How To Interview Subject Matter experts For b2b Marketing

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If your organization is already using inbound marketing for B2B lead generation, it should not be difficult getting people to understand how interviews result in the most authentic and productive content possible. But it sometimes is.

Even businesses that have embraced inbound usually limit these activities to the marketing and sales teams, leaving people in other departments with no understanding of the strategy behind the work. This needs to change.

Everyone in your organization can and should contribute content that helps customers learn, but you can't expect all of them to be great writers. Blogging is a skill, just like welding pipes or composing symphonies. Some people are great at it, while others spend a lot of time struggling through the process. None of this matters to your customers, though. Your blog has to shine. 

Your success depends on producing excellent content, regardless of your staff's writing abilities.   

We'd like to propose a different approach. Instead of making someone throw a bad article together, we suggest you interview that person, drawing out the great information he or she has to share. A skilled blogger can then take these insights and write a killer post. 

In this guide, we will help you:

  • Get stakeholders to understand the importance of using interviews for great content

  • Choose the right people to interview

  • Find good questions that result in an awesome discussion

  • Control the interview so you get everything you need

After reading, you should have all the background you need to create unique, impactful content for your customers. Ready? Let’s get started!

Short on time? Download a PDF of this guide!

getting buy-in 

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Start With the Marketing Manager

If you want to make a case for conducting staff interviews, there’s no better place to start than with the marketing manager. If the idea is new to him or her, this is how we suggest selling it:

Summarize How Interviews Will Impact Organizational Goals: This is your elevator pitch, so keep it focused on a goal upper management has articulated, like increasing revenue.

“By using our internal experts to educate customers, we will demonstrate our unique approach to [service offering], creating value while differentiating ourselves from competitors. It will also keep our marketing aligned with the ways we actually do things, which smooths the onboarding process and builds trust with clients.”

That’s a long pitch, but it hits the right notes. You could write a better one, but what needs to come across is this:

If we want to attract new customers with our content, we need to be interesting. We need to be helpful. We need to be different.

Most of the noise on the web comes from businesses that are doing little more than ripping off other publishers. They paraphrase existing articles without adding anything new, usually because the writer lacks any real experience with the subject matter.

Companies like these are saturating the Internet with redundant content in hopes of cheating their way to higher SEO rankings. Your organization can do better.

Set your company apart by harnessing the power of real life experience and sharing it with people who need your services. This approach also ensures your bloggers won’t write about strategies and tactics your company doesn’t use. It’s scary to think of how many businesses out there are publishing inaccurate information because they have no internal process in place to fact check the work.

These points should convince the marketing manager of the importance of using interviews to boost lead generation. Next, we need to bring the idea to managers who supervise employees you want to interview.

Getting Other Departments Involved

climbers-working-together.jpgYou might be asking: “Why should I spend time going through managers? I know who I want to interview. Why not just ask him or her directly?”

There are a few reasons why you should start this process at the managerial level.

HR may have concerns about privacy and other issues that could get you in hot water if you go renegade. Respecting company policy by going through the proper channels will not only protect your job, it will help others understand what you are trying to accomplish and why. 

You’ve also heard the saying: “Generals talk to generals.”

If you go to managers in other departments and try to make a case for interviewing one of their employees, it will be harder for them to say no if they have had a prior conversation with the marketing manager first. Introducing the idea to them personally will only invite objections like, We’re too busy for this right now, or There’s nothing interesting about what our department does. Why don’t you try…?

Every manager in the organization should understand why staff interviews are a priority, and agree to make employees available within a reasonable timeframe.

You may have to schedule interviews weeks in advance to accommodate busy schedules. That’s okay, as long as the interviewee honors his/her commitment with you. If interviews are not a priority at the top, you will have a much harder time getting to the people who will help you produce great results.

Choosing the Right Person to Interview

Tomatoes-Advertising-Concept.jpgWhen looking for someone to interview, marketers often take the first person that says yes. This is not always the right choice. 

