StockSnap / Pixabay

What do clients want? Ask them! Have you ever spent time with someone who seems to talk incessantly about herself, ignores your input and interests, and perhaps even acts as if you’re much better acquainted than you really are?

If you’re like most people, you didn’t enjoy that interaction. However, for many companies, that’s exactly how they are communicating with their clients and prospects through their marketing. And it doesn’t feel very good for them either.

How do you make sure you are engaging your clients and prospects in a meaningful conversation? Qualitative interviews can be the key to better marketing communications.

The Qualitative Interview

Simply put, qualitative interviews are guided conversations with an individual or small group of participants. The goal of the session is to uncover perceptions, challenges and interests in the subject’s own words. While the interviewer should have a set of questions prepared to guide the conversation, one of the greatest benefits of the interview is the ability to go beyond the script and probe for more information.

Who to Interview

In a best-case scenario, interviews include both current clients and prospects, allowing for a full range of views to be captured. However, for a variety of reasons it isn’t always feasible to include non-clients. If that’s the case, including more clients in the process can help to round out the perspectives.

On the client side, be sure to include people whose involvement with your firm covers a variety of experiences — both new and long-standing relationships, and those who see you as one of many vendors as well as the raving fans. No matter whom you choose to include, they should represent your ideal client.

What to Ask

Once you have determined your interviewee list, it’s time to create your interview guide. Determine about 10-15 open-ended questions that will elicit opinions and attitudes about the client’s needs, how well your company addresses those needs, and any perceptions about competitors. Again, these questions are designed to help lead the discussion rather than serve as a script.

How to Conduct the Interview

Whenever possible conduct interviews in person. Phone interviews are fine, but there really is no replacement for face-to-face contact that allows you to read non-verbal cues like facial expressions and body language. Meeting in the client’s environment also sends a signal that you value her time.

Whether you’ll be meeting in person or by phone, it is a good idea to have a second person present to handle the note taking. It’s difficult to focus on the client and the conversation when you are also trying to keep an accurate record.

In-House or Outsource

We are frequently asked if this process is something that can be done internally. It is certainly possible to have your own people conduct effective qualitative interviews with clients. Senior leadership and business development staff often have close professional relationships with their clients and feel they can have these open, honest conversations with them.

However, many firms find it beneficial to engage an external consultant to conduct and analyze these interviews. A third party brings a level of impartiality to the process and can reassure clients that their remarks will be aggregated with others and shared without attribution. This isn’t meant to imply that the interview will focus on problems or complaints, but rather to set the stage for candor.

Understanding perception and client satisfaction

Qualitative interviews are a beneficial tool for understanding your clients’ perceptions of your firm. When carefully planned and conducted they can be a source of deep insight into what you are doing exceptionally well, where there may be room for growth and how your communications are supporting or hindering your goals. A skilled third party interviewer can help to get the most from this important tool.