You might be surprised to learn that one of the simplest (and most powerful) ways to supercharge your marketing strategy is by doing client interviews.
Note that I said ‘simple’. That doesn’t mean easy.
The key is – and this is what makes it challenging – you have to be able to do them well.
It’s not as easy as just going down a list of magic questions and taking whatever answers you’re given at face value. That’s not really any different than just sending out a survey.
The skill here lies in the combination of being genuinely curious, being a good listener, and asking good questions.
You’ve got to be able to elicit, not lead, and actually hear what your clients are communicating – not just what they are saying.
Let’s face it, most people aren’t good listeners, they don’t actually know what info they’re looking for, and it takes a lot of time to have authentic conversations. It’s much easier to just send surveys out, right?
But. if you can learn what information is valuable and how to recognize it, it can put you light years ahead of your competitors.
What are you trying to find in these client interviews?
In client interviews, your primary goal is to gain a deeper understanding of your clients’ thoughts, feelings, and experiences. This understanding can help you make informed decisions about your marketing strategy and overall business direction. When conducting interviews, keep these objectives in mind:
- Identify your clients’ needs, wants, and pain points. What problems are they trying to solve? What motivates them to seek out your products or services?
- Understand their perceptions of your brand, products, or services. How do they view your company? What are their opinions on your offerings and customer service? And bonus: what do they think about your industry in general?
- Uncover any gaps in your marketing communication. Are there any misunderstandings or misconceptions about your brand or products? What information are clients missing?
- Learn about your clients’ decision-making process. How do they research, evaluate, and ultimately choose a product or service? What factors influence their decision-making?
- Discover opportunities for improvement. What suggestions do clients have for enhancing your products, services, or customer experience?
For example, imagine you own a boutique clothing store. One of your customers, Sarah, is a loyal and frequent shopper. Instead of asking her what she loves about your store, which would only prompt positive feedback, you should ask her about any challenges she faces while shopping or if there’s anything she wishes your store offered. By understanding her genuine needs, you can make adjustments to your store’s inventory and shopping experience.
Remember, the key is to elicit authentic, unbiased responses from your clients. This means avoiding leading questions and actively listening to their answers, even if they’re not what you expected or hoped for. And it almost always includes asking follow-up questions based on their initial response.
Pro-tip: Watch out for self-serving biases. As a business owner, it’s natural to want to hear only the good things. However, focusing solely on the positive aspects can prevent you from making necessary improvements. Remember, the purpose isn’t to get a testimonial, it’s to get a crystal clear understanding.
Being Genuinely Curious
Genuine curiosity is at the heart of successful client interviews. When you’re truly curious about your clients’ experiences and opinions, you’ll be more likely to ask insightful questions and uncover valuable insights.
To develop genuine curiosity, you need to see every client (and prospect) interaction as a treasure trove of untapped knowledge.
To cultivate your curiosity, consider these tips:
- Adopt a learner’s mindset. Approach each interview as an opportunity to learn something new about your clients and their experiences with your business.
- Put aside your assumptions. It’s essential to remain open-minded and avoid letting your preconceived notions color your perception of your clients’ responses.
- Ask yourself, “What do I really want to know about my clients?” Make a list of the questions that genuinely interest you and use this as a starting point for your interviews.
- Be present during the interview. Focus on your client and what they’re saying, rather than thinking about your next question or how their response aligns with your expectations.
For instance, let’s say you run a digital marketing agency, and you’ve just signed a new client, Tom. Instead of assuming you know everything about his needs based on your past experiences with similar clients, approach the conversation with genuine curiosity. Ask open-ended questions that allow Tom to share his unique perspective.
Pro-tip: Before each interview, remind yourself of your goals and objectives. This can help you stay focused and curious throughout the conversation.
Pro-tip 2: Don’t be afraid to ask “dumb” questions. Sometimes, the simplest inquiries can lead to the most revealing answers.
Mastering the Art of Listening
Active listening is a critical skill to exercise during client interviews. When you actively listen, you fully concentrate on what the client is saying, process the information, and respond thoughtfully.
This involves not just hearing your client’s words but understanding what they are trying to communicate to you.
A great example of active listening in action is the story of a bakery owner named Susan. During a client interview, one of her customers mentioned that he loves the bakery’s pastries but wishes there were healthier options. Susan didn’t just take this comment at face value. Instead, she asked follow-up questions to understand what “healthier options” meant to her customer. It turned out that he was looking for gluten-free alternatives. Susan could have not asked more questions and created an entire new sugar-free line of pastries that none of her customers actually wanted. By actively listening, Susan was able to identify a new market opportunity.
- Be present: Give your clients your full attention and avoid distractions. This will help you better understand their needs and concerns. Make sure you’re in a quiet, comfortable environment to minimize disruptions during the interview.
- Be patient. Give your clients time to think and formulate their answers. Avoid interrupting or finishing their sentences.
- Paraphrase: Repeat what the client said in your own words to ensure you understood their point correctly. This shows that you’re trying to understand their perspective, and also gives them an opportunity to clarify or expand on their answer.
- Clarify: If you’re unsure about something, don’t be afraid to ask additional questions for clarification. This not only helps you gain a better understanding but also demonstrates your genuine interest in the client’s thoughts and opinions.
