The better you know your target audience, the more effective your marketing and sales initiatives will be. But there are many ways to do audience research, each one with its pros and cons. Interviewing clients is one of them and something I recommend almost every independent consultant to try.
A 1:1 client interview is as simple as it sounds. It consists of a conversation between you and a current client or prospect. There should be no survey questions or sales pitches.
Although you can find quicker or easier methods to do audience research, interviewing clients is a great option if you want to:
- Understand why clients buy: What triggers people to consider hiring your product or service in the first place? When done right, you’ll collect important insights in the process including their pain points, buying objections, goals, and the alternatives they considered.
- Learn more about their buying journey: How did they learn about you, or where can you meet them? This will help you identify new marketing channels or tactics to experiment with, and use them in your initiatives to earn more visibility and trust from similar people.
- Improve your messaging: There's no better way to build rapport and show your audience you understand them than speaking as they do. If you listen well, you will find many "golden nuggets" in a client interview that you can later use to create content and add to your sales collateral.
What To Expect
You can conduct client interviews on the phone, a video call, or in person (it's as easy as taking someone out for a coffee). Since you're talking to people who already know and trust you, you often don't need any kind of incentive to get them to yes. Clients are usually happy to share their experiences with you.
While there are some good techniques to discover key insights and “golden nuggets”, the key is to remember that you’re there to listen, not to sell.
As for the duration, I usually aim for 30-minute chats with each client. You need some time to move away from the initial light exchange and find and explore a key point with more depth. It's ok to keep it going if they want to, but asking for a longer time commitment creates resistance for people to agree to chat in the first place.
Another tip is to, whenever possible, batch the calls together. You can schedule 2-5 interviews in the same morning with a time buffer between them. This reduces distractions and switching costs, and usually improves your performance as an interviewer.
Pros and Cons
In addition to the advantages already mentioned, there are three other good arguments for using interviews as a client research method:
- When done right, it usually strengthens relationships with your clients.
- It's usually not expensive, since the only cost is your time.
- As opposed to onsite surveys or focus groups, it can be done remotely.
Of course, interviews are not a perfect research method. I can see three big disadvantages (or things you should look out for):
- It can be difficult to perform the interviews without proper training.
- It's easy to bias the interviews, which can lead to inaccurate conclusions.
- If you want to run customer interviews for your own clients, you may struggle to get their buy-in.
Every consultant would benefit from having more 1:1 conversations with clients and prospects. We're always looking to create new projects and opportunities to work together. But don't forget that, to better understand how your audience thinks and behaves, sometimes all you need to do is listen.