It doesn’t matter if your expert knows everything under the sun about your topic. If they are simply going through the motions, agreeing to the interview only because their boss told them to do it, you will likely get disappointing results.

It’s important to find someone knowledgeable, but it’s crucial that he or she understands the importance of teaching customers to solve problems. When you talk to the candidate about what you need, listen carefully to the response. Does this person understand the principles of inbound marketing? Does he or she believe in transparency and educating potential buyers?

If you sense discomfort and reluctance, or that they don’t understand what this is for, I would postpone the interview while you look for someone else. Your purpose is to generate high-value content for website visitors. If your expert is unlikely to help you get the information you need, the interview will be a waste of everyone’s time.

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Whenever possible, find somebody who is outgoing, articulate, and passionate about what they do. This type of person loves helping customers. They see a direct correlation between empowering people with information and increasing sales for the company, and they demonstrate this mindset in their work. These colleagues are most likely to give you a fantastic interview.

Obviously, an enthusiastic candidate is always preferred, but that doesn’t mean they will do all the work –  you still have to show up with great questions and guide the conversation for maximum results. Do your homework beforehand, and let your curiosity run wild. Asking good questions leads to great answers.

Preparing for interviews

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BRUSH UP ON THE TOPIC

Like most things in life, a good interview depends on showing up prepared, and that means doing research beforehand.

Preparation begins by knowing what you intend to write about. Ideally, the topic has been planned in a content calendar, and you know exactly what the article will focus on. If you sit down to interview someone and say, "We want to do an article on solar panels," you are likely going to get generic, directionless information. On the other hand, a topic with a narrow focus like "How advancements in solar panels are increasing energy efficiency," you can make a powerful impact on your customers.

If you are familiar with the subject matter, spend some time refreshing your knowledge so you can come up with good questions. If the topic is new to you, try getting more than a basic understanding of what you will be talking about. Asking good questions shows you take the work seriously, and it will improve your chances of interviewing the person again. 

 

FINDING GOOD QUESTIONS

Finding the questions customers ask is the most important and challenging aspect of creating excellent content.

Successful bloggers are great at keeping their writing focused on what customers want to know. It’s crucial to keep your questions on target.

Review your buyer persona profile, then talk to the sales team about what people ask. Better yet, talk to customers yourself and get some insight from them. Either way, you should have no problem coming up with five to ten good questions to fuel the discussion.

Begin the interview by asking for a little background on the topic – this helps break the ice and get things moving – then drill into the deeper questions you’ve prepared.

As the conversation unfolds, the interviewee might say something that sparks new questions in your mind. Ask them! Don’t be afraid to improvise. Even though there are certain items you want to cover, a good interviewer knows when to shelf the planned questions for a moment and probe deeper into a compelling point your buyers would want to know.

 

RECORD THE CONVERSATION

Before starting the interview, do yourself a huge favor and get permission to record the conversation.

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Rolling tape (so to speak) lets you focus on what the person is saying, rather than constantly stopping the discussion so you can scribble notes. You also won’t have to worry about getting the information wrong and wasting time on lengthy edits later on.

At the beginning of the interview, ask the other person if he/she minds if you record the conversation. Nine times out of ten, people are fine with it, but you still have to ask. Not everyone loves to be recorded, and you need to respect their wishes if you want to move forward with the interview.

It’s also illegal to record someone without permission in many states, so stay on the right side of the law and ask. 

You don’t need any special gear for this other than a laptop or phone – most have a decent microphone built in. As far as audio recording software goes, you have many choices.

Uberconference and Zoom are great for recording online interviews. If you are interviewing someone in-person, you could use freeware like Audacity or upgrade to something better. Whatever software you decide to go with, make sure you test it a couple times beforehand. Nothing is worse than scheduling time with someone and then wasting it on technical difficulties.

Guiding the discussion

As the interviewer, you have a tremendous responsibility.

