Interview Like A Pro – Part 3

A man is being interviewed by a woman

An Interrogation or a conversation – those are the edges of the scale when it comes to how your interview can feel like. Which side of the scale do you want to be on? 🙂

Welcome everyone to the third and last part of our ‘interview like a pro’ series. If you missed the previous posts – you can find the first part here and the second part here.

Today, as promised, we’re going to cover the interview itself.

 

By now you should have:

  1. A clear goal in mind of what you’d like to achieve by interviewing these customers
  2. A meeting in your calendar with one more customers you’d like to interview
  3. A customer questionnaire that includes the customer profile and the questions you’d like to ask them
  4. Ideally, a wingman who should serve as your notetaker

 

The most important thing to remember

Going back to the beginning of this post – A good interview shouldn’t feel like an interview, and certainly not like an interrogation. A good interview feels much more like an open conversation.

You should steer the conversation towards the questions you’d like to ask, but you need to leave room to the other participants as well. The customer may open a sidetrack and talk about things that matter to them. That’s fine – as long as it’s contained. You should hear carefully what they are saying and look for a natural opportunity to steer it back to your direction. For example:

You: “Say, Nickole, looking forward to the next 12 months – what would you predict to be your main challenges? Is it customer acquisition, increasing revenues or something else?”

Nickole: “Oh…wow… We have more than one challenge ahead of us. We have a very small team and therefore we definitely need to become more efficient. More automation, definitely. For example – in your product – the reports generation flow is too cumbersome. I’d like to make it easier to generate, and you know… maybe even automatic scheduling. Makes sense?”

You: “Definitely, definitely…” 

[Now, at this point you’re wondering how to proceed – your next question on your questionnaire is about their competition. You could try to steer the conversation back to that. On the other hand – Nickole has just touched one of their main pains. That’s a jackpot for you as uncovering pains is almost always one of the goals in such interviews. The customer is definitely willing to talk about it more – so you decide to explore that]

You: “I can certainly hear you about the reports automation. A lot can be done there. But let’s think big for a second – you mentioned being more efficient as a goal of yours – how do you measure efficiency? What’s your KPI for that? I’m asking because maybe our product can be shaped to help you become much more efficient than just generating the reports faster.”

[Depending on Nickole’s answer you will decide whether there is gold here or not. You may not know the answer during the interview itself – but you will know what’s her main pain and how she measures success. This will definitely provide working materials for you when you are back in the office]

 

There are several ways this imaginary interview could proceed. It’s actually fun for me to simulate some of these options, but I want to stay focused. The main takeaway here is that it shouldn’t feel strict. You should ‘feel’ the conversation, flow with it and yet – steer it towards the directions you want. You don’t need to follow the questions exactly in the order they are. You don’t even need to ask all of them. Again, flow with the conversation, listen carefully to what is being said and you’ll probably discover that some of your answers have already been answered.

Of course – this is more art than science – but practice will help. Hence, your first interviews may feel a bit strict – and that’s ok. Don’t give up and keep interviewing. You will feel less stressed over time and the interview will start feeling more like a conversation eventually.

 

The environment

I started with my biggest tip, but there are actually additional things that can help you nail a successful interview. One of them is properly setting the stage. The environment in which you’ll be conducting the interview and the technicalities are important as well.

If you are interviewing the customer via Zoom then right before the interview you need to make sure that:

  1. The room you are in is reserved to you and no one is going to interrupt you. If you’re doing it from home – set expectations with your meaningful other to avoid interruptions.
  2. Prepare yourself a glass of water, a paper to write on and a hard copy of your questions. Yes, it’s not the best eco-friendly advice, and I hardly ever print things anymore – but in that case I think it’s crucial. I’ve joined as a guest to sessions where the interviewer didn’t have a hard copy and they had to constantly switch between Zoom to their Google Docs or MS-Word. It means that a great portion of the time you are not seeing the face of the interviewer. Now, this is already non-ideal since it’s on Zoom and not f2f, so you should strive to maintain as much eye contact as you can. The other side will notice you are not fully attentive to them.
  3. Prepare in advance a decent, calm background (wallpaper). Nobody wants to see how messy your room is. Just make sure you use something mainstream that won’t consume the attention of the interviewer.
  4. Make sure your microphone works perfectly and the acoustic is ok. Make sure the connectivity is flawless as well. I’ve seen interviews where it’s not – it’s quite lame and unprofessional.
  5. Working from home made us less aware of how we look and how we dress (well… for most of us at least). Even if it’s ok to be totally unshaved with your company or wear your pajamas – try to make yourself decent, at least for the interview. Dress for business as well (well… at least your upper body… and make sure you don’t stand during the interview :-)).

