16 Tips for Great Customer Development Interviews in B2B

Etienne Garbugli
Dec 23, 2016 · 3 min read

(Originally published on the Lean B2B blog — more on that here.)

There’s good and bad ways to do B2B customer development / customer discovery interviews and, unfortunately, to the untrained eye, they look very similar.

Here are 16 interview pointers to make sure you collect valuable insights with every interviews:

  1. Learn to stay quiet: The best interviews are 90% listening and 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 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 you are testing the dentist vertical, 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 out of his office for lunch or coffee to even the odds. A neutral location will make you feel more comfortable, but it will also make some information impossible to collect. A following interview should be in their office.
  7. Ask open questions: Who, what, when, where, why, and how, not yes/no questions. Dig deep and avoid closed 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 complaining, listen. People are more specific with complaints than praise. Specific examples will really help you learn about the problems.
  12. Focus on actual behavior: People are not very good at predicting their own actions, knowing what they want, or knowing their true goals. Avoid what ifs. Ask about 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 intimidate 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.

Following these tips should help set you in the right direction.

Note: This post was revised and expanded on the Lean B2B blog.

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