- Take notes: Take notes or record the interview – with their permission of course. This will help you remember key information, making it easier to analyze and apply the insights later on.
Pro-tip: When a client tells you about a negative aspect of their experience or says something you disagree with, do not correct, disagree with, or offer a rebuttal. You have been given an incredibly valuable piece of insight. It is your responsibility to a) appreciate their willingness to provide it to you and b) to find value in it.
It is critical that you make them feel safe to share information with you that might make either of you a little uncomfortable. That’s the only way you’ll get true, authentic insights. If you fire a rebuttal back at them it is no longer safe to express a negative or genuine opinion.
Building a connection with your clients is crucial. The more comfortable they feel with you, the more open and honest they’ll be during the interview. Be empathetic and show genuine interest in their experiences and opinion
The Art of Asking Great Questions
Asking the right questions that will elicit the information you need is essential for successful client interviews. Crafting thoughtful, open-ended questions can encourage clients to share their honest experiences and opinions. And that’s exactly the information you need to inform your marketing strategy. Here are some tips for asking great questions:
- Be specific: Avoid vague questions. Instead, ask targeted questions that focus on very specific aspects of your clients’ experiences. This will help you extract meaningful information that can be applied to your marketing strategy.
- Avoid yes/no questions. Instead, use open-ended questions that encourage clients to elaborate and provide more in-depth information. For example, ask “How did you feel about your dining experience with us?” instead of “Did you enjoy your meal?”
- Don’t lead your clients. Leading questions can influence your client’s answers and prevent you from getting an authentic response. Make sure your questions are neutral and unbiased. For example, when interviewing a customer about their experience with your product, instead of asking, “Do you like our product?” (a closed-ended question), ask, “What do you like or dislike about our product?” This question allows the customer to provide more detailed feedback.
- Encourage elaboration: Use open-ended questions to encourage clients to share more about their thoughts and experiences. These types of questions allow clients to express themselves more freely, providing you with richer insights into their preferences and needs.
- Be flexible. While it’s essential to have a list of prepared questions, don’t be afraid to deviate from your script if the conversation naturally leads in a different direction.
Pro-tip: There is gold to be found in the follow-up questions. Look for the opportunities to get them to elaborate. For example, “Can you tell me more about that?” Or when they tell you that your product solved their problem, ask them to tell you about a specific situation where that happened. You’ll find them painting a very vivid picture of the experiences that you want to be able to articulate in your marketing.
Conducting Effective Client Interviews
To ensure your client interviews are successful and yield valuable insights, follow these steps:
- Preparation: Before the interview, identify your goals and objectives, and select appropriate interview questions. What information are you looking to gather? What insights will help you make informed marketing decisions? Research your client’s background and industry to help you tailor your questions and approach.
- Conducting the interview: When it’s time for the interview, make sure to put your client at ease. Establish trust and rapport by being open, friendly, and genuine. It’s important to inform them that the intention of the interview is for you to obtain valuable information so that you can learn and grow. And, of course, don’t forget to practice your active listening skills! Be mindful of your body language, as it can greatly impact the client’s perception of the conversation. Maintain eye contact, nod in agreement, and smile when appropriate.
- Post-interview follow-up: Once the interview is over, synthesize the information you’ve collected, look for patterns, and develop actionable recommendations. This is where the rubber meets the road. It’s time to put those insights to work and rev up your marketing engine! Make sure to follow up with your clients to share your findings and any changes you’ve made based on their feedback. This will show your appreciation for their time and input, and help to strengthen your relationship.
Turning Insights into Action
Once you’ve collected valuable insights from your client interviews, it’s time to put them to work:
- Analyze the information: Look for patterns and trends in the feedback you’ve gathered. This can help you identify areas of your marketing strategy that may need adjustments.
For example, after interviewing several clients of your fitness studio, you might notice a recurring theme – they all mention that they struggle to find time for classes. Based on this insight, you could introduce shorter, more time-efficient classes or create a more flexible schedule to accommodate busy clients.
- Implement changes: Use the insights you’ve collected to make informed changes to your marketing plan. This could involve anything from revamping your website to better communicate your services, to launching new products or services based on customer needs.
Let’s say you run a software company and have discovered through client interviews that users find your user interface confusing. In response, you could redesign the interface and create more user-friendly tutorials to improve their experience.
- Measure results: Track the impact of the changes you’ve made to determine their effectiveness. This can help you fine-tune your marketing strategy and ensure you’re making data-driven decisions.
For example, after making changes to your website based on client feedback, monitor your website’s analytics. Are visitors staying longer on your site? Are conversion rates increasing? Use this data to evaluate the success of your changes and make any necessary adjustments.Pro-tip: Don’t be afraid to iterate on your marketing strategies. As you gather more insights from client interviews, you’ll uncover new opportunities for improvement.
Client interviews are an incredibly powerful tool for small business owners looking to grow their businesses. By being genuinely curious, honing your listening skills, and asking great questions, you can uncover valuable insights that help you understand your clients on a deeper level.
Use this knowledge to make informed decisions and propel your marketing efforts to new heights. There is such a huge opportunity out there because so few do this well.