This article was originally published in Search Engine Journal.
Interviewing experts in niches can inform your B2B content strategy to connect with your target audience. Learn how to interview and integrate the results into your content.
The B2B industry can be niche and specific, which may lead some people to feel like they need to be an expert to create a successful content strategy.
What if I told you with a little practice and minimal resources, you can create a strategy like an insider?
Interviewing (when done correctly) can indeed be a powerful tool to learn about someone, or something, in-depth.
This is particularly useful in B2B settings where we can use the Problem > Solution > Impact framework to guide the process.
In this article, we will look into why interviewing is an important part of the new client onboarding process, who to interview, and how to prepare – as well as some tips and sample questions to get you started.
Table of Contents
Interviewing is an incredibly useful tool when working in a niche or industry that you might not be familiar with.
This is because it can be used as a research method for understanding culture.
Culture – defined as a system of beliefs, worldviews, and values that influence behavior and the material world around a part of society – is central to understanding individuals’ consumption and purchasing behaviors, and motivations.
Anthropologists use interviews to learn more about human behavior because it facilitates human connection, encouraging empathy and insights that often can’t be gained elsewhere.
Last year, I was working with a B2B SaaS startup in a niche industry – and after doing as much online research as possible, I was still feeling lost on how to create that would engage and convert readers into customers.
I felt like a fraud, and my content made it clear that I wasn’t one of them.
Without that human connection, my writing felt dry and didn’t hit the core motivations or problems for individuals or companies in that industry.
This is when I decided to utilize my training as an anthropologist.
I asked if I could schedule an interview with one of the staff members at the startup. The insights that I gained into the company and industry were priceless.
This then led me to remember that I have a family member who also works in the field, and I asked them for 30 minutes to pick their brain.
These two interviews led to a much deeper understanding of my client’s daily workload and workflow, their clients’ expectations, and the culture of their industry.
In turn, this helped me create better content that resonated with their target audience.
While SEO feels technical and more quantitative, there are humans behind the keywords.
Behind humans, we have a whole world of influences, experiences, history, and marketplace mythologies to uncover.
These things can’t be measured in Google Analytics.
Who To Interview
It depends on the number of resources available and your capacity.
Interviewing can be as simple as a 20-minute video call, or as in-depth as an hour-long chat over coffee.
It also depends on the topic’s scope and depth.
Typically, you will begin with your research around the company and its industry. Start at Wikipedia and begin the journey down the rabbit hole.
After completing your homework, you will better understand where gaps in your knowledge exist.
This can help you determine who to interview.
It can be a staff member from the client organization, someone active on LinkedIn, or even a third cousin who works in the industry.
Use your discretion and professionalism to choose the person you can build a good rapport with.
Practice Makes You Better
If you have never conducted an interview before, then practicing a few skills will go a long way.
It looks easier than it is, and there are no do-overs.
Below, I share two aspects of interviewing that I find the most important and how to prepare for them.
1. Taking Notes
Pick a well-trafficked location in your area, such as the weekend flea market, local shopping mall, sporting event, or dog park.
Go with a notebook and pen – no typing.
Find a spot where you can sit for about 30 minutes and take notes while watching everything around you.
There is no need to be a spy or hide behind a bush. Blend in, but be perceptive.
Take notes on what you see for five minutes and include as many details as possible. Break for five minutes and read over your notes, and then repeat twice more.
This process will help you learn to take better notes and be observant rather than a participant.
In your interview, you don’t want to be taking notes non-stop, and you shouldn’t.
The interviews should be recorded upon the participant’s consent, and notes should to supplement the things that are not said.
Did the interviewer tense up on a particular topic? Did they fill with excitement talking about another? Note these things.
2. Active Listening
Active listening is another skill that is essential to a great interview.
Active listening is about being present and engaged in a conversation. This means you are listening to everything the interviewee is telling you and processing their perspective and insights, while leaving yours to yourself.
Recruit a friend to help you improve your active listening through this exercise.
Set a timer for five minutes.
One of you shares a story or explains something while the other listens.
After five minutes, the listener will try to remember as many details as possible about what they were just told.
Swap places and repeat.
This exercise helps with building patience (waiting for your turn to speak), listening skills (not planning what to say next), and being present (through eye contact).
- Audio record the interview, but don’t forget to receive written consent.
- Take notes of things unsaid.
- Keep the interview short to around three to five questions (depending on length).
- After the interviewee stops speaking, give them three to four seconds of silence. This encourages many people to share more, just by giving them space to speak and be heard.
- Be interested in the conversation, but there is no need to relate or one-up their stories. Every moment you spend speaking equals less information from them.
- Ask questions to encourage elaborations. For example, what happened next? How did you explain it to them? Does that happen regularly? What do you think about it?
- Prepare for your interview via research of the industry.
- Don’t forget to get explicit consent and respect participants’ privacy.
- Reciprocity can go a long way – use it.
Sample Questions To Ask Experts
The goal of interviewing experts is to capture their passions and problems in a casual conversation.
Over-formalizing the interview can cause participants to feel uncomfortable sharing their personal feelings.
Consider the Problem > Solution > Impact model while preparing your questions.
Here are a few examples that work great.
- How did you get into this line of work?
- What is your favorite thing about [industry/profession/workflow]?
- What tool do you use every single day at work? What is great about it? What would you change?
- What does your everyday workflow look like?
- How are your relationships with clients? Anything you wish to improve?
- Do you follow current trends, news, influencers, or creators in your industry? Who?
The last one is a gold mine if they are active online and can share a few individuals from their industry – or even blogs, YouTube channels, or social media accounts.
This will become invaluable when it comes time to create and distribute content.
Be careful of leading questions; while it is an interview, it should feel comfortable, like a conversation.
It is only then that your interviewee will share the most sincere answers.
Creating Better Content From Interviews
Now that we cracked the interview, it is time to take what you learned and transform your content.
The Social Poll
Take an interesting or controversial point from the interview, and present it as a question on an appropriate platform where others in the industry can voice their opinion.
Why does this work?
Chances are, the topic you brought up is a point of contention for others in the industry. Posting this is a subtle nudge that you are an insider in their group.
It also shows that you are interested in what people have to say.
Social polls can stir up a larger discussion or yield interesting results.
If either of these happens, you take it a step further and create a longer piece of content from that concept.
A blog article that shares expert and professional quotes from the social poll can bring in new readers and help with distribution.
Update Existing Content
Updating existing content is my favorite content strategy of all time.
There is no way that you can make a blog post worse the second time around; it is always improving.
If your interview was successful, you might have picked up a few new pieces of information about how certain topics are discussed and the jargon around them.
Editing the style of writing found on blog posts to reflect the linguistic patterns of the industry will give readers a clue that this is someone who knows what they are talking about.
Have you ever read something and instantly connected to it?
You might have felt that someone was reading your mind, and as uncomfortable as that sounds, we find it very comforting as humans.
These positive signals that someone is in our “in-group” help us to build lasting relationships.
There are countless ways to use interviews to inform or help create a content strategy – whether they inspire a new piece of content, or influence the style of writing or language used in copy.
The opportunities are endless.
If you take away anything from this piece, understand that (most) people are social and love to talk about themselves or their interests.
If someone is not interested in being interviewed or seems closed off, then don’t choose them.
When an anthropologist is in the field and chooses an informant, it’s someone who they get along with, who is respected or known in the community, and who is knowledgeable about a specific topic.
Embrace our basic need for human connection and use it to amplify your content strategy.
If you are humble and willing to learn from others, you will be there in no time.