Whenever I start a new marketing project, whether it's a consulting gig, a project for a client in my freelance days, or sponsorship or affiliate deals for Simple Programmer, step 1a is:
Conducting an interview.
Preferably with the founder of the business, or else someone who has day-to-day contact with customers.
I used to get very nervous about interviewing.
Since I worked as a journalist for several years, I had to overcome that fear.
I got an urgent email from a subscriber named Saumil who was staring into the teeth of his first copywriting interview:
Question – I am writing an ‘About page'. I want to know what services are being offered. I want to understand their business and services.
What questions should I be asking them to know that? Or what do you ask your clients to know their services?
My #1 takeaway from conducting hundreds of interviews as a reporter was:
It pays to prepare.
Sometimes an interview subject would call me back at an unexpected time when I didn't have my mental “game face” on.
Almost invariably these interviews were an awkward, frustrating disaster—full of single-word answers and uncomfortable pauses.
The interviews that went well were the ones where I set aside a dedicated block of time to prepare.
I'd spend 30-60 minutes or more to do some background reading on the topic and formulate a list of 20+ questions, sequenced in a logical order to ensure that I got the info I needed—and just as important, to keep the conversation flowing smoothly.
Because a well-conducted interview doesn't feel like an interview at all—it feels more like a coffee-shop chat with a good friend.
That's always how you get the most colorful quotes as a journalist, and no coincidence, it's also how you get the most useful insights as a marketer.
Here are some of the questions I gave Saumil that I regularly use for marketing projects:
– What EXACTLY is your product or service? How would you describe it to a stranger who has never met you?
– What is the major benefit? What are some of the important secondary benefits?
– What specifically does a prospect get when he or she signs up?
– How is your product/service different from your competition?
– Who is your target audience? What problems are they trying to solve that relate to your product? What is their age range? Income level? What other distinctive qualities do they have?
– What keywords and keyword phrases do you envision using in your copy?
– What objections might a prospective customer raise? How would you overcome those objections in a face-to-face meeting?
Afterward I heard back from Saumil:
Josh – You.Are.A.LIFE-SAVER.
Your email came at the right time. I was about to have a discussion and didn't know what to ask.
LOL – just took your questions and I am happy to say that it went well.
Last tip here:
Look at your questions as a guide, not a straightjacket.
Don't be afraid to go “off script” and follow the conversation when it's going in a productive direction.
And when you hit the end of that particular rabbit trail, the questions are there to show you the way.
P.S. Interviewing is an extremely valuable skill no matter what your profession.
And a good interview is a collaborative dance between the participants—nothing like the hostile, combative faceoffs you see on TV.
If you'd like to develop your skills in this area, check out Creative Interviewing by Ken Meztler.