Write Your Own Success (and Failure) Case Studies

Anthony Iannarino
Post by Anthony Iannarino
May 23, 2010

To provide proof that we can achieve the outcomes that we sell and that we promise, we often use case studies. Case studies also tell the story of how we found our dream client, the dissatisfaction that were struggling with, and how we have worked together to overcome their challenges.

But the exercise of writing case studies is a lot more valuable than simply providing proof to dream clients.

Case studies can also help you to understand the major principles of sales, to develop the necessary skills and attributes, and to identify what you are doing well and what needs improvement.

Even though you might think of these case studies as after-action reviews or a win/loss analysis, I am not writing this for sales managers (although they will certainly find it useful). I am writing this for salespeople, in keeping with my strong conviction that no one is more responsible for your personal and professional development than you are.

Here are three steps to writing your personal case studies.

1. Identify the Problem that Illustrates the Rule

Good case studies start by identifying a problem that illustrates a principle or a rule. This idea is easier to understand through an example.

Example: John Doe made an appointment with the decision-maker at his dream client, XYZ Company. During his appointment, John focused on diagnosing his dream client’s major business challenges, their problems, and their opportunities. He was unable to uncover anything that indicated that his contact at XYZ Company was dissatisfied in any meaningful way, despite their spending a great deal on the services John sells. John attempted to advance the deal by presenting his best and most effective solution to the decision-maker, in hopes of creating something that would advance the sale. Now, the decision-maker won’t return his calls.

This example identifies John’s problem (John found no dissatisfaction), as well as the rule (dissatisfaction is a necessary prerequisite to a deal). Hapless John also presented his solution without having developed the dissatisfaction.

2. Identify the Actions That Lead to Success (or Failure)

Your analysis of your own story can reinforce what you have learned, or what you still need to work on (depending on how the story ends).

Example 1 (Success): John recognizing that he has a receptive dream client but that he still needs the dissatisfaction to move the deal forward, identifies an advance that might help him uncover or create dissatisfaction. He asks his dream client for an opportunity to meet with the stakeholders and end users of his service so that he can better understand their needs, promising to report what he learns to his decision-making contact.

Example 2 (Failure): By failing to develop contacts a number of levels below the decision-maker, John failed to develop the dissatisfaction necessary to make a compelling case for change at the executive level. By failing to ask for the opportunity to develop his understanding and to diagnose from an organizational level, he missed an opportunity to create value for his dream client. Now John’s calls go unanswered, and he is having trouble regaining his dream client’s attention.

3. Write Conclusions That Identify Future Actions and Behaviors

Your personal case studies, whether they are successful calls or unsuccessful calls, all serve to help you identify the behaviors that will improve your success in the future by reinforcing and codifying what is working. They allow you to identify the mistakes that have caused failures so that they can be prevented in the future. They may also help you to identify the new behaviors and actions that will prevent failures when you encounter similar situations that involve the problem and the principle in the future.

Example 1: On future sales calls where dissatisfaction is difficult to develop or to create, the outcome that may allow me to advance the sale is to gain access to other individuals throughout the organization who may be presently dissatisfied, or with whom I may be able to create dissatisfaction. I will ask for and obtain the commitment to gain access these individuals.

Example 2: On future sales calls where dissatisfaction is difficult to develop or to create, I will not attempt to sell the decision-maker on my solution. I will not try to sell without first understanding where and how I can create value for the client, as well as why they would agree to change.

This simple case contains literally dozens of examples of sales principles (or rules) and mistakes. It could easily be fleshed out to be a great teaching and learning device. They really come to life when you add additional facts and dialogue.

If you don’t know what went right, writing the fact pattern and discussing it with your peers or some trusted sales mentors can help you to identify what worked and why. If you don’t know what went wrong, it is even more helpful to understanding what sales principle you may have violated.

Chances are, if something is working, you will benefit by doing more of it. If what you are doing is not working, then the sooner you stop and identify a better method to obtaining the outcome and the advance that you seek, the better.

Writing your own case studies and analyzing the principles contained within can speed up your personal and professional development as a salesperson. And, they can massively compress your sales cycle.


Both your personal development and your professional development are your responsibility. Studying both your success and your failures can help you to identify the principles that enable success, as well as the actions and behaviors that will produce better outcomes. Writing your own personal case studies is powerful and effective way to improve quickly and to produce better results faster.


    1. Do you always take the time to thoughtfully reflect on your sales calls, identifying why you achieved the outcome or failed to?

    1. Are you effectively discerning the principles that allow you to successfully advance deals?

    1. Do you understand what you are doing that is moving some deals forward through your pipeline efficiently while others stagnate? Or are you assuming that is always simply the result of the differences between the dream clients?

    1. How would you benefit by taking the time to ensure that your next sales call is better than the call you just made? How can you best ensure this happens?

    1. Do you only think about your work and your professional development when you are at work? How much better you could you be if you spent a single hour a week identifying what is working, what isn’t, and how to improve?

  1. Do you believe your professional development is solely your company’s responsibility?

Post by Anthony Iannarino on May 23, 2010
Anthony Iannarino
Anthony Iannarino is a writer, an author of four books on the modern sales approach, an international speaker, and an entrepreneur. Anthony posts here daily.
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