By Bob Leonard published May 17, 2011

How One-On-One Interviews Can Reveal What Your B2B Audience Really Wants

What do B2B decision makers and purchase influencers care about?  Reducing risk!

They want to make a buying decision that will enhance their careers. They want information that will help them make the best business decision possible – a decision that will result in cost savings and/or increase top line revenue.

Sounds easy enough.

Just deliver the information that tells them why your product or service will make them the hero of their company, right?

Wrong.

That path results in overly salesy materials that will turn off your prospects.  Instead, you first need to understand their perceptions about the business problem that your product or service solves. One of the best ways to uncover this information is through qualitative research, which can help you develop the strategic B2B content that potential buyers of your product or service are interested in. It’s the first step in continuous marketing improvement.

Market research that digs deep

One of the primary reasons to do market research is to understand why people behave and think in the way that they do. The best insights can’t be obtained by conducting hundreds of interviews or by monitoring and analyzing social media mentions. These insights come from deep but loosely structured interviews with a small number of highly targeted individuals.

Qualitative research methods rely heavily on the skills of the interviewer to interact with the interviewees and to dig deep into their motivations and experiences. Such methods are defined as qualitative because they seek quality information over quantity. Qualitative research is exploratory.

So, how do you do qualitative research?

I like the methodology outlined by Kristin Zhivago. Kristin is a revenue coach who helps CEOs and entrepreneurs increase their bottom lines by understanding what their customers want to buy and how they want to buy it. I have ‘borrowed’ Kristin’s qualitative research methodology (which she outlines in clear detail in her books) to elicit the information I need to develop content marketing strategies for my B2B clients.

Kristin eschews the use of focus groups and instead recommends one-on-one interviews. People in focus groups are either surrounded by peers from within their company or from the competition. So, they may provide careful answers that don’t reveal the whole truth. Or, they’re wary about disclosing too much.

Aim for completing about 10 personal interviews to start. Depending on the quality of responses, you may be able to scale back, or you may find that you need to conduct more.

How to conduct one-on-one interviews

Kristin recommends conducting interviews via the phone instead of face-to-face. In her experience, people are more forthcoming over the phone because they’re sitting in their own environment, and they are alone and relaxed. I prefer phone interviews because they’re easier and cheaper (no travel).

Let participants know why the information you collect is important to you and your company. People, even busy executives, are willing to spend time with a vendor who is going to use the information gathered for an important purpose.

The two most important factors for these interviews are selecting the right people and asking the right questions.

Find the right people: Your best target interviewees are current customers. You want to select people who made the buy decision, people who influenced the decision and people who are using the product/service. You want happy customers and not-so-happy customers. If this is a brand new product launch, you’ll need to find appropriate prospects, which is more difficult to accomplish, but doable.

Ask the right questions: Here is the kind of information you want to gather:

  • What questions did they need answered  at the different phases of the buying cycle?
  • What objections did they have? How were those objections overcome?
  • What compelling content did the competition deliver?
  • What land mines were placed by your competitors?
  • What information did they have trouble finding?
  • At what point did they feel ready to talk to a salesperson?
  • What helped them sell your product or service internally?
  • Now that they’re using your solution, what didn’t they know about it prior to the purchase?

Finally, ask them what question you should have asked but didn’t.

The key: Really listen

During the interview, LISTEN.

Your interview subjects may go off on a tangent. Let them. That’s often when the most valuable information is uncovered.

The resulting information, once organized and analyzed, will give you a good sense of what your content strategy should be. You’ll know which topics need to be covered at what points during the buy cycle, what information specific titles/roles customers are interested in and what will be the best vehicles to deliver the information.

Author: Bob Leonard

Bob Leonard is the Managing Consultant at acSellerant. Over a 20 year period, prior to launching acSellerant, Bob held individual contributor and management positions in Corporate Marketing, Field Marketing, Sales and Sales Support at EMC, GTE, Interleaf (document management), and Digital Equipment Corp. acSellerant is a content and social media marketing agency focused on the B2B market place. Follow me on Twitter @acSellerant.

Other posts by Bob Leonard