You are a captain, wrestling a ship through gale force winds and monstrous waves. This journey is fraught with chances for your candidate to stray off subject and leave you lost at sea.

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Some people are prone to tangents – this is not a good or a bad thing. It's just their communication style – but don’t let them digress long or you risk missing out on valuable information you need. When you sense your expert is getting off track, wait for an opportunity to politely redirect the conversation:

“This is really interesting stuff! Can you take me back to [earlier point]? Tell me more about that.”

You can get the interview back on track without offending the other person or hurting their feelings.

 

 

 

 

 

when the discussion takes a promotional turn

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You also want to avoid letting the interview to devolve into a reflection of how amazing your company is.

There is a time and a place for tooting the company’s horn, like in a case study, but there’s no quicker way to drive blog readers away than making them feel like they are reading an advertisement.

The only information that matters is what buyers want to know, and when our content sounds promotional, they lose interest fast.

When your expert starts referencing the company too often, lecturing about the benefits of your paid solutions rather than sharing helpful tips, it’s a good time to intervene.

“I’m with you 100 percent. Our solutions are fantastic, and this article is going to help us sell them. For our purpose today though, I’d like to focus on actionable steps customers can take on their own. Can you tell me about those?”

Again, we are tactfully changing the course of the conversation without devaluing what your expert has shared. Remember, this person has taken time out of his/her busy schedule to help you. They may not know what you need, so don’t be afraid to tell them. Otherwise, you risk wasting both your time. 

 

share customer objections & concerns 

As the expert answers your questions, keep yourself grounded in the customer’s perspective. Try to anticipate questions or objections that might come up if a client were sitting there with you, and then raise them in the discussion. If the interviewee gets irritated or defensive by a few tough questions, explain that you are trying to anticipate what the most skeptical buyers might say, and address those concerns head on.

“The sales team has come up against some really skeptical buyers, people who ask questions like […]. These skeptics can be turned into advocates when we address their concerns with confidence. What would you say if you were talking with a potential buyer and he or she asked…”

If you ask a few tough questions, make sure you follow them with gentler ones. You don’t want the other person to feel badgered. Mix up your questioning to maintain a well rounded discussion.

 

ask for real life exampleS 

When the interviews hits a really good point, a light bulb will go off in your head. You’ve just discovered content gold. If this subtopic could be enhanced with a personal anecdote or case study, ask the expert to share a story about it.

If the story involves another business partner or client, you may want to avoid using actual names in the content until you’ve gotten permission. You may be able to entice them to participate by linking to their website within the article. This delivers an SEO benefit to both them and you.

 

ASK For clarity, when needed 

As mentioned earlier, you should go into the interview with a good understanding of the subject matter. You might get lost during the conversation though, so don’t be afraid to stop things for a moment and get clarification. Hopefully, your candidate is able to answer questions without using technical jargon and other language that would confuse customers. If you are hearing too much “business-speak” coming from the other side of the table, you might repeat the statement back in layman’s terms and ask if you understand correctly.

“I think I follow you. Do you mean [repeat statement]? Try to imagine I’m someone you just met at a chamber mixer who isn’t familiar with the terms we use in-house. Can you explain it to me as if I were that guy?”

Summary

Sometimes the most talented and knowledgeable people in every company are not effective bloggers. They have other skill sets. Why force them to write? 

Instead, you can encourage your best bloggers talk to these experts and put their words into writing. 

If you're lucky, the article will almost write itself during the interview. After transcribing some discussions, we've had little to do other than rearrange a few paragraphs and make grammatical tweaks. The heavy lifting was done during the exploration process. 

Employees that have direct contact with customers understand their needs better than anyone else. Your job is to help these colleagues share information in a way that's natural to their skills, and then translate it into powerful, authentic content. This will keep your messaging consistent, and help your brand to break through the repetitive content other publishers are putting out there.

Do it right, and your buyers will start to listen. Count on it. 

 

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