A range of trends in the consulting industry – from changing client behaviour, to growing competition and the rise of digital marketplaces – means that it is becoming increasingly difficult for consultancy firms to differentiate themselves and their offerings from competitors. One of the key differentiators within the business development space is the use of case studies, which, if successful, can help consultancies stand out from the crowd. Sarah Dillingham, founder of Case Study Ninja, a platform that helps firms create and distribute case studies, provides five tips for creating compelling customer stories of consulting engagements.
Everyone has access to exactly the same client information online. As a result, costly, time-consuming client research has become a prerequisite for winning business, rather than any strategy to help firms stand out from the crowd. Consulting firms have a particularly difficult job to poke their proverbial heads above the parapet, when so many competitors offer the same or similar services.
Yes – you can try and differentiate with a snazzy all bells and whistles website, funky brochure material, competitive price lists and key messaging around enhanced customer service. But let’s face it – this is exactly what you’re competitors are going to do too. So really, you are potentially back to square one regarding market differentiation if you go down this route alone.
Ultimately, no matter how upfront you are with your marketing messages, prospects are increasingly not prepared to just “take your word for it” when you explain to them why you’re the best consultancy to meet their needs. They want cold, hard proof of your skills and abilities and real-world examples of how you have helped previous clients successfully.
Good client stories are also more effective than brochures and traditional sales collateral because at the end of the day, everyone loves a good story. A picture paints a thousand words. The stories you share ultimately paint pictures, evoke emotions and give your consultancy service offerings a sticky power that remains in potential client’s minds.
Five tips for good consulting case studies
No one can sell your services better than your clients, so it is imperative that you give your client stories the attention they rightfully deserve. A bad case study that’s lengthy, verbose and packed full of jargon is going to be potentially alienating, rather than engaging – and in many cases, could be worse than having no case study at all. If you want to create a good case study that gets read and gets results, keep these five tips in mind:
- Create the right story: Ultimately a case study is a story about solving a problem. Detail the challenge that the client faced, the solution to that challenge and the benefits that were gained. Your project approach here is your differentiator. Consider which success stories will be most appealing to the type of clients you are trying to attract, and which ones will ultimately support your business goals – such as breaking into new markets.
- Make it easy on the eye and easy to read: Format your case study with clear headlines, subheads, bullets and bold and italicised text. Think about incorporating strong and reinforcing infographics to demonstrate success, not just text. Consider different formats, such as video or podcasts in the bid to create ever more exciting stories.
- Brevity is the soul of …clarity: Case studies should be concise and ideally under 1,000 words unless they are very technically specific. You can always link your case study to other supporting documents online, so you do not need to be salesy.
- Write to brand guidelines or a template: Have a clearly thought out brand style and feel to all your stories to ensure consistency, and make sure these are available to all authors.
- Store your stories in a centrally-accessible database: Make sure your database is also easily searchable, by tagging case studies with a range of metadata, such as whether the story has client sign-off, etc. Your bid manager and marketing team will thank you for it.
Case studies are a powerful way to answer the most important questions the prospect has about your service. Can this consultancy firm really get the job done? And in a timely fashion? Does the consultancy firm have up-to-date knowledge and proven expertise? Is the firm innovative and agile in its approach to finding workable solutions to difficult situations? Has the service positively impacted the bottom line with cost or time efficiency savings?
Good client stories are the foundation of the “why” behind your service, and provide a powerful vehicle to assert your authority within the industry. The uniqueness of each well-written or visually appealing success story is the equivalent of wearing a bright green, fluorescent jumper to a board meeting full of dark grey suits. There’s simply no need to drown in the sea of sameness if you can shout about your client successes well. So put case studies at the top of your business agenda now, and make sure you write them up and organise them effectively.
Sarah Dillingham founded Case Study Ninja early 2016, after a career of more than 20 years in knowledge management. She has served companies globally and in the UK, including National Audit Office, KPMG, HM Treasury, EY, Tribal Group, PwC, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and IBM.