arc ahead of time so that you’re not expecting to find it while shooting.
“We definitely don’t script it to the point that it feels manufactured artificially. You still want it to turn each person into a storyteller on the camera. So yes, you need to have a story arc, and I think that’s where I learned the value of, okay, having that call beforehand and pre-qualifying them and hearing them tell parts of their story ahead of time. And then yeah, you kind of map out, okay, these are the things that we need to learn. So you go in knowing the story, but you still leave room to be surprised, you still leave room to be natural. And then yeah, for the sake of logistics and shooting, you have a very tight control over this is what we’re asking, this is how we’re asking it, and these are the things we want to cover. So there’s more prep work, there’s more legwork, there’s more risks, and these are already risky to do, but by pre-qualifying and making them comfortable ahead of time, you maximize your opportunity of getting the best possible story on the day.”
How (and where) to promote case studies once you have them
“Oh yeah, a Resources page is my favorite page on most sites.”
Said no one ever.
Getting case studies completed is good. Better if you make it a frequent, systematic part of the process. All steps in the right direction.
But that content will still ultimately rely 💯% on your distribution strategy. Creation ain’t distribution.
So yeah, tick the boxes:
✅Case study page
✅PPC landing pages
However, these still aren’t good enough. For instance, here’s a much better idea that Joel likes to use:
“So cold outreach. There are studies that have shown mentioning a famous customer in the email triples the number of positive responses you get to that cold outreach. And I would argue (and we’re looking forward to testing), just mentioning any customer and a specific result in a cold pitch, a relevant cold pitch, will do better. So we focus a lot right now on helping equip the sales team and for cold outreach and having these on landing pages and trip wires and that kind of thing.”
Step #1. Think: sales enablement.
Step #2. Revive dead leads.
“So if you have somebody that came in with a goal and if you are doing what we’re telling clients to do, which is asking what brought you to us today, and they churn, you know why they came. And people churn for all kinds of reasons. Maybe they were just too busy to really check it out. Maybe they’re unimpressed with it. But now you’ve got a kernel of information. If you have a case study that counters that or that shows someone like them got a result they wanted or that shows, now you can reach back out to them and it’s a natural conversation. You can go back to them and say, ‘Hey, I saw that you didn’t sign up. Just thought you should see this. Here’s a company that achieved this.’ And now you’ve kind of instead of sending an email, like, ‘Hey, where’d you go?’ It’s like a natural, you know, here’s a story you might be interested in. So cold outreach is really interesting, reviving dead leads is really interesting.”
Step #3. Onboarding campaigns.
“Onboarding campaigns for software, come on. Like these are people actively trying to find success on your platform. Tell them a story about how someone else found success or whoever. It doesn’t have to be software. But when your onboarding somebody use them there. Tell people to feel confident about their decision.”
And, as always in marketing, you get bonus points for relevancy. That means segmenting people appropriately so you can give them industry-specific results.
“The whole thing from actually getting people interested in what you do because case studies are a results-based asset to nurturing someone by making them feel comfortable with their decision to up-selling them once they’re on your platform like, ‘Hey, you’re on our, you know, our medium plan. Here’s an example, this company, just so you know, they upgraded to premium and here’s this great result they got.’”
Funnel stage, like top vs. bottom, is less of an issue for Joel.
“It totally depends on your agency or your business or your software or whatever your goals are. For example, there are four tiers. There’s the service that you provide, the problems you solve, industries you serve, the services you provide, and the role that you appeal to. But I think I wouldn’t start necessarily with funnel stage because you could apply that story after the fact but you wanna think about the… Like in a hierarchy if you start with service or just problem solved, service, the industry, and the role, if you can tell a story to a very specific role that’s a hyper-specific story. So I wouldn’t start with funnel necessarily but it comes down to, well, what do you wanna use it for? Are you trying to grow into an industry? Are you trying to communicate yourself certain problem? Both? So you have to define for yourself where and how are we trying to grow and then you’ll know the stories you need to tell to do that.”
You don’t have to create stories. Just go find them.
At the end of the day, underneath the flashy production and slick design, a case study needs to tell a story.
The problem is that you can’t always manufacture that story after the fact. There’s only so much lipstick you can put on a pig.
Instead, Joel recommends identifying those stories ahead of time. Do that, and your odds of producing successful case studies–one after another–are much higher.
“We’re starting to be more proactive in saying, ‘This is the type of story we want,’ who fits the bill and that’s where that surveying and having a system ongoing so that you can go through your list and say, ‘Oh, okay. Here’s a client who we’re solving this problem for them in this vertical, whatever.’ You won’t always get that level of specificity, but it pays, I think, to go looking for the right story than to just discover it.”