Don’t Ask Your Next Question Before You Learn From the Last Answer

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Customer Development, Sales

Interviewing Tip #5: Run An Interview, Not A Conversation
“I once listened as one of my colleagues conducted and interview that made me cringe. It sounded more like two old friends catching up more than anything. “Aren’t you suppose to be gathering information?” I thought, but his mistake is not uncommon, especially in our climate of approachability and human business. But, as the interviewer, your job is to lead the conversation, not participate in it.”
Garret Moon in “How to Interview Your Users and Get Useful Feedback

If you find yourself talking with a prospect for a few minutes and you are not getting any questions back from them then your discovery conversation may have deteriorated into an interrogation.

My goal in a discovery interview is to have a serious conversation about issues, needs, constraints, and goals. There is a risk an interview can become a casual conversation, but casual conversation is a very useful method for establishing rapport: context matters.

I work in B2B markets where my key objective in a discovery conversation is to understand the other person’s situation in a manner that also lays the foundation for a potential business relationship. If you “gather data” using an interview style that leaves the other party without any desire to do business with you then you will not succeed in a B2B market.

Moon includes a pull quote:

“Interviews are different from conversations. We’ll use a relaxed tone, but we are purposefully guiding the interaction, often thinking several questions ahead.”
Steve PortigalInterviewing Users

While it’s a good idea to think several questions ahead, I worry that too much focus on getting your pre-planned questions answered may suppress learning: you may be following a track laid down before the customer said something surprising that merits an improvised exploration.

Here are some related blog posts on customer interviews and discovery conversations:

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