interviewer-150450_1280In our post, Building Buyer Persona Profiles: 3 Key Components, we highlight the most critical step in building buyer personas – interviewing your customers. Customers will give you the best insights for your buyer personas. Interviewing sales and client services, as well as doing external market research, will provide very valuable information as well.  But you will gain knowledge from actually speaking with your customers that you will simply not get anywhere else. Not only will they shed light into issues you and your team are unaware of, but they will also provide more in-depth insights. Ultimately, this means you as a marketer will be armed with more information for creating better content.

So, when a customer agrees to take time to speak with you, you must be prepared to get the most out of this interview session as possible. Here are a few tips to consider when interviewing your customers for your buyer persona development:

  1. Interview Recent Customers Who Align Well to Your Current Buyer Personas

The best buyers to interview are those who are recent customers.  The thoughts and experiences they had throughout each step in their buying process are fresh in their minds, allowing them to provide more accurate, detailed responses.  Also select buyers who align with as many aspects of your current buyer personas as possible.  Never interview buyers who are currently in the purchase process.

  1. Call Potential Customer Interviewees and Follow-Up with an Email

When requesting interviews with customers, first call them.  Introduce yourself and provide a brief background on why you’d like to speak with them.  Offer additional information in a follow-up email.  Explain that your company is working on an initiative to develop rich, accurate buyer personas and would like to interview them about their job roles and responsibilities, as well as their preferences during a solution purchase process.  Request a 45 minute call, provide a sample 5 interview questions, and let them know that their participation is incredibly valuable.  Also be sure to let them know that this is for internal market research only, and that the information they provide will never be made public.  Note: if you get a voicemail on your first call attempt, leave a brief introductory message and let them know you are emailing them with additional information.

  1. Provide Your Questions to Customers Beforehand

Once customers agree to be interviewed, provide them with your interview questions beforehand.  This makes them feel more comfortable and will also help them be better prepared, leading to more thorough responses.

  1. Practice the Interview Beforehand

Practice actually asking the questions to a colleague in a simulated interview session.  This will not only make you more comfortable in the interviewer role and help perfect your pace and tone, but it will also let you notice any questions you may want to re-order or re-phrase.

  1. Have Just 1 or 2 People from the Marketing Team Join the Call

Having too many people on the call can be overwhelming for the customer, so just limit attendance to 1-2 people.  Also, do not have the customer’s sales rep join the call, as this may deter the customer from be completely open with their thoughts.

  1. Ask the Customer If You May Record the Call

As the interviewer, you will be focusing your energy on listening carefully to the customer responses and seeing where you can ask follow-up questions, making it difficult to write down the responses simultaneously.  For this reason, it’s very helpful to record the call, but always ask for permission first.  If you cannot record the call, have a colleague with you to write the responses.

  1. Thank the Customer for Taking Time to Speak with You

This may seem like an obvious one, but in the excitement to start the interview, this can be easily overlooked.  Don’t simply start firing away questions – re-introduce yourself and anyone else joining you, and thank the customer for taking the time to speak with you.  Also reiterate that all information they provide is confidential and for internal purposes only.

  1. Avoid a Narrow View

When interviewing customers, use the phrase “a solution like ours” or “a solution like this” rather than “our solution.”  It’s best NOT to think about buyer needs, concerns, desired benefits, etc. purely in the context of your own solution, as this will not provide an accurate representation of your buyer.  “A solution like ours” includes the category of solutions yours falls within, or the types of solutions you compete against.  It’s best to mention this before interviewing customers.

  1. Don’t be Afraid to Ad Lib

Ask follow-up questions based on the customer’s response – sometimes these details reveal the best insights.  For example, the customer simply says the ability to improve efficiency was a buying criteria.  Ask them what capabilities they need to improve efficiency, exactly where they need to improve efficiency, and how they evaluated a solution’s ability to improve efficiency across different offerings.  By asking questions that are looking for more detail, you could learn, for example, that the buyer wants a solution whose configurable workflow tools allow them to more quickly adapt to process changes they’re experiencing as a result of new online shopping behaviors.

  1. Let the Customer Talk

Many customers find these conversations engaging and enjoy sharing their thoughts and experiences.  This may lead to the call running long, but that’s ok – do not cut them off in their responses!  If need be, you can always have a follow-up call.  If the customer was this excited to talk in the first place, they will likely agree to schedule a second call.

  1. Clarify Questions with Sample Responses

Have sample responses to each question handy.  Customers will sometimes ask for clarification on what a question means, or what type of information you’re looking for.  Providing about two example points of a response to a question helps clarify things for them.

  1. Record Direct Quotes

Try to write customer responses in direct quotes – if not all the time, at least in those cases where the customer was very passionate and in-depth about a response.  This helps you learn their language and avoid misinterpretations later on.

  1. Introduce Your Next Round of Questions

Rather than run all of you questions together, introduce each section each time you ask a new line of questions.  For example, “I’ll now ask you some questions about your job role,” or “I’ll now ask you some questions about your buying process.”

  1. Overlap is Fine

Some questions may yield similar or the same responses from customers.  Customer will sometimes apologize for this, feeling they should provide new insights every time.  Let them know that this is okay and that overlap between some questions is common and even expected.

  1. Repeat Lists

Frequently, customers will fire off a list of points when immediately answering a question and then fall silent – you won’t sure if they’re finished or still thinking!  In this case, repeat what they’ve said and then ask if there’s anything else or if that list captures it all.  You’ll know to either move on, or your repeating the list will generate more thoughts from the customer.

  1. Provide a Thank You Gift

Sending customers a gift card or basket of goodies (if appropriate within the industry) shows them that you appreciate them, their time, and their feedback.  It does not have to be significant, but the gesture and thoughtfulness goes a long way.  How much should you spend?  This may vary based on the seniority of the customer, but about $100 is appropriate.

 

Remember, your customers actually like being interviewed and appreciate your wanting to understand them and your buyers more. Don’t be afraid to request interviews of them – the worst they can say is no, and that’s more likely due to time constraints rather than not wanting to participate! But, you will likely find that you have a good number of customers who will happily take time to speak with you.