Acing The Client Interview...When They Are A Lot Of Them

As part of a strategic marketing planning project for a client I interviewed 17 stakeholders this week.  A daunting task to be sure, but it's always great to hear from those directly impacted by a company's marketing efforts.  It's been a while since I've interviewed that many in such a short stretch of time, so I thought I would put down and few tips and tricks I remember from doing client interviews, especially when there are lot of them and you're talking to a wide range of personalities and opinions.

  • Have an outline - your interviewees will appreciate having a specific set of questions to answer.  Even if you divert on specific topics to get more depth it will show them you are prepared and not just winging it.
  • Establish rapport - the more you know about the person prior to meeting with them the easier the interview will go.  Hit their LinkedIn profile or ask for background before you meet with them.  They will respect the fact you know more about them than just their name.
  • Don't ask leading questions - you may have already solved the problem in your mind, but don't get them to provide answers that fit into your world.  The only way to get authentic feedback is to give them room to answer questions honestly and candidly, even if it leads to some awkward pauses in the room.
  • Don't be surprised by what you hear - you will invariably get answers to questions that relate more to culture or other business problems rather than marketing, and that's OK.  It speaks to the nature of the enterprise and it will help you learn how to solve problems through marketing rather than just with marketing.  Be prepared to be a consultant, a psychologist, a priest and/or a friend.
  • Be prepared to do something actionable with the results - when you are dealing with the notes and conclusions from your interviews, make sure you can show that information back with a data-based mindset.  Force rank answers to create conclusions and provide statistics about the range of answers so you can determine logical blocks and next steps.  The worst thing you could do with all that information is come back with a "dear diary".
  • Protect privacy - make sure the interview environment you create is a safe one where people can express their true thoughts and opinions - not just want the company wants you to hear.  Keep the names walled off from the answers to protect the innocent and make sure there are no direct repercussions from the interviews.  Having that safe room will get you to heart of the issues and play and what may be preventing things from getting done the way they should.

Although I wouldn't recommend 17 interviews in a week, you certainly learn a lot.  Take the time and effort to interview all the key stakeholders in any project of size and scale - it will lead to great information that will make the end product better and lead to more consensus at the end of the day.