 

If you’re interviewing the customer via a face 2 face meeting then most of the above will be taken care of by the customer or isn’t relevant. A couple of things from the list above are still relevant – 

  1. Look decent
  2. Have a hard copy of your questions and a notebook to write on (even if you have a notetaker with you)

 

Kicking off the interview

Ok. So the interview is about to start. There is a short protocol I advise you to follow as it will help you start smoothly:

  1. If via Zoom – ask permission to record. This is crucial especially if you don’t have a notetaker with you. But it’s also beneficial on several other aspects – it will allow others to view the interview offline later if they couldn’t join the interview in real time. It will also let you review your performance like professional athletes are watching their own performance in order to improve.
  2. Start with a short mutual intro of each of the participants. When introducing your team – start with the most senior role. This should take at most 2 minutes.
  3. Explain why you are all here. Something in this spirit:

“Thank you for taking the time to meet us. As we discussed over the mail – we are now working on the next stage of our roadmap and since we value you as one of our more prominent customers – we’d like to ask you some questions and make sure we’re in the right direction.”

 

During the interview

We already covered most of the stuff so we can maintain a short checklist here:

  1. If you have a notetaker – that’s awesome! I still urge you to take notes – but it’s ok to write down only key takeaways just as a backup in case your notetaker missed them.
  2. If you don’t have a notetaker – well – the interview will become much more challenging. If the meeting is recorded you have two options:
    1. Don’t write anything down and focus on the interview. Watch the recording later and take down the notes. The downside is that the interview just cost you double the time. If you interviewed 10 customers that’s almost 20 hours spent just on interviews.
    2. Write while interviewing – I’d advise it for experienced interviewers only or if there is no recording. You will need to develop a very efficient writing style and be able to write while maintaining eye contact. Quite a challenge.
    3. Why don’t just make sure you have a notetaker, eh?
  3. Dig for the pain, not the solution. Customers will come to you with solutions (“we need an option to export the list via a RSS”). You need to dig for the pain behind it (they need to provide an efficient method for their followers to know about updates). Understanding the pain properly will help you come up with much more efficient solutions that will cater to a great variety of customers. Apply the 5-whys technique for that. I’ve covered it in depth here.
  4. Show off your knowledge of the customer. Assuming you did proper customer research, don’t be afraid to show it. Examples: “I saw on your site that you’re about to release a new product. Does it represent a new strategy for you?”, “When checking your usage of our product we noticed that you invest 65% of your marketing efforts on paid mobile acquisition. Can you share why is that?

It serves several aspects:

  1. The customer will think highly of you and the level of engagement will increase
  2. It will help you change the dynamics of the interview to feel more like a conversation.
  3. From time to time – the customer will expose ‘hidden gems’ following your questions that otherwise would never surface.
  1. Be mindful of the time. Know exactly how much time is left each moment and adjust accordingly. Leave 5-10 minutes for your wingman and guests to ask their own questions. Leave 5 minutes for the customer to ask whatever is on their mind. Promise to follow up.

After the interview

The interview is done, but there is still work to do.

First – the easy part – follow up with the customer via mail and thank them for their time. Ask them if it’s ok to reach out in case you have additional questions.

And now for the major post-interview work – Your goal now is to produce an ‘interview summary’. For that you’ll need to reach out to your notetaker (if you had one) and get their notes.

The goal of the summary needs to directly correlate to the original reason of why you scheduled this interview to begin with. If the goal was to get feedback on your roadmap – then the summary needs to distill the essence of the interview to feedback that will help you improve your roadmap. If it’s about a new product – summarize the points that strengthen the need for this product, or the opposite – invalidate it. Make sure you’re being as objective as you can when writing down the summary.

 

Once you’ve concluded all interviews and produced all summaries – I recommend summarizing all the feedback into a spreadsheet. Add columns for the important validation points that you want to compare between all customers’ responses.

Two columns I recommend having are:

  1. What they said (raw data) – a selection of accurate quotes of what the customer has to say (2-3 quotes from the whole interview)
  2. What we heard – your interpretation of their quotes.

 

This is very useful when others review your summary and would like to challenge your conclusions. Don’t be afraid of it.

Set up a proper meeting to discuss the interviews and their conclusions. Invite your colleagues and/or superiors to participate and challenge you. Maybe they read it differently and you might have missed something?

One important note when discussing the conclusions – avoid rushing to a conclusion based on sole response from one of the interviewers. Give much more weight to aggregated feedback.

Make sure that at the end of the meeting you are all aligned on the conclusions. 

If you can’t reach an agreement – then set up additional interviews where you’ll need to drill down specifically on the points of disagreements.

 

And that’s about it. That concludes our series as for how to interview customers. As for additional resources – if you speak Hebrew then I advise you to listen to Monday.com’s podcast about customer interviews which provide a lot of tips as well:

Monday.com – Data is not just numbers

 

Last – I was rushing things a bit here in order to keep the post at a reasonable length. If needed – and you’d like me to take a deep dive into one of the points I’ve mentioned – let me know and I’ll dedicate a post for that.

 

That’s it!

If you found this post/series useful – let me know in the comments. If you think others can benefit from it – feel free to share it with them.

Thank you, and until next time 🙂

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