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Preparing a tailored case study questionnaire is one of the key elements in a successful case study initiative. Yet too many companies overlook this important step.

Does this sound familiar? A sales reps approaches you about a customer all revved up to participate in a case study. You grab your case study questionnaire and send it off to the customer with a meeting invite. Soon you – or your hired writer – are interviewing the customer. And my bet is that you and your sales team won’t be happy with the results.

binocularsWhy? If you don’t use a tailored case study questionnaire, all your case studies will sound the same. Your sales reps won’t have access to case studies that show various situations and benefits. And your prospects will likely assume that your solutions apply to a limited set of circumstances.

So how can you make sure each of your case studies tells a unique and compelling story? Find out as much as possible about the customer’s situation, needs, and results. And that research starts before the interview. Here’s where to look.

1. Background form. Ideally your sales reps will fill out a case study background form when they nominate a candidate. Be sure to ask what proof points the customer should be able to share that demonstrate the value of the solution or service. Also inquire about aspects of the engagement that should be highlighted in the story. For instance, was the implementation time frame unusually short?

2. Employees and partners. Touch base with the account manager, customer service reps, professional service consultants, and any other employees who have interacted with the customer. (If relevant, get in touch with your partners too.) Ask them for any materials they’ve created for the account, such as sales pitch documents, RFPs, and presentations. Find out if the customer has shared any materials it may have created about its relationship with your company. And while you’re at it, ask these folks to summarize their recent interactions with the customer, whether positive or negative. (Positives experiences can lead to interesting questions while negative ones can help you avoid touchy topics.)

3. Google. Search on “customer name” + “your company name” and you might be surprised at the results. Sometimes customers reference their use of solutions in conference presentations, trade publication articles, webinars, and annual reports. Also conduct a search on “customer name” + “case study.” You might glean some interesting tidbits about the customer’s company or situation from case studies produced by other solution providers.

4. Annual reports. As I mentioned above, annual reports sometimes include reference to products the company is using. But if Google doesn’t serve up a relevant result, you should still take a look at the customer’s annual report if they’re a publicly traded company. You can often find mention of strategic initiatives and goals that might tie in nicely to the story you’re hoping to tell. Heck, you might even come up with an angle you hadn’t even considered.

Once you’ve gathered this background information, insert customer-specific questions into the interview questionnaire. You’ll be well on your way to producing a unique and interesting story.