Obtaining quotes and facts from subject matter experts is a crucial part of writing an authoritative white paper. I like to conduct interviews as early as possible in the white paper writing process, as it can be hard for subject matter experts to find room in their schedules to talk to you.
When you’re writing a white paper, you’ll probably need to conduct two types of interviews: an interview with your internal subject matter experts and one or more interviews with outside experts, such as analysts or industry thought leaders.
Below is some advice on how to handle both types of interviews. Much of this advice applies not only to white papers, but also to other types of B2B marketing content.
Getting Your Internal Team on the Same Page
The first thing you’ll need before you interview your internal subject matter experts is a completed creative brief. You can click here for a White Paper Creative Brief (Word document). Hopefully, someone on your team has filled this out for you. Once you have the creative brief, review it and note any areas where you are missing information or need clarification.
Then get all of your internal subject matter experts together and ask them your questions. It’s crucial to get everyone in the same room (or on the same call) at the same time. That way, they can work out conflicting opinions and make sure they are on the same page about the messaging. Otherwise you’ll have to do a lot of revisions later and you may miss your deadline!
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How to Conduct Interviews with Outside Experts
Including quotes from third-party experts, such as analysts and industry thought leaders, can give your white paper greater credibility. The time you spend trying to coordinate schedules will be worth it.
Unlike with your internal team, it’s best to interview external subject matter experts on an individual basis to respect their time. During the interview, you can ask them about the issues that are driving the topic covered in the white paper. External subject matter experts can also usually provide you with interesting statistics and research.
When you complete the interview, be sure to send the expert a thank-you message. It’s also wise to show the experts their quotes once the white paper is in the final approval stages. Be sure to save emails where they signed off on the quotes – just in case an issue arises in the future.
Additional Interviewing Tips
Whether you are interviewing your internal team or outside experts, these tips will help you make the most of their limited time:
- Record the interviews. Whenever you conduct an interview, it’s a good idea to get permission to record it so you can refer back to it when you are writing the white paper. Whether you use a hand-held recording device, an app or online recording software, be sure to test your technology before the interview, to ensure that everything is working.
- Ask open-ended questions. Avoid questions that elicit “yes” or “no” answers, as they won’t provide you with many insights. For example, don’t ask “Is your customer’s biggest pain trying to find qualified job applicants?” Instead, ask, “What is your customer’s biggest challenge?” You may be surprised by the answer.
- If you don’t understand something, or if the subject matter experts give you conflicting messages, you should repeat what they said back to them. When they hear it read back to them, they’ll be able to let you know if the messaging is correct.
- Prod for more information. Sometimes a subject matter expert may not give you meaty answers. You may ask open-ended questions but find that the interview is not going well. If this happens, you can restate the question. You can also prod for more information by asking questions like, “How so?” and “Can you please tell me more?”
One of the toughest parts of completing a white paper or any other type of content project occurs when subject matter experts won’t get back to you. If you have trouble scheduling interviews with outside experts, see “How to Meet Content Deadlines When People Won’t Get Back to You” for ideas on how to get around this problem. However, you still need to schedule the group call or meeting with your internal team.
If you have any comments or questions about this lesson, please post them in the comments section below or message me directly.
This post is part of No More Boring White Papers!, a summer e-course outlining how to write and promote a white paper. If you follow along, you’ll have a new white paper by Labour Day. Click here to subscribe to No More Boring White Papers!