When I was a newbie writer, one thing always terrified me.
Just the thought of interviewing someone made me sweat. I look back now and laugh, but seriously – I used to get my stomach in such knots. Luckily, I’ve learned some tricks of the trade since then. But why should you care?
Two words: case studies.
A case study is essentially an interview with a happy client. And as you know, case studies boost your credibility, answer your prospect’s questions, eliminate your prospect’s fears, and knock out your competition – all in 400-800 carefully chosen words. It’s actually easier than you think. Conducting a great interview is the hardest part…and I can help you there.
Come to the table prepared
There’s no substitution for due diligence. Make sure you know everything about your client’s story: the entire account history, to be sure, but also what else is going on in your client’s life. Visit your client’s website, investigate his competition, and learn about his industry. With a full picture of your client’s business, you’ll ask more insightful questions.
Now, think about the story your case study will tell. And the story had better not just be about how great you are. Dig deeper; the case study should explain the specific problems your client was facing and the specific results your solution achieved. Identify a goal for the interview: particular details and answers you need to uncover to round out the story.
You may find you need to interview more than one person within your client’s company. Go for it, but try to conduct each interview separately. Two shorter interviews are easier to manage than one interview with multiple people and multiple agendas that can quickly spiral out of control.
Help your client think about specifics
With your goal in mind, list 5 – 10 questions for your interviewees, and send them out several days before the interview. This is especially conducive to getting answers about your client’s ROI.
Getting quantifiable details from an interviewee can be challenging. It helps to ask your client questions about their “before” and “after” scenarios. You can also suggest specific metrics to help them frame their answers – for example, “Other clients have found that our software decreased their order fulfillment time by 4 days. Would you say your results were similar?”
It’s also a good business practice to benchmark every new client’s situation, and then take new measurements after the sale. Quantifiable results put meat on the bones of a good case study.
Get quote-worthy comments
There’s an old adage in writing: show, don’t tell. You can accomplish this by using the client’s own words to make a point. I try to do this at least three times in my case studies.
First, I include a quote with the client identifying his initial problem.
Then, further down, I include a quote where the client explains why he chose this particular solution.
And finally, for a strong finish, I let the client explain the top benefit he’s experienced as a result.
For quote-worthy comments, avoid “yes” and “no” questions. Instead of, “Did you find it easy to install our software,” ask, “What made installing our software so easy?” Also ask lots of “why” questions, or questions that start with, “Tell me about…”
Of course, asking the question is one thing; getting the answer down on paper is another. I usually tape my interviews with an inexpensive digital recorder that lets me download the interview as an mp3 file directly to my computer. (Ask permission first before taping any conversation.) I also take notes during the interview. Trust me, technology can fail, and I’ve learned the hard way that back-ups are lifesavers.
When I take notes, I use my own shorthand variation that lets me keep up with the interviewee. I don’t include small words like “the” and “a”, and I eliminate punctuation and most vowels. So if a client says, “The software works great; we were surprised how easy it was,” my notes will say, “sftwr wks grt w wr sprsd hw ez t ws”. Immediately after the interview, while it’s still fresh in my head and my notes will hopefully still make sense to me, I transcribe my notes into the full sentences. Between my notes and my recording, I can be sure I’ve got accurate quotes.
So there you have it – no need for butterflies in the stomach. With these easy interview techniques, you’ll be crafting business-winning case studies in no time!