B2B companies have a rich resource for great content right at their fingertips: their customers. Arguably, talking with your customers can be as – if not more – insightful than market research, industry reports and even your own business data.
Nina Baker, Client Success Manager at 3 Aspens Media, is highly adept at facilitating these conversations for B2B companies. She has an extensive background translating customer insight into useful, engaging content.
We grabbed some time on Zoom with her recently to pick her brain on the topic, so we could share her ideas directly with you.
Q: Why are customer interviews important in B2B industries?
It doesn’t matter how much research you do; you can’t convey what the customer is looking for unless you talk to them directly. A conversation with your client is how you’ll find out their current pain points, what type of customers they serve, what their customers’ issues are, how they’re trying to serve their customers, what’s relevant or new in their industry, etc.
When you talk with your customers, you gain better knowledge of their business, value proposition and how you can serve them better. Plus, this allows you to create a better relationship with them. By having conversations, you are instilling trust that you’re willing to listen to them and get their feedback, good or bad.
Q: What can businesses learn from customer interviews?
You can see what you’re doing well and what sets you apart from the competition. You may also learn information that can lend itself to case studies or testimonials.
Talking to new customers can teach you what criteria they used to select your company versus the competition. Talking with established and trusted customers can provide constructive feedback to address possible problems or to learn what they’re dealing with that can affect your business.
Some of the benefits of regular customer conversations include:
- Learning the real-life applications of your product/service
- Finding opportunities to solicit written and video testimonials
- Soliciting case studies from their success stories
- Learning what they need to be successful and how your organization can help
- Learning how you can partner with them for process improvements
- Getting a holistic view of an issue or campaign by pulling in other subject matter experts
- Creating a collaborative relationship that instills trust by listening and acting on their input
It’s always great to learn the positives, but it’s also an opportunity to mine information that can help you better serve customers and improve your software or product. It’s a good time to ask: What can we do better?
- In what ways can we better communicate with you?
- Is there something that takes extra time and effort on your part?
- Is there something our software (product) should do that it doesn’t?
- Is there something new you’ve come across that that you don’t have the tools to deal with?
- What other technologies are you using to do business?
You can also find out what’s happening in their industry. The people on the ground know what’s going on and they can lend perspective to your content.
For example, at a software company, everyone thinks of the software working a certain way – what it was programmed to do. But when it gets shipped out to the end customers, you may not have any concept of how they’re using it and how creative they can be with their tools. If you talk to them, they may let you know about real-life applications.
If you don’t have those conversations, they may not tell you about any negative issues and, if it gets too bad, they’ll just take their business elsewhere.
Q: Why include your sales team in these conversations?
It’s always good to know what the competition is doing. And it’s good to know what your sales team needs to close a sale. It might be a piece of collateral, like a guide. It might be a flyer, something for an upcoming trade show or something that needs to be addressed in a blog.
Salespeople know what’s happening on the ground. They know what customers are looking for, what’s the current problem of the day. You’re creating content to sell something. So, it has to be useful to the sales team.
In B2B, what’s going on in the industry is very relevant. With one of our clients, we write content on topical issues like the labor shortage and upskilling. Because of conversations with the sales team, we’ve come out with content their competitors aren’t addressing yet. We’re ahead of the curve in addressing issues because we talk to their salespeople and find out what’s happening on the ground.
Q: What are the benefits of using a B2B content firm for customer interviews?
A company like ours (3 Aspens Media) is a good resource to have. It’s not always easy interviewing people. Making people feel comfortable and eliciting information from them is a skill not everyone has. You have to be good at wrangling people who take over or start driving the conversation completely off-topic.
When we’re having these conversations for our clients, it’s typically easier for their customers to talk to us than with the client. Your customers don’t want to feel like they’re being difficult or insulting, but they do want the positives and the negatives known.
When having conversations for our clients, we learn the beneficial aspects of the relationship. But there are times when their customer brings up a topic they are not comfortable discussing with our client. This type of input is helpful for our clients for many reasons; their customer may have concerns about an issue that needs a quick resolution, they may have suggestions on how to improve a process or, for some reason, they may be considering a new vendor altogether. Positive or negative, input from your customer is always beneficial.
Q: Do you have advice about how to conduct B2B customer interviews?
Try to interview folks on the ground at least every other month to find out what’s happening, especially since the pace of business moves so quickly. Then:
- Be organized. Have the questions you want to ask handy. I send them in advance, so they have time to look them over and prepare themselves. Some people are just not comfortable in a situation where they have to respond quickly without digesting the material and thinking through their answers first.
- Know your subject. Research who you’re interviewing, their company and their industry.
- Introduce yourself. Let them know who you are and what you’re hoping to get out of the interview; what the purpose of the piece is.
- Be respectful. Value their participation and their time – end on or before scheduled. Ours typically run for up to an hour.
- Make them feel at ease. Allow the interview to be off camera if that’s more comfortable.
I also always tell interviewees that I will send them what I write up, and they have full veto power over everything before it goes to the client and out in the universe. That goes to that trust issue again.
You’ll always be amazed by what you learn in these conversations, especially when you talk to sales reps, marketing people, VP of operations or whomever, who are excited about what they do and love their jobs. That’s so valuable. You want information, and you want to talk to people who are excited to talk to you about what they do.
I’ve found the best way to put people at ease is to have them talk about themselves at first. And I’m curious. So, I always want to know about people and where they’re from, what they do and what matters to them. Make it like a conversation between friends or interested people — you’re getting to know them, and you want to know what it is they are excited about. If people feel that you’re genuinely curious, they respond well. At 3 Aspens Media, we’re a curious group of people. We like to write about and learn new things, and we find so many of the topics we interview clients about fascinating.
If you’re not comfortable talking with people, do some mock interviews with someone else who can give you positive feedback, and get comfortable just asking questions and then listening for feedback. And if there’s somebody you don’t think is being heard in a multi-person interview, learn how to rope them into the conversation.
And when in doubt, listen and let others join the conversation.
Inspired to talk to your customers?
Inspired to get conversations going with your customers to fuel your content strategy? We put together a compilation of great B2B customer interview questions for your convenience!
And if you’d like to learn more about how we work with clients to conduct customer interviews and glean the most value out of them, reach out at [email protected].