43: Interviewing Your Customers To Pinpoint Your Value Proposition
Speaking 1:1 with the people you want to attract is the best possible way to learn about their questions, challenges, and desires. And knowing these things is how you reverse engineer copy that sells. Today I'm giving you a step-by-step guide for how to interview your customers and sell with intention.
On this episode, I share:
Why I interview all of my clients’ customers,
The biggest mistake I see entrepreneurs making when they think they’re conducting market research,
How to ask your target market to share targeted feedback on your brand or idea, and
The most important points in business to interview your customers.
WHY INTERVIEW YOUR CUSTOMERS?
The benefit of having a signature process is knowing that you have a proven way of guiding clients to what they want. You can adapt it and personalize it, but if you’re doing it right, the foundation of the work stays mostly the same.
There’s one piece of my signature process that when prospective clients see it, many say, “Oh I don’t need that.”
The “that”: customer interviews.
I alluded to this on episode 41: Conducting Market Research Without Falling Into the Comparison Trap.
This episode is all about unpacking what these interviews provide you as a business owner and why—even if you’re not ready to hire someone to do them for you—you should be conducting them annually yourself.
To be clear, almost all brand and marketing agencies employ market, customer, and competitor research before starting any creative work. It provides an unfiltered perspective on a client’s business, brand, reputation, and perceived position.
Without this, you’re simply guessing.
And while I’ve yet to see anyone excited to sign up for their business to be evaluated, hopefully my enthusiasm for the topic will give you the confidence you need to think about using this approach in your own business.
For business owners that hire me as their brand strategist, we start our engagement with a CEO vision call where we focus on how you see your company. After that, I move outside of your business.
The focus on customer interviews is dependent on the project I’m working on, but typical areas of inquiry include:
How your customers describe your business.
Problems they were facing before they hired you.
Who else they were considering when hiring or making their purchase.
Why they decided to work with you.
What surprised them about working with you.
Any opportunities to improve your brand presence or communicate your value more effectively.
WHY SURVEYS AREN’T ENOUGH
These surveys are confidential, which brings an extra layer of importance to them. It’s a no holds bar way of sharing things with me in a way they might not feel comfortable sharing in a feedback survey or speaking with you directly.
All of this is to say, you can—and should—still interview your clients if you can’t hire someone to do it for you at this time. Just be realistic about what someone may be willing to disclose to you.
There are many reasons we aren’t upfront with our feedback to those we hire, ranging from worrying about how that information will be received to being concerned that what you say may change their relationship with them.
By addressing your motivations up front and letting them know that you really want this information to improve, you should be able to alleviate many of these concerns.
So how are customer interviews different than surveys?
Surveys are static. You ask specific questions and get specific answers. They don’t allow for you to follow up on or clarify a response.
Surveys are often sent with the intention of gathering feedback, but are received as a request for a testimonial. This whitewashes the information you get, putting it all in a positive light.
We all rush through surveys. It’s much easier to get to the heart of your opinion, experience, and intention when it’s spoken rather than typed into a response box.
WHEN TO CONDUCT CUSTOMER INTERVIEWS
Have I convinced you to add this to your to-do list yet?
You might be wondering when the best time to conduct these interviews is. If you’re thinking about doing any of the below activities, you should consider talking to your customers first:
Launching a new service or product.
Updating your website copy.
Scaling what’s working.
Maybe it’s more of a feeling you have that something’s off. You might be asking yourself:
How can I attract more of the right clients?
Is it possible to clone my best clients?
How do I know what my audience will respond to?
How can I convince my prospective customers that their investment will be worth it?
FINDING YOUR TARGET AUDIENCE WHEN YOU HAVEN’T WORKED WITH THEM
Interviewing your customers requires more than just hopping on the phone and winging it, especially if you haven’t already sold to your ideal audience.
About a year ago I was working with someone who was thinking of introducing a new service but wasn’t sure what would be appealing to buyers. Here’s how I recruited ideal customers to talk to using Facebook groups (which by the way is the only way I believe you should be conducting market research on Facebook):
I wrote a post saying this:
I'm doing some market research for a wonderful client and am on the prowl for 4 entrepreneurs who dream about writing a book one day. If this is you and you fit the criteria below, will you give me a shout?
Would love to use a book as a platform to establish their credibility.
See writing a book as a way to have a larger impact.
Have a lot of ideas that might be categorized as "self help with substance."
Might feel overwhelmed, lack the time or think they're too early in their business to make this a reality.
I hope to connect with you and learn about your business along the way.
This is so much more effective than spraying and praying.
NARROWING IN ON WHAT MAKES YOUR OFFER VALUABLE
If you are already working with your ideal customer, you’ll want to ensure you’re talking about your services or products in a way that connects with what your people say they need—before they know what it’s like working with you!
That means making it as obvious as possible that what you offer is the solution to their problem.
So how do you know what words and phrases will connect with how your customer base is describing what they’re going through?
Select 3-5 of the customers who are your superfans and/or you loved working with the most. Email them and ask whether they’d be willing to spend 20-30 minutes on the phone with you answering questions about their experience working with or purchasing from you.
