How To Get The Best From a Freelance B2B Case Study Writer
Video 03: The Writer’s Experience
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An edited transcript of the conversation is provided below.
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Video 03: Edited Transcript
We’re into the writer’s experience topic now.
And this is about why a b2b marketing manager should consider hiring someone to write their case studies and customer success stories.
There are lots of case study writers out there, Pamela. What’s the benefit of hiring a case study specialist?
Well, I think hiring someone who truly understands how to structure a case study, how to ask the questions that are necessary for a case study, is important.
Many marketing departments have to provide a lot of content but yet they can’t be specialists in every area.
That’s why it can be very helpful to hire someone who truly understands how to grasp the marketing message that the company is trying to convey, crafts the questions that speak to those messages, and can work with different departments within your company, as well as with your client’s.
B2B case study writing takes time and can often require skills best provided via a specialist, independent third party writer.
A hiring company may also feel more comfortable with a writer who is not an employee. This is because they can get a good inside story (from the customer) simply by not being part of the same marketing department.
The freelance success-story writer is not going to have the same ‘corporate blinders’ on; and they can therefore approach the story with an open mind.
Pamela, you made a good point there.
In my experience with b2b technology customers, they seem to value having an independent person doing the customer interview. So far, I haven’t done any interviews where the client (who hired me) has been on the call.
Of course, customers don’t always speak freely and admit to everything that didn’t meet their expectations. However, they’re definitely more prepared to talk about issues than they would be with an account rep listening in on the call.
Mark, I’ve been thinking is it a good idea to include some of those negative things that you might hear in a call, and concluded that it’s often very effective to include little hitches that may have occurred as the customer was implementing the product because it makes the story much more real.
If a customer is only going to give you the sugarcoated version, it doesn’t necessarily have the same authenticity as if you really do hear the full story. And so, if they’re more comfortable telling a third party that complete story, I think you might get a more effective case study.
Yeah, that’s also interesting for the computer networking market.
Many of the technical people may not be budget-holders, but they’re influencers. They influence the big IT spending decisions.
They will often say that case studies are ‘biased’ because they only ever feature successful customers having wonderful things happen to them!
And every techie (and their managers!) know that a whole bunch of issues arise every time you bring in a new vendor or change kit. That’s why having a degree of real life experience built into the case study is very helpful.
Therefore, if your writer is able to get that type of background information from the customer on the call, then it provides a much better sense of what happened.
This information can then be matched up with a briefing from the hiring client, as to what the customer is doing, what issues they had etc.
I think those two things together assist the writer in coming up with a powerful story because you can:
1) add some positive spin to the customer’s issues that makes everybody look good (which is what you’re hired for) and;
2) be realistic and pragmatic with your writing.
That’s right, Mark.
Case studies are one of the tools that you use to establish trust and credibility.
And so they have to be believable; they have to be true.
And that’s a crucial thing too, as the social internet takes off and customers are talking and listening to other customers, even leaving out the vendors completely.
People now have the ability to easily share stories, and if a case study is saying one thing but, in actual fact, it was a nightmare and there was a disaster going on behind the scenes, then it’s not beyond the bounds of possibility that the truth will get out there on the internet and the case study will look ridiculous.
Therefore, you have to tread a fine line between giving everybody a good story that they can be happy with, and at the same time, explaining that this was hard work and a lot went into making it a success (including your product.)
Exactly. OK Mark, if I have a business that’s fairly technical do I need to hire a case study writer in my industry, or can a general case study writer do the work?
For a customer success story writer, this is the proverbial ‘length of a piece of string question’, isn’t it!
The answer is: “I don’t know, to be honest!”
But I’m biased, I’ll admit upfront, I’m biased. It’s why I’ve focused on IT networking because I’ve come out of that industry.
However, I have listened to other case study writers, as well as our mentor, Casey Hibbard, talk about it.
And I’ve qualified my position to: “it depends, it depends.”
For example, an experienced case study writer probably can handle assignments in multiple niches. In fact, I know writers who are doing that, working in multiple areas.
However, I think the positive side of being an industry specialist is that you can often add more depth to the writing because you’ve been immersed in the customer’s world from background experience and reading.
You can also bring a degree of enthusiasm to the stories, especially if these customers are highly technical, and they’re just talking about ‘bits and bytes’ during the interviews.
This attention to tech details can be ‘numbing’ to people from the sales and business side.
However, a b2b writer who’s familiar with the industry can get behind the ‘geek speak’, and really extract the powerful emotional story that resulted in their choosing your company’s solution.
I also think enthusiasm can be infectious, in the positive sense of the meaning. And a writer who is really interested in a topic will (often) stand out over a generalist who lacks an appreciation for some of the technical challenges and achievements around which the case study is based.
