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Your Guide to Writing Compelling IIoT Case Studies
Case studies are your primary tool for building trust and awareness in your IoT solutions
Published on 09/29/2016 | Market Sizing
Sales of Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) solutions are constrained by a general lack of experience and credibility. Nobody wants to be the first user of a costly solution. You need to establish trust by demonstrating your ability to deliver solutions that provide an attractive ROI with an acceptable level of implementation risk.
A case study's purpose is to court prospects, not praise past work. However, there is nowhere that evidence of successful past project is more valuable than in the Industrial IoT. This guide provides an overview for writing and broadcasting compelling case studies that will:
- Demonstrate the kinds of problems you are good at solving
- Highlight the unique capabilities of your solutions
- Illustrate how your customers evaluated your performance
- Show your ability to manage successful customer relationships
- Provide quantitative proof of the value of your solutions
You can tell your customers that you're great at X and that you're light-years ahead of the competition when it comes to Y and Z, but at the end of that day, that's just sales talk. What you need to win new business is cold, hard proof.
Step 1: Identify Use Cases that Your Ideal Customer Relates to
Case studies are success stories. Real IIoT success cases are rare, and for that reason potential customers value them highly.
In order to provide your sales team with stories that will lead to project discussions, you need to have a definitive plan for identifying which stories your customers will relate to. There are 5 characteristics that may indicate a winning case study candidate:
1. Strong Relationships: The more a customer trusts you and your solution the better. This will help to ensure that they can speak to the value of what you offer with sufficient depth to make sense to potential customers.
2. Switchers: Conversely, customers that came to you after trying a competitor's solution can highlight your competitive advantages and provide an ideal storyline to explain how you differentiate.
3. Exemplary Results: IIoT solutions are about creating business value. You need to illustrate this value with real data. The customers that have seen the best results are going to contribute to the strongest case studies. Also, if their results are excellent it is more likely that they will agree to contribute to a case study for you.
4. Unexpected Success: The IIoT is a world of niches. Many of your potential customers could be non-traditional. Thus, non-traditional customers that have seen positive results can help to illustrate the value of your solution across a wide range of situations.
5. Recognizable Names: At the end of the day, decision makers trust brands. Small companies may have powerful stories, but leading brands will enhance the credibility of your case studies.
To get the right case study participants on board, you have to explain 'what's in it for them'. As with any sale, this comes down to understanding how you can support their goals. Many companies (and professionals) want to brand themselves as IIoT thought leaders. This can be the starting point of your request since the case study features your customer as much as it features your company.
To ensure smooth communication, you need to set expectations and determine a well-defined timeline. The primary reason that case studies are delayed is due to the customer not having a timeline or sufficient authorization to approve the case study. Make sure that you have covered all of the bases before you commit.
To avoid a delay, you should kick off the process with an introduction email that explains expectations for both you and your customer. This could include:
- A clear explanation of why you are creating this case study and how it will be used.
- A statement defining the information you expect to include about the company -- names, logos, job titles, pictures, etc.
- A summary of expectations, such as interviews to gather input into project results.
- Identification of any compensation you plan to offer (such as perhaps a discount on future work).
Step 2: Accumulate the Case Background, Data, and Customer Input
You case study needs three types of content, which should all be accumulated prior to drafting: a clear storyline, data that demonstrates value, and customer input that potential customers can relate to.
Let's start with the storyline. There are four areas that are important to explain in any case study and two that are optional and contingent on your customer's willingness to share operational details:
1. The Customer: Your readers will better relate to the case study if they understand your customer's business. How long have you been in business? How many employees do you have? Which department was involved in the project? What were their priorities?
2. The Challenge: The solution is only valuable insofar as it addresses a real challenge. What challenges and goals led the customer to look for a solution? What would have happened if they did not identify a solution?
3. The Decision Process (optional): Understanding how the customer arrived at their decision helps to guide the decision-making process of potential customers. Did they explore other solutions prior to yours that did not work out? How did you hear about our product or service? Who was involved in the selection process? What was most important to you when evaluating your options?
4. The Implementation (optional): Focus on exploring their experience during the onboarding process. How long did it take to get up and running? Did the timeline meet expectations? Who was involved in the process?
5. The Solution: Help readers to better understand how the customer is using your solution. What are the software, hardware, and service elements of the solutions? Is there a particular aspect of the solution that your customer relies on most? Which departments are using the solution?
6. The Results: Illustrate impressive measurable outcomes using data. How has the solution helped to achieve your customer's goals? Which processes changed after implementation and how? How has your customer's competitive advantage been enhanced? How much have you improves metrics X, Y, and Z?
Next up is data. After you have a firm outline, it should be clear which data you need to make your case. The challenge is generally in collection.
Data can be collected during interviews, from customer databases via written request, or from your own databases if you are aggregating customer data. In the last case, it is very important that you ask for written permission to publicly disseminate the data despite the data that it already resides in your organization.
However you acquire the data, you must make sure it is meaningful. Have you ever read a case study that claimed they “halved energy costs” for the customer and wondered if that meant they went from to $200 per month to $100 per month or $2,000,000 per month to $1,000,000 per month? Avoid ambiguous meaning. Use both percentages and real numbers (or at least magnitudes) to build credibility.