Let them know how valuable their opinion is and what you hope to get out of this exercise.
Join my list and receive a free episode action guide with an email script and list of interview questions.
You might want to consider offering an incentive for their time. Here’s why:
We’re all busy and even when we want to help people, our time is limited. Something to help sweeten the deal just a bit helps us say yes easier.
This could be a free strategy call with you. It could be as simple as a gift card for a cup of coffee. Or it could be something else you offer for sale that you’d send them for free.
Whatever you choose, it doesn’t have to be a lot.
How to ask? Just email them.
And I know you’re probably thinking, “I don’t want to bother people.” Here’s the deal: when we’re happy with a service or product we’re generally willing to share that experience, especially when it was one with personal meaning.
CUSTOMER INTERVIEW QUESTIONS
HOW TO BE A GOOD INTERVIEWER
Now let’s talk about good questions to ask. Start with imagining that you’re speaking to past customers. Here are a few things you could ask. Note I’m going to be phasing these like a service-based provider would, so if you primarily sell services you’d tweak these a bit:
“Tell me a little bit about what was going on in your life before we started working together.”
“What made you realize you wanted to hire someone rather than do it on your own.”
“Had you ever done similar work with someone before? If so, what was your experience?”
“What information was important to know before hiring me?”
“What was the most surprising part about working together?”
If you’re more focused on addressing your brand image and message, here are some other questions you could ask:
“When you think of me, what are the first three words that come to mind?”
“What stood out about me or my business before you got to know me?”
“How could I be more clear on my website about the specific value I provide to clients?”
But if you’re talking to someone you’ve never worked with before, your conversation is going to be tweaked slightly. You’ll start by sharing a little bit about your company and the service/product you’d like to offer before asking questions like:
“After hearing what I do, what stood out to you the most?”
“What, if anything, was confusing?”
“What, if anything, was missing in the way I described it?”
“If you were to search for something like this, what are some terms you’d use to look for it on Google?”
“Describe what your life would look like if you didn’t have this problem anymore.”
“What’s kept you from making progress in this area of your life or business?”
Of course you’re going to be focused on the one specific goal you want to get out of these interviews and these questions are a solid starting point.
Simply knowing the questions to ask isn’t enough. Having a non-awkward, seamless conversation takes a little more prep.
Here’s a list of tips on how to be an excellent interviewer—composed from what I’ve learned over ten years of qualitative research.
Script it - Explain why you’re conducting interview and that there’s no right or wrong answer. Asking the same questions of all of your interviewees means you’ll be able to make more accurate assumptions about themes across your target market as a whole.
Record your conversation - Use a free conference line with recording capabilities like Freeconferencecall.com and make sure to let your interviewee know you are recording only for note taking purposes. Most people understand the desire to keep accurate notes, but you have to let them know up front if you’ll be recording the conversation.
Warm them up before diving in - Introduce yourself and your business. By opening up and sharing a bit about yourself first, you’re creating trust and allowing the people on the other end of the line to feel more connected and willing to open up.
Ask open-ended questions - This means focusing on lines of questioning that elicit a response other than yes/no, opening them up to expand upon their line of thought.
Avoid guiding questions - Rather than asking, “Do you think that your business made such progress because of that program?” ask: “Why do you think your business has made the progress that it has?”
Avoid double-barreled questions: This looks like, “In what ways have your stress levels gone down and productivity done up?” Ask each line of inquiry one separately so both questions are answered fully and don’t confuse your interviewee.
Arrange questions by section - For a 30-minute call, stick to 5 main questions, with follow-up questions to dig deeper underneath each.
Listen more than worrying about getting through all your questions - If you’re rushing through your script, your interviewee may well start to feel interrogated and begin to self-censor. Instead, be an active listener and allow them to guide the conversation. This is when the good stuff starts to come out.
Transcribe word for word and then compare for themes - Eventually you’ll become a fast enough note taker that you won’t need to rely on transcribing your call recordings, but for now I highly recommend you record them so you can refer to all of the gold nuggets shared with you and compare across your interviews.
Send a thank you follow up - It’s good practice to thank people for their time and it’s an opportunity to share more about what you do. Whether you attach your freebie or a link to one of your best blog posts, make sure you’re offering something in gratitude for your interviewee’s time and perspective. You never know who might refer you to others or become a paying customer themselves.
And that’s really it!
I joke because, yes, it is a lot of detail if you want to do it right. But it’s completely attainable.
If you aren’t interested in doing this yourself but you see the value in it, we should talk. Hands down my clients say the insights gleaned from these interviews is the most beneficial part of working together.
Because as CEOs we have an idea of why our clients choose us. We think we know what they value. But it takes more than a hunch to really know.
I can move you from guessing to knowing for sure. And the confidence you’ll gain from that will move you forward in ways that just aren’t possible when there’s a hint of doubt in your mind that your message might be off.
After listening to this, please let me know if you plan to interview your clients and let me know what you’re most excited about learning.
And of course, ask me anything you need to feel prepared.