Published on April 17, 2023
You need to understand why your customer picks you over a competitor to truly stand out amongst the crowd. The only way to get this level of insight is by understanding your customers’ buying motivators and behaviors.
While it is possible to create an effective sales and marketing strategy without conducting customer interviews, doing so leaves out "voice of the customer” perspective from your strategy formation.
This article will discuss how to approach customer interviews to derive maximum insight and what you should do with those findings to improve your competitive positioning.
Which Customers Should You Interview?
When conducting customer interviews, it is essential to engage customers that align with your ideal customer profile. These are the types of businesses you are interested in attracting to grow your company the most profitably.
Additionally, you’ll want to talk to contacts within these accounts that match what you have defined as your primary buyer personas.
Seldom does an ideal customer have only one decision-maker you need to win over.
That’s why your objective is to target a mix of buyer personas during the interview process. This will create the opportunity to glean from their differing perspectives.
If you haven’t gone through a formal process to define your Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) and Buyer Personas, this needs to be your first step to make customer interviews worthwhile.
I advise clients to select a mix of their best current customers along with a few with untapped potential, in all the markets you compete in.
How Do You Approach Customers for An Interview?
When it comes to approaching your customers to request their participation, the key is to invest ample time in developing a strong communication plan. Crafting brief yet effective messaging that outlines why you initiated the customer interview process, and the action you plan on taking based on insights you gain, will generate participation buy-in.
Position the interviews as confidential to maximize transparent feedback.
When the interviewer presents their findings, it should be done in summary fashion with the focus on feedback themes, recognized strengths, improvement areas, and new opportunities, etc. Not based on who said what.
Scheduling should be easy and at your customer's convenience. To gain a strong acceptance rate, interview length should be “up to” 30-minutes. I also advise clients to conduct the interview via video call if possible. This enables the interviewer to read body language as the customer shares their responses.
An experienced interviewer will be good at watching for signals when it’s worthwhile to probe deeper into certain areas. They will also uncover what’s underneath vague responses to reveal hidden gems.
Who Should Conduct the Customer Interviews?
Having the right person conduct customer interviews is essential for gathering accurate insights and getting the most out of the conversations. It is ideal to hire a third party resource that has C-suite experience to fulfill the interviewer role.
The reason most of my clients hire my team to fulfill this role is because I have a turn-key process to help them maximize all aspects of the customer interviewing process.
This activity is a common step I incorporate when helping my clients maximize their value proposition, as I outlined in a previous article entitled, “Why You Need a Value Prop That Sets You Apart”.
What Should You Talk About During Customer Interviews?
During customer interviews always start by having the interviewer revisit the reason your company is investing itself in conducting interviews, what the next steps will be for utilizing the information gained and thanking them for participating. This is an opportunity to build upon your brand impression to the customer.
Before delving into a stream of questions, allow participants some time to tell their story such as what their core responsibilities or challenges are, or how their relationship with your company got started, etc.
This gives individuals the chance to share more detailed information than they would have had they been asked narrow-focused questions right away.
After this initial time of sharing, begin narrowing down conversation topics focusing on areas such as:
Pain points - What difficulties do they encounter when using your product?
Needs - Why did they choose your product over competitors?
Expectations - What do they expect from using a particular service?
Feedback - How happy are they overall with their experience?
Be careful not to overstay your welcome. 30-minutes is plenty when the interviewer is prepared and paces the conversation properly. You’ll also want to probe into aspirational questions to glean from your customer’s future seeking objectives.
It's important that your questions are well thought out and designed to dig below the surface. Ultimately, your objective is to learn what your customers need from their suppliers to be successful in their role. They may not be conscious of what these things are, only that they have problems that need solving.
What Do You Do With The Answers Your Customers Give You?
Don’t conduct customer interviews unless you are committed to doing something tangible with the information. Leaving a favorable brand impression on your customers who participated will require you to take action.
The first step is analyzing the data carefully to draw meaningful insights that can be applied to future sales and marketing strategies.
This analysis should involve breaking down conversations into key themes and topics to dig deep into customer sentiment.
Translate the insights you uncover into actionable strategies. For example, if customers expressed their desire for suppliers to do a better job sharing market trend data, that should trigger an evaluation of your quarterly business review process with current customers.
By taking this approach, you will naturally evolve the ways you do business. The value impact you deliver to your customers will grow which leads to greater success for your company.
By following the above tips, you can ensure that customer interviews are conducted efficiently while deriving invaluable, actionable insights.
Analyzing the findings and developing a game plan to act upon them will help you understand how to engage with your customers and prospects better than ever before.
Consider these things before taking action on customer interviews…
Be clear about why you are doing customer interviews, and what you will do with what you learn.
Consider using a third party who has experience leading a customer interview process and interpreting the results.
Always engage several buyer personas across all markets you care about.
What you learn from your current customers will help position you to gain new ones.
Be succinct and respect your interviewees’ time, 30-minutes is plenty!
We are part of a national group of Senior Sales Leaders who collaborate to share insights like the examples shown in this article. We formed because of our shared passion to help business leaders exponentially grow their revenue.