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The Interview Process Part 2: Opening-Up a Buyer Interview

Buyer interviews are not scripted surveys. Instead they need to create a meeting of the minds and produce candid insights. You want the truth. To get 'golden' revelations - to extract real value from a buyer interview - there needs to be a conversation between peers. With only 30-odd minutes to get what you’re after, how do you get anything more than what the buyer told the sales team - “your price is too high” or “you’re missing feature X?”

We’ve conducted thousands of buyer interviews covering dozens and dozens of buyer types, and we’ve learned this: Your success in seeking the truth, in getting deep insights, depends entirely on how you open the interview. This article, following on from our last, is your guide to getting an interview started; the open.

How do you start a buyer interview? Where do you begin?

When you sit down to place your first interview phone call, you should have notes in front of you. These notes are a compilation of everything you’ve learned about the customer you’re calling – with luck, you’ve had good conversations with those involved with this customer both during and after the sales process. You’ve spoken to sales, you’ve spoken to marketing, you’ve spoken to the onboarding and CRM teams (if applicable). Sitting-down, you should be confident that you understand your company’s internal understanding of your customer. Now it’s time to learn how they understand themselves, what we referred to in the first article as ‘understanding their story.’

In The Beginning

With the initial ‘hello, nice to meet you’ pleasantries out of the way, we start with the probing questions. Start with the broad strokes - “Who are you as a company?” “What do you do?” “Who do you do it for?” Try to probe a little deeper for something other than a boilerplate answer.” Remember, you’re looking for their story – you want something with more depth. “We’re a team that knows that clear communication is the magic bullet for good CRM, and we use our SaaS experience to demonstrate that to our customers.” Not everyone is going to speak eloquently or use a lot of words – but hopefully they’re willing to speak with honesty and passion. 

The goal is to establish the rhythm and tone of the interview to come. Especially in loss and churn interviews, you need to show the interviewee that you’re not here to judge, or to try and resurrect a stalled or perished sale - you want the interviewee to know that you’re here to listen and to understand. Ask clarifying questions to make it clear that you are truly interested and not just following a script. 

Getting To Know You

Now the interviewee knows you’re not a threatening or disruptive presence, so it’s time to start getting to know them better. In establishing a rapport with the interviewee, you want to discern their personal differentiators – in other words, what makes them unique. Keep it personal but not private. “You’re a data analyst doing marketing? How did you get into that role?” is a great example of a personal question that doesn’t leave the professional sphere, in a way that “So how many children do you have” or “You see the game Friday?” is not. 

Don’t make the mistake of confusing out-of-the-office private details for personal relevancy. You might both love golf, but it’s not a useful data point unless your product is golf software. Not only can these questions feel too intrusive – and thus leave your interviewee off-balance and possibly uncomfortable – it can also be a time waster. You’ve booked thirty minutes for a call – twenty minutes spent discussing your backswings will drive you nowhere.

A good interviewer is all about good time management – you need to nail tone and rapport within the first few minutes so that you have the rest of the call to learn the details that really matter. You need to quickly discern what the interviewee’s core goal was – what we call the F-Delta (FΔ). We’ve covered FΔ before, but just as a quick refresher, a customer’s FΔ is what drove a sale in the first place. It’s the fundamental change that the interview sought to achieve when they sought-out your product - a change they believed only your product could solve. Their FΔ is what compelled them to buy or walk away. In the case of churn, a failure to achieve FΔ is exemplified when your product fails to be the solution the customer thought it was.

If They Ask, Can You Answer?

By grasping their FΔ, you’ll have a framework for how to frame the rest of your questions going forward – what made them think your product would solve their FΔ? Did sales help encourage that impression, or did they drop the ball, failing to understand what it was the customer wanted your product to do? How did the FΔ affect churn – was it obvious during onboarding, or did it take to realize your product wasn’t working out. Your interviewee’s story – the visionary who saw problem X and took steps to solve it – will be shaped entirely by that inciting FΔ – if they had no problem that needed solving, they’d have no need for your product in the first place.

So that’s the first few minutes covered – a short amount of time, but a crucial one. Where do you go from here? You should start to consider how you were thinking of approaching the interview: were you thinking about how to get the interviewee into the right headspace? Did you consider the kind of tone you should set? What about demonstrating that you are there to listen? If these haven’t been priorities in your thought process – or especially in your actual process - it’s time to start incorporating them. As an interviewer you should also think about your own focus, especially if you’re going to be quizzing people about their own. What is your FΔ in this internal win/loss analysis or churn analysis project? What is it you want to get out of it? Before you ask people about their own fundamental goals, do you have an answer to give if they turn the question back on you?

Make sure that before you start your first – or your next – interview that you have clear goals in mind, and are confident how your interview should feel. Remember to listen, to show that you want to understand, and take care not to ask questions that feel too intrusive. Make yourself out to be conscientious and attentive, and you’re on the right road for conducting a good interview. 

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