16 Tips for Better Customer Development Interviews in B2B

There are good and bad ways to do B2B customer development interviews and, unfortunately, to the untrained eye, they look very similar. Here are 16 interview pointers to help you conduct valid (and valuable) customer development interviews:

Key Tips for Customer Development Interviews

  1. Learn to stay quiet: The best interviews are 90% listening, and at most, 10% talking. Don’t feel like you need to talk.
  2. Have a plan: Create an interview script and stick to it. It’s okay to adjust the phrasing or add customer development questions, but being able to compare interviews is critical.
  3. Separate target groups: Focus on one sector or market vertical at a time to get a consistent data point. For example, if your niche is dentists, ask the same questions to every dentist you meet.
  4. Meet one prospect at a time: Your goal is to make them talk about their personal pains, not their employer’s. Keep it one-on-one.
  5. Meet face-to-face: The best interviews are done face-to-face. Interviews through Skype or by phone are acceptable, but you will miss a lot of the emotions and opportunities.
  6. Choose your location: If you’re uncomfortable meeting with a high-ranked prospect (it happens), get him/her out of his office for lunch or coffee to even the odds. A neutral location will make you feel more comfortable, but it will prevent you from collecting some information (see below).
  7. Ask open questions: Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How, not yes/no questions. Dig deep and avoid close-ended questions.
  8. Follow emotion: Whenever you hear emotion in the person’s voice, prolong that line of conversation.
  9. Record and take notes: You miss 50% of what’s being said during the interview if you’re taking notes. Record, take notes, and re-listen to the interviews to gain new insights.
  10. Don’t judge: Your goal is to get as much information as possible in a limited time. It’s better to have more data than less. Don’t disqualify the prospect during the meeting.
  11. Encourage complaints: Whenever the person starts to complain, listen. People are more specific with complaints than praise. Specific examples will really help you learn about the problem.
  12. Focus on actual behaviors: People are not very good at predicting their own actions, knowing what they want, or knowing their true goals. Avoid what ifs. Ask about real/recent experiences.
  13. Bring a partner (sometimes): A two-person team can have one person leading the interview while the other takes notes. It might make your team appear more credible and will definitely accelerate share back with the team. Any more than two interviewers typically intimidates participants.
  14. Parrot the answers: Repeat the answers back to your prospect for further clarifications and to validate your understanding. Do this by saying, “So what you’re saying is…”
  15. Reference “other people”: Cindy Alvarez recommends challenging your pre-existing hypotheses by referencing “other people.” For example, “I’ve heard from other people that ______. Do you agree?” It’s easier for people to disagree with an anonymous third party than to disagree with you.
  16. Smile: Be friendly and welcoming to make participants feel comfortable and get them to smile back.

Mastering Face-to-Face Customer Development Interviews

Mastering customer interviews – especially face-to-face – takes time and practice.

The body language, attitude, and office space of your early adopters can give you great cues to improve your interviewing techniques. Here’s what to look for:

  • Body language: Strong reactions, posture, body positioning, language, tone variations, and eye movements can tell you a lot. Prospects lie… There are things they feel stronger about and lies can tell you a big part of the story. Do they seem nervous? Tentative? Bored? If so, try to restore your rapport and reassure them of the usefulness of their comments. Don’t hesitate to ask what made them roll their eyes, sigh, laugh, frown, smirk, etc.
  • Office content: Office walls and sticky notes are gold. They tell you about the things that truly matter to your prospects. For example, when Jason Cohen was interviewing IT professionals, he noticed that certain magazines were on the desk of almost every prospect he interviewed. When his product was ready, he advertised in that magazine and had great success.
  • Indicators of interest: Prospects that are leaning forward, asking a lot of questions, and that really get involved in the discussion give signs of interest. Prospects that are easily distracted, look through their emails or messages, slouch, and talk without answering the questions are typically disinterested.

Start looking for these cues, and practice your customer development interviews.

Your skills will improve and so will the quality of the insights you collect. Better insights means faster customer (in)validation.

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