If you create content for your organization, you likely find yourself interviewing a range of subject matter experts, including executives, internal engineers, product managers, partners, and customers. Conducting an effective interview is critical to getting the information you need to develop your content, whether that's a compelling case study, engaging eBook, or accurate data sheet. Here are seven tips to help you do just that.
1. Conduct upfront research. Do a bit of research before the interview to get your head around the topic. Ask the interviewee for relevant background materials that you can review. Supplement that with your own research, such as by reading the latest messaging document, recent press releases, trade publication articles, annual reports, and third-party analyst reports.
2. Develop a questionnaire. Don’t go into an interview without documenting the questions you intend to ask. As the one who needs to capture enough information to develop content, it's up to you to get the information you need. By immersing yourself in the topic while conducting research, you should find inspiration for questions that help draw out unique angles. And by preparing questions ahead of time, you'll feel more confident about the story you're hoping to tell. Plus, a list of questions will help you keep the call on track if you're dealing with a non-stop talker, or with an interviewee who isn't sure where to begin in terms of sharing his or her knowledge.
3. Prep the interviewee. There’s a lot to be said for the element of spontaneity in an interview. However, there’s nothing more frustrating than starting an interview only to find out that the person can’t answer the questions. To avoid this roadblock, send the interviewee a general set of questions ahead of time, perhaps as you’re scheduling the interview time. This allows the person to decide if he or she is the appropriate interviewee, and to make sure all information (such as ROI metrics for a case study) is in hand during the interview.
4. Record the interview. Ask the interviewee for permission to record the conversation. Recording the exchange allows you the freedom to truly engage in the discussion instead of focusing on furiously jotting down the person's responses to your questions.
5. Ask open-ended questions. Getting lots of “yes” and “no” answers won't provide you with the detail you need. So instead of asking a question such as "Do property managers struggle to effectively collect data related to energy consumption?," ask "What are the top three or four reasons that property managers struggle to collect data related to energy consumption?" As another example, instead of asking a customer if your solution helped her organization achieve its objectives, ask how your solution helped her organization do that. And don't hesitate to reword your question if you're not getting at the level of detail you require. If need be, simply say: "Please elaborate on that point" or "Tell me more about how your HR managers use the reports to make better decisions."
6. Leave room to veer from the script. Some of the most interesting questions are prompted by the interviewee’s responses to your original questions. Listen carefully to answers (this is why it's helpful to record the call) and be sure to follow a new line of questioning if it will add value to the content you plan to create.
7. Manage the interview. Remember, you're conducting the interview so that you can gather enough information to develop a content asset. Don't let a long-winded interviewee dominate the conversation to the point that you don't get your questions answered. Similarly, reword your questions and keep probing if the interviewee isn't offering up enough detail. If you're not getting what you need, perhaps it makes more sense to interview a different subject matter expert.
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About the author: Stephanie Tilton is a content-marketing consultant who helps B2B companies craft content that nurtures leads and advances the buying cycle. You can follow her on Twitter or read more of her posts on Savvy B2B.
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