Getting Started with Buyer Interviews

Buyer interviews are the best way to learn about your market and validate your product ideas. Done well, buyer interviews can help you prioritize new features, hone your pricing and positioning, and improve your marketing funnel.

That said, conducting numerous interviews can sound like a large time commitment. It does not have to be t. There are simple steps you can take to get the most out of each interview in the least amount of time.

What is a Buyer Interview?

A buyer interview is a 30-60 minute conversation with a potential buyer of your product/service. It is not a sales conversation. In fact, Sales is not invited. Instead, a member of product management or product marketing conducts the interview.

The purpose is to collect feedback on your market or your product. I have used interviews to explore new product ideas and market opportunities, test positioning, and gauge pricing. Interviewing is a great tool to guide any decision that can be better informed with market input.

The 4 Steps to Getting Started

Rest assured that getting started is not as daunting as it might feel. There are 4 straight forward steps, and a few shortcuts to make it all a lot easier.

Step 1: Recruit

Generally speaking, there are 4 types of buyers to recruit for interviews. Some might be more valuable than others depending on the feedback you need.

Current customers– This group is by far the easiest to recruit. Start with those that you already know and work with. User conferences are also a great place to recruit current customers.

Buyers that have been through your sales process but chose not to buy your solution– Using your CRM, pull Win/Loss reports from recent months. Reach out to “lost” prospects. Also, talk to customers that have not renewed or have terminated their contracts.

Buyers that use a competitor’s product– These buyers can be hard to recruit. To get them on the phone, you might need to offer an incentive. A charitable contribution to the buyer’s favorite charity or cold hard cash can work. I have used LinkedIn to find these buyers, as well as services like UserMuse.com.

Buyers that have never bought from you or a competitor– These buyers are hard to recruit and often need an incentive to participate.

Step 2: Interview

The interview itself can be straight forward, but there are a few best practices.

  • You want candid feedback, so the buyer cannot feel like they are on a sales call. At the beginning of the interview tell the interviewee that this is not a sales call. In fact, nothing they say will be conveyed to a salesperson, and no salesperson will follow-up. You are a member of the Product or Marketing team. You are interviewing them and others like them to gain new insights. All participants will be will be anonymized.
  • Use teleconference software to conduct the interview and tell the interviewee that you would like to record the interview to help with your notes (more about recording later). Ask them for permission to record. Most interviewees are OK with it. A few are not. For those that are not, take copious notes.
  • If you promised a charitable contribution or personal payment, explain that you will complete the transaction after the interview. For charitable contributions, email a receipt to the interviewee.
  • Have a list of questions but make the interview conversational. The best information comes from follow-up questions you cannot predict in advance.
  • At the end of the interview, ask if you can contact them with additional questions should you have them. If your interview pertained to a new product or set of features you are developing, ask if you can follow-up with a demo when it is available. Again, this is not a sales call. You simply want their feedback. Most people will say yes.

Step 3: Recording & Notetaking

With permission to record the interview, save the file and send it to a transcription service like Rev.com. Transcription services are affordable and turnaround times are quick.

The transcript is invaluable. It contains your buyers’ thoughts – verbatim. If you share the transcript with anyone in your company, make sure to redact identifiable information. You promised the interviewee that they would be anonymous. Redacting does not take long.

Without permission to record the interview, re-read your notes after the interview and fill in any gaps. The longer you wait, the hazier your memory will be.

Step 4: Aggregation

Your notes and transcripts are important because they allow you to aggregate the cold hard facts of all the interviews. Your memory is faulty. The transcripts and your well-taken notes are not.

Also, other teams will want to see your data. The same transcripts and notes can be used for a number of purposes. I have seen the same interviews drive everything from product development to positioning and sales training.

This article is the tip of the iceberg on buyer interviews. Feel free to contact me if you are interested in learning more.

There is also a great book by Adele Revella titled, “Buyer Personas: How to Gain Insight into your Customer’s Expectations, Align your Marketing Strategies, and Win More Business.” It focuses on using interviews to develop personas but has great tips on how to conduct the interviews. I recommend it.

If you liked this article, please share it with a friend or colleague.