Now, there will be exceptions, of course, but I think any hiring marcoms manager would be advised check out that freelancer’s interests and experience in the topic.
Even if you decide to go with a generalist because they’ve got tremendous credentials, great samples and come highly recommended, sometimes it’s worth looking at the technical background of that person, especially if your case study is aimed at a technical audience.
But if it’s aimed at a more business (C-Level), senior executive audience, you maybe don’t need that degree of technical specialization.
OK. Well, Mark, I’m more of a generalist but I do agree with you that for very technical case studies it certainly benefits the writer to have the technical background.
However, if you’re doing case studies that are more business-to-business, management, marketing issues, I think that a good case study writer who is able to truly understand the overall issues and tell a compelling story can certainly write an effective case study as well.
I’d agree with that, even though I’ve stated my position on one particular niche. (And it’s really more for marketing, why I’m positioning my business like that.)
Right. OK, it was a good answer.
The next question asks: what’s a good way to really get a sense of how good a writer a candidate is?
Is it references? Writing samples?
What do you think, Pamela?
Well, we just talked about if you’re going to be hiring a case study writer; I think you do need to look at references but that’s just a small sample.
I’ve heard people say that LinkedIn references are even more effective than references because this is just a higher process that you have to do in order to get those.
But beyond the references, I think you need to look at samples of the actual work.
It doesn’t necessarily have to be a case study, although that’s very effective.
It can be articles that they’ve written, research that they’ve done; because you want to understand how they write, you want to understand their tone, you want to understand their ability to explain concepts persuasively.
Yes, Pamela, I hear you about the LinkedIn references and that’s something I haven’t pursued too much myself, but there are b2b writers who have tremendous LinkedIn references and those are the type of people you want to check out.
If you are able to actually talk to one of the people the writer has worked with, that can be very powerful.
In fact, that’s how I landed one or two jobs.
The hiring manager mentioned me to somebody else, who I didn’t know about, and then they contacted me; so, if you’re in a position where you can talk to somebody who has used that writer, then I think that is a very powerful thing. (If you trust their judgment.)
Exactly, Mark. So you almost need a little case study on your case study writer!
Yes! Well, if you are going to spend a lot of money on content that you want prospects to see and read, you need to do due diligence.
It just isn’t worth going out and hiring the first person on the Internet that seems to be writing what you want.
Right. You need to dig down a bit.
You know if you need a case study writer who can deal well with ambiguity.
You know if you need a case study writer who is going to hunt down those sources.
You know if you need a case study writer who is going to have a very short timeframe for getting the job done.
So those are the things that you want to find out.
In addition, you should also confirm the following:
1) Does this person get the job done on time and do they meet all deadlines?
2) Did they work well with everybody within the company?
Mark, another question you might ask as you’re looking at case study writers is, do you want this person to be your (company’s) ambassador?
What do you think about that?
I like this question and I’m glad I got it first, Pamela!
When they finally agree to an interview and they’re on the call, they see you as an extension of your client (the vendor they’re doing business with.)
To me, this is a remarkable thing because I see myself as a freelancer, working for the client.
But that’s often not the customer’s view.
They are focused on just getting their story out there and you are seen, rightly or wrongly, as an extension of the company.
Therefore I think it’s very important.
You need to be very clear that if you’re going to hire a writer and let them talk on the phone or sometimes face to face, if it’s appropriate, with your customer, that they’re going to do a good job.
They must look good.
They must be competent.
They must be able to put the customer at ease.
And perhaps most important of all: they must never waste the customer’s time.
Because the writer’s interviewing skills, punctuality and customer relationship skills are all being judged by this customer and maybe also (by) other people who are familiar with what’s going on in that company.
They might check up later on and say, “well hey, how did that interview go?” and if the customer says “oh, the writer was a terrible interviewer and he/she took two hours when I was told it was going to take just forty five minutes”; those things don’t reflect well on the hiring client.
So, yes, the case study writer needs to be an ambassador. It’s an excellent choice of words, in my opinion.
Exactly, Mark. Well, that person represents you now; as you said, the end-customer is going to consider that case study writer an extension of the hiring company and so you need to find a case study writer who is going to take on that responsibility, partner with you, and represent you well.
I agree, Pamela. And, you know, it takes a lot of experience, a lot of practice (with) interviews. I therefore recommend that you check out their interviewing style.
It’s one thing to submit a proposal in writing, or by email, but it’s a totally different thing when you say to the writer, “okay, here’s the client, here are their contact details. I’ll send an email introduction; go do your thing.”
But if you don’t know what their thing is i.e. how they’re going to actually run the interview, handle the scheduling, and deal with reticent interviewees, then it can mean a lot of problems and time wasted.
Customer interviews require a certain degree of tact, and an understanding of just how busy the customer usually is.
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