Want Great Case Study Interviews? Ask These 3 Great Questions

This post was written by John White on Fri, 25 Feb 2011 05:01:59 +0000
Posted Under: case studies,interviewing customers

The interview’s the thing, wherein you’ll catch the conscience of the…customer. Three easily overlooked questions for your case study interviews.

3 great case study questionsWant a great case study? Make sure your marketing communications writer asks great questions.

There’s a bit more to it than that, of course. You need to be sure that you’ve chosen an interviewee who is relatively talkative and who likes your product. It’s no fun being on the phone with a customer who either doesn’t talk much or who spends the time hammering you for improvements and product details.

But assuming you’ve got a live one, what questions should you have your writer ask?

The usual suspects

Be sure these – or similar – questions are on your crib sheet. (I recommend sending them to the interviewee ahead of time, but I don’t recommend assuming that s/he will have read them. They rarely do.)

  • How did you find out about our product?
  • Tell me about your process of choosing our product.
  • What are the three biggest problems it helps you solve? (Hope for two, anyway.)
  • How did you solve those problems before?
  • How much time/money/blood/sweat/tears are you saving with our product? (Customers rarely go on record with this kind of quantifiable testimonial, but try anyway. Ask twice.)

Those are the war horses, and any professional writer can put together a nice, utilitarian, formulaic case study with the answers. If your marketing writer isn’t coming back with the answers to them, think about looking for a new one.

Don’t forget, though, that people want to read a story.

3 great questions

Is anybody using your product in ways that you hadn’t predicted?

Uncommon, unanticipated uses of your product – even uses for which your product wasn’t really intended – show readers that you’re selling more than a one-trick pony.

One of my clients sells an IT service management product whose buyers are constantly amazed at how co-workers in other departments want to use it as well. HR, testing and product management groups see how versatile Service-now.com is and immediately begin to hatch plots of getting their own licenses and apps.

I used to work for a company with a data compression software product that saved space on your hard drive (back when that was a problem). Because the data are compressed, they’re effectively encrypted as well, and one large customer bought the product, disabled the compression, and used it to transport confidential data.

Have you done anything famous with our product?

Your reader may not know anything about your customer’s company, but if your product was used in a famous context, it’s a big talking point.

“I used your software to design an accelerometer,” said a customer of one of my clients during an interview, “and a Chinese partner built it into a goodie bag item given to all attendees at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.” Cha-ching – instant recognition.

Do you have any stories or anecdotes? Did anything interesting happen while you were installing our product? Any war stories?

This is a real grab-bag, and if the interviewee happens to be a bit of a raconteur, s/he will run with it. These anecdotes make for good reading.

Put yourself in the place of your reader: Your job is to plow through the marketing content from several competing suppliers and narrow the field. Whether you’re shopping for knife blades, blade servers or blades of grass, wouldn’t it be more pleasant to read a decent story or two along the way? What are you more likely to say at lunch with your colleagues: “I read a great brochure today,” or “I came across a good story in a case study”?

And don’t forget…

A couple more things on case studies:

  • Remember to confirm the interviewee’s job title. The piece looks silly without it, so you may as well get it early on.
  • I find that 45 minutes is the ideal length for an interview. A half-hour is too short and an hour is too long.

What do you have your marketing communications writers look for in a case study interview?

John White of venTAJA Marketing is a marketing communications writer for technology companies. He posts about technology writing from the perspective of the marketing manager. It’s dirty work, but somebody has to do it. Download his eBook, “10 Questions to Ask When Hiring Your Marketing Communications Writer.”

photo credit: Xurble

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