Savvy Speaks: Top Tips for Conducting B2B Interviews

Savvy Speaks: Top Tips for Conducting B2B Interviews
Savvy Sisters - Wed Mar 07, 2012 @ 07:00AM
Comments: 96

Learning to interview well is an important skill for B2B writers. Sometimes, we need to interview internal resources for reference material, and sometimes we need to interview our client's customers to get those gold nugget quotes for case studies, testimonials, and so on. Whether you are interviewing the CEO, an in-house engineer, an important client, or an industry pundit, you need to know which questions to ask, how to ask them, and how to draw out those great sound bites. 

In this week's Savvy Speaks, the Savvy Sisters share their best tips for making each interview count. 


Inject personality into your interviews

Of course, you want to do your due diligence and be prepared when you conduct any interview so you can get all of the information you need. However, above and beyond that, I suggest that you think of a question or two that will pull out some personality from the person you are interviewing. Just because something is B2B or internal does not mean that it needs to be boring! If you get in the habit of asking at least “fun” question, your readers be more apt to read the interview, and it will make it more fun for the person being interviewed. 


 Lessons Learned 


My favorite question to ask during an interview is "What are the lessons learned?" It forces the person being interviewed to reflect on their life or circumstances.


I try to form my written piece around the lessons that this person has to teach her audience. 


Also, just from an interviewer's point of view, an open question like that just sets the stage for additional "tell me more..." statements which always help to keep any interview moving along. 



Set Everyone Up for Success

Don't expect the interviewee to think on his or her feet. While some people excel at this, others need time to digest and ruminate on topics before diving in. With that in mind, send questions ahead of time so the person can get his or her mind around the topic and be prepared to give you detailed answers. That said, be flexible enough to steer the interview in another direction if that's where the answers lead you.


Know What Story You're After and then Listen Well

No matter how many I've done, I still get a little case of the butterflies each time I prepare for another interview. Whether I'm digging into someone's life journey or their thoughts about a software product, I always feel a bit intimidated by the responsibility of capturing their experience accurately.  

Most of the time, the piece I'm after is about change. How did you get from here to there? What was different after than before? Who were you back then and who are you now? For feature articles and case studies alike, the story is always about the evolution - the change. 

My interview approach involves spending some time thinking about the types of things I hope the interviewee will share with me and then reverse engineering my questions to (hopefully) match those desired outcomes. But, I have this framework of questions only as a safety net - something to drop into if I find that the conversation is faltering beneath my feet. For the most part, I like to give the other person the opportunity to take the lead on telling her story. I try to start things going in the right direction and then spend most of my energy paying close attention to what she's saying so that I can follow her leads or draw her back towards the "change story." It's a very collaborative process - at least it is when it's working well.   


What are your favorite interview tips? Do you have any horror stories of interviews gone bad? 


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