Finally, ask the right questions to gather input your potential customers can relate to.
Once you have a strong questionnaire template, a 60-minute interview (or a detailed written response) should be sufficient. The interview will illustrate your customer's experience with working with you. Set yourself up for success by asking the right questions. Here are a few winners to get you started:
- What were your goals? Has our solution helped to achieve them? Please explain.
- What challenges were you experiencing? How have your situation and processes changed following implementation? Please explain.
- Why did our solution stand out against our competitors? What aspects have you found most valuable? Please explain.
- How has this solution impacted your competitiveness as a company? Please explain.
Whether you interview by phone, in person, or via a written questionnaire, I recommend that you follow the "Golden Rules of Interviewing" - Ask open-ended questions.
Yes or no answers will not inspire potential customers. You need details to build credibility. This can be accomplished by including some variation of 'Please explain" at the end of every question. Remember, silence is your friend. People tend to fill a silence with details.
Step 3: Design a Well-Structured Case Study
A great case study is substantial but streamlined. It needs to communicate a lot of detail to a busy decision maker. Structure is key.
There are two types of case studies, long-form and short-firm, and most companies should produce a mix of both. The format of a particular story will depend largely on how much detail the featured customer is willing to share.
Long-Form Case Study
- Frequency: Monthly or quarterly
- Length: 1,000 – 2,000 words
- Target persona: Decision makers, business managers, technical managers
- Strategic focus: Aspirational; cutting edge projects that brand us as a leader
Short-Form Case Study
- Frequency: Weekly or monthly
- Length: ~500 words
- Target persona: Senior decision makers who will not read long-form case studies
- Strategic focus: Representative; the kind of work we routinely do
Regardless of the form, a compelling case study will include seven types of content.
1. Title: Keep it short. Highlight the most compelling accomplishment
2. Executive Summary: Summarize the customer, challenge, solution, and result in 3-4 sentences. Support this with 2-3 bullet points that display metrics showcasing success.
3. The Customer: 1 paragraph is generally sufficient. Avoid defining the customer too narrowly. You want other potential customers to see themselves in this case.
4. The Challenges: This section should include 2-3 paragraphs describing the customer's challenges and goals prior to implementing your solution. As with the customer, you want to ensure that your reader's associate with these challenges and goals.
5. The Solution: This section should include 2-3 paragraphs that focus on describing your solution, including the implementation process (if possible).
6. The Results: This section should include 2-3 paragraphs that prove how your solution impacted the person or company and helped them achieve their goals. Data and before-after comparisons are particularly convincing.
7. Supporting Visuals or Quotes: Use bullet lists, side boxes, and other design features to highlight several quotes and data visuals that support your storyline.
After the case study is composed, send a draft to your customer to give them a chance to provide feedback. Once any necessary edits are completed, send a final version of the case study to your customer for final approval. After the case study goes live, send the link to your customer and any technology partners that were featured in the case study and ask them to share the link with their network.
Step 4: Catalogue Your Case in IoT ONE's Case Study Database
What’s the point of having great case studies if no one will ever read them? Be sure that your case studies are organized and easy to find. IoT ONE works hard to match the right audience and solution by categorizing case studies by:
- Functional area (or department)
- Enabled capability (i.e., what your solution enabled your customer to do)
- Hardware, software, and service (across 21 categories)
- Connectivity protocols (for companies that prioritize brownfield compatibility)
The process of uploading a case study to IoT ONE takes 5-10 minutes. The majority of the work involves simply cutting-and-pasting text or checking boxes. Here are the steps you will follow:
1. Signup: If you do not yet have an account, you can signup at www.iotone.com/signup . If your company does not yet have a vendor account, you can create one at www.iotone.com/vendor/add. This can be as simple as adding your company name, logo and website. However, we recommend that you take 5 minutes to create a complete company overview.
2. Upload New Case Study: You can upload your new case study through your Admin Panel or at www.iotone.com/casestudy/add.
3. Meta Tags: Make sure your case is searchable by selecting the relevant vendor name, industries, functions, capabilities, protocols, and technologies.
4. Description: Give your case study a title and overview description.
5. Benefits: Share how your solution benefited your customer. Under 'operational impacts' you can identify qualitative process improvements, and under 'quantitive benefits' you can identify improvements in metrics.
6. Technology: Use our lookup fields to link to any software or hardware solutions that were featured in the case study. You can also identify technology partners that you would like to highlight.
We'll share your new case study to our audience of end users and IIoT solution providers over IoT ONE, Twitter, LinkedIn, and our newsletter. You can also broadcast your success by sharing the link with customers and partners.
Step 5: Visualize the Technologies Used in Your Case Study
While some people enjoy reading, others prefer a more dynamic way to explore a case study. We have recently launched the beta version of a dynamic, drag-and-drop tool call the IoT Playbook that will allow you (and your customers) to visualize solutions in practice.
The tool's features will include:
- Drag hardware and software from databases to build your visualization
- Indicate compatibility between hardware components
- Upload an image as the playbook background (ranging from legacy hardware, to a warehouse interior, to a factory blueprint, to a city map)
- Allow your customers to create their own playbooks to explore how your technology can be used
- Build playbooks in real time at sales meetings, or embed them in your marketing documents
The system is currently under beta testing. I will update this post following launch.