Although it might sound easy to bombard an expert with the questions on your question list one by one, interviewing is an art that needs much more deliberation than that.
A successful interviewer uses a structured and methodical approach in interviewing and constantly improves their skills by learning from previous experience. Only then can the interview truly boost your market understanding and allow you to make the right decisions based on unbiased insights.
As an expert network that has experience in hosting many expert interviews on a daily basis, it is always unfortunate to see clients make crucial mistakes in their interviews and not gain full value for the price they pay.
Therefore, we came up with 8 pro-tips to help you get the most out of your next expert interview. Click here if you want to download the PDF version.
The tips are derived from many years of experience performing, participating, and observing expert interviews. We won't bore you with the obvious tips such as to make sure you are in a silent room to perform an interview; we'll stick to the tips that aim to fix the mistakes we see the most.
The first step in your preparation is to set a clear goal for the interview. Spend time browsing the secondary research materials you have available (such as market reports, competitor intelligence, and/or due diligence reports) and make sure you have enough knowledge of the industry as a basis to build your interview guide. Note down gaps in your research and the data points you are specifically looking for.
Once you have an idea of what kind of intelligence you need, make a more specific list of insights under various topics such as the market, competitive landscapes, customers, technologies, and the regulatory environment. The table below will help you to cover all your bases and to better structure your interview.
Strategy consulting teams would typically start with project hypothesis trees and derive the primary research needs (i.e. research from direct sources such as from 1:1 industry expert interviews). Your approach does not need to be so sophisticated, but at the very least you should have a prepared and structured list of high-level topics to discuss.
Going beyond a list of discussion topics and preparing a more detailed full questionnaire can be useful in some cases. For example, if your team conducts many interviews for the same project, writing out the interview questions in a questionnaire is important to ensure different interviewers are retrieving information that is comparable and useful for further analytical steps (such as "market growth rates" should be asked in exactly the same manner to be suitable to use in data processing). Also, a list of questions can help inexperienced interviewers to make sure the questions asked are unambiguous, unbiased, and support the structure of the interview. For experienced interviewers, a list of topics is sufficient enough.
It is crucial to establish rapport at the beginning of the interview. There are many tricks to build trust and create a friendly environment for the conversation, such as acknowledging the authority of the expert.
However, the easiest way which is sometimes neglected by interviewers is to review an expert's profile - even if it's only minutes before the interview. Expertwired provides clients access to the full profile of experts so it is easy to briefly review before an interview. Breaking the ice with an expert supports a fruitful conversation and will both show your respect for the expert and save you time in asking questions like "Can you give us a short background description of your experience in this market?" Alternatively, stating "We've selected you for having an impressive resumé in the field of [...], which is exactly what we are looking to speak to you about" makes a world of difference and allows ample opportunity to assess the fit for your interview questions.
Doublecheck whether the expert is the right fit for the scope of your research interests before you delve into detailed questions. Although the expert is pre-vetted by several rounds of questions and profile checks, it can still happen—although very rarely—that the expert is not able to give you all the answers you want. Sometimes the market definition in the eyes of the expert or the client is not fully aligned, for instance.
Important: confirm the fit within the first 10 minutes to receive a full refund. Please note, in such cases Expertwired will still pay the expert a courtesy payment of 20% of the hourly rate as a respectful token for making themselves available for the interview.
During the interview, pay attention to the wording of your questions to avoid potential bias in the answers you receive. Hide your hypothesis from the expert and ask broader questions. So instead of asking: "Are customer purchases more driven by price or is it still quality?" it's best to be neutral and ask "Can you elaborate on the key customer purchasing criteria and indicate which of them is more important?" Sounds like a no-brainer, but you'd be surprised how often biased questioning like this happens!
It might be tempting to challenge an expert based on your assumptions, but it's not a smart choice to include any assumptions in your questioning. Instead, when you need to confirm an assumption, let the expert say it without you leading them. Remember, bad data is worse than no data.
Missing the opportunity to dig deeper when you are presented with a glimpse of something pointing to new market insights is the key-value-limiter of getting the most out of an interview. It happens very, very often (especially with less experienced interviewers).
Always listen to the expert's answer to your question and pose follow-up questions if anything is unclear, or new arguments are mentioned, and if needed note down unexpected remarks to come back to later on in your interview. Knowing when to go off-track is difficult for inexperienced interviewers but absolutely essential for getting the most out of an interview.
Remember an expert is one of the few people who has the best, real-time understanding of the market you are interested in and will be referring to interesting matters you might not be expecting based on your prepared set of questions. Sticking only to your list of questions will greatly limit the variety of insights you get.
Be sharp and identify pain points that you haven't thought of but might be relevant to your research. Dig deeper into them based on the answers of the expert and get unparalleled insights that expert interviews are truly valuable for.
We all love data—don't we?— but what is the value of data if the datapoints are not comparable?
Common interview questions relate to quantification of market size, market growth, sizing of market segments, pricing/margins, competitor benchmarks, etc. In many cases these same topics are discussed with many different experts and the results will populate your dataset or challenge your business case inputs. It's important to make sure you get the right numbers.
Expert replies such as "The market grew by several percent" or "I'd say 5%" don't necessarily give you enough information. Be very specific in your line of questioning to make sure you know exactly if the expert means annual growth, average annual growth over several years, and what years?
You don't want to wait until you look back into your transcript or relisten to the audio file (we offer both to our clients) to find you're missing exact numbers or any important information because the question asked was not specific enough.
As an extra tip—when relevant ask for the source behind the answer. Maybe there is a valuable (public) source of data you didn't find in your secondary research.
Leave at least 5 minutes for wrapping up the interview. Ask open-ended questions to give the expert the freedom to complement their answers. "Is there anything that I should have asked but I didn't?" is a good example for closing an interview.
Note that when you get into an insightful discussion towards the end of the interview which possibly goes over the booked 60-minute call you have nothing to worry about - with Expertwired you only pay for the exact duration of the interview so take the additional time when needed.
Last but not least, agree on possible follow-ups with the expert.
We hope these tips help you have more valuable discussions in your expert interviews!
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