How to conduct good discovery interviews
B2B marketing to a niche must be based on solid research. As a result, we’ve developed our own version of a discovery call in our mission to support companies targeting a niche. Traditionally used in sales, for us a discovery call is a chance to explore and understand complicated products and services quickly, especially in our strategy projects and content research projects.
We’ve learnt some valuable skills and lessons along the way, which we want to share here to help you target your niche:
1. Ask about behaviour not opinions
Infer opinions from actions as intention ignores the real-life barriers. This common mistake leads to a false read, as the interviewee will often explain intention using hypotheticals instead of the results of concrete behaviour. Exploring actions taken before is the only true indicator of behaviour.
2. Explore the “why”
A simple concept and one we encourage all our team to do as a default is to understand the “why” of a request. Iterative techniques such as the “five whys”, which essentially asks “why” repeatedly to explore each suggested reason for behaviour, allow you to uncover ultimate drivers. “Why?” is the most effective of all open-ended questions.
3. Humility is more important than expertise
Having a similar level of expertise as the interviewee is not needed – this is why you are conducting research! Let the interviewee explain concepts in their own way. This will prevent you, the interviewer, from jumping to conclusions based on your existing understanding.
4. Take notes immediately afterwards
As your discovery interviews begin, and particularly if they are being conducted by different members of the team, always write up notes of the conversation immediately afterwards so they are fresh in your mind. Make sure you highlight any strong sound bites.We advocate recording the interviews, easy when using Microsoft Teams, and transcribing them with software such as Otter.ai. A lesson for all is to make sure the research leader reviews each summary so that they can evolve the questions during the research to dive deeper into interesting areas as they emerge and validate new hypothesises. Don’t just look at the end of all the interviews. You will miss things, and the chance to explore more.
5. If your audiences are international, take extra care
If the interviewee is giving answers in a non-native language, a good habit we’ve developed is asking the same question in two different ways to aid understanding and avoid well-intended answers being accidentally compromised. Another consideration is how different cultures around the world respond to direct questions. An excellent book on this subject is Erin Mayer’s Culture Map. Cultural sensitivities affect how comfortable people are with explaining themselves. Be sensitive.
6. Watch out for cognitive bias
…particularly confirmation bias where your pre-existing opinions become reinforced rather than an alternative hypothesis being explored. The first step here is to acknowledge it exists and begin the research with an open mind, making sure you don’t interrupt responses too quickly to push the interview in a predefined direction by accident.
7. Plan your questions and follow the same structure each time
Having a prompt that is close to a script means that you can be confident that the questions asked will prompt comparable answers. It sounds silly, but this is one of the most important aspects of a good discovery call.
Conducting a good discovery call is a skill and it needs practice. Listening skills and the ability to delve deeper take time to build, so the best method of learning is to roll those sleeves up and get to work!