Episode: 75 |
Will Bachman:
Interviewing Experts:


Will Bachman

Interviewing Experts

Show Notes

Interviewing experts can be one of the most powerful sources of insight when learning about a company or a market.

This short episode has 11 tips that I’ve developed to help get the deepest insights from these interactions.

One weekly email with bonus materials and summaries of each new episode:

Will Bachman: So you’ve lined up an expert that you’re gonna interview to get some insights for some project. How do you get the most value out of that discussion? Hey, welcome to Unleashed, the podcast that explores how to thrive as an independent professional. Unleashed is produced by Umbrex, and I’m your host, Will Bachman. On today’s show, I want to talk about 11 rules that I’ve come up with for getting insights from expert interviews.
Let’s just start with number one, mange the flow. Let’s say you have an hour discussion. Here are some steps to manage the flow of that discussion. First, briefly establish rapport. Ask, “Hey, where are you sitting today?” You know, just get them talking right off the bat to say something. Next thing is asking easy question to get them talking about some content, “Hey, before we dive in, could you just tell us about your background in the coffee industry? So we can focus our questions appropriately.” That gets them answering a question that they’re super comfortable with and by the kind of consistency, once someone starts asking, answering a question they’re more likely to continue answering more difficult questions.
Next thing, provide a one-line description of the project. We are researching the global market for cleaning products of coffee machines. Boom. Don’t go beyond that, that’s enough. Next thing is ask for a story. “So, tell us a story about a time when your firm selected a new vendor and replaced an old vendor,” something like that. Just get them telling a story, that will give you some interesting places to probe. Next is ask the rest of your questions. So, here’s the rest of your interview guide. Go to town, finally enclosing conformity action items.
If the person, maybe if you’ve sourced directly and not through an expert network, and they’ve agreed to some action items just list those up and make sure they’re clear and then you can followup later with an email. “But hey, just want to make sure, Claire, you said you’re gonna send us that industry report that you had, and you’re gonna introduce us to that CFO company XYZ.” Make sure you’re both aligned in all those things you’ve captured.
Finally, you can do the question of, “Oh, and just one last thing. If you go on YouTube and search for Colombo, just one more thing, you’ll see whole series of clips, and that technique can be used here, too.” When interview’s done and it feels the interviewee has let her guard down, that’s the time to slip in one last question that you might get a slightly more revealing answer than if it was right in the middle of the discussion. So, you might have a question prepared just for that. That’s managing the flow.
Number two, be brief. If you speak more than 15 seconds, the interviewee may as well be checking her email. So, keep it short. Number three, limit yourself to one question. Don’t do these, “Hey, we’re interested in these retailers. Could you give us your perspective on this? Oh, it would be great if you could also discuss price or price of your channel. By the way, how do manufacturers typically launch? Could you also mention how you think about productivity thresholds?” The person is gonna maybe answer one of those that comes to mind, but they’re not gonna answer the other three. So, break it up, keep it simple. One question at a time.
Number four, ask open-ended questions. So not, “Would you agree that companies A, B, and C are the top players?” Because then you might get a yes or a no, but you’ve biased them. Instead, “Which companies are the top players?” Number five, avoid leading the witness. It’s a little bit like the last one but in terms of don’t tell them something specific. This one is like, “What are the top …” Don’t ask, “What are the top decision criteria that a retailer such as your employer would use when selecting what products to carry?” Because that’s gonna assume that they actually have decision criteria. Now, maybe they do, but if you ask the question assuming that they do have decision criteria, well, the person’s gonna come up with some because they don’t want to disappoint you.
They don’t want to tell you, “Well, the reality is we didn’t really have like formal decision criteria, but if you …” they’re not gonna say that. Instead, ask for a story. So, “Tell me about the time when your firm selected a new product to carry and how that process worked.” All right, next, invite stories. This build in the last one. “So, tell me the story of how you launched the product. Talk to me about the process you followed. Just say your prices. Tell me about the time that you discussed advertising spending with a consumer goods manufacturer.” So, inviting those stories gets people saying of setback in the time that they were doing it and avoids the multiple choice and takes, brings up insights that you might not have expected. That’s what you’re hoping for.
Number seven, follow side roads. So, be prepared to get away from your interview guide, even though that’s painful. If there’s a side comment that sounds interesting then pursue that. So, just say, “Hey, could you elaborate on that?” Number eight, keep it going. So, here are some phrases to get insights. Silence is your friend. Use the power of silence. “Tell me more about that. Say more. Oh, and what happened then? Oh, just keep going.” Then use some silence in there, right, because that silence is uncomfortable and the person will struggle and then often keep going and that’s when you get the real insights.
Number nine, be wrong to get it right. Now, you don’t want to overuse this and there’s some ethical about it. So, you don’t want to overuse it, but if you’re perhaps a little bit uncertain about how knowledgable the person really is, let’s say that two interviewees have told you that the typical retail margin is 15 to 20%. You want to test that number. So, one approach is to say, “Oh, what’s the typical retail margin on this particular product?” That’s the straightforward question. That’s fine. Another approach is to say … Now, let’s say you think it’s 15 to 20, right. “Other experts have told me that the typical retail margin on this product is in the eight to 10% range. To what degree is that consistent with your experience?”
So, in some cases, that’s a useful approach because then the person might react and say … They much prefer to correct you and show how smart they are, and say, “Oh, no, no. It’s not eight to 10%. That’s way high. It’s actually four to 5%,” and then that might be a very different than you were expecting. Or it might be a different number than if you had just asked them. You could try also instead, if you believe it’s 15 to 20, you might say, “Oh, it’s typically 30%. Is that about right?” Now, in some ways that might be biasing them or anchoring them, but if you are concerned that someone doesn’t really know what they’re talking about, it’s a way to get them to … Some people prefer to correct you if they think you’re wrong than to tell you the number that they think is a great secret.
Number 10, check for supporting evidence. So, if someone says, “Oh, that’s a $250 million segment.” You say, “Okay. How did you get to that number? Tell me what makes you believe that that’s the case?” Dig in a little bit. So, what’s actually behind that. Sounds obvious but maybe I didn’t do that one when I first started doing these kind of interviews. So, I mean did the person just get that from a report, “Oh, did you find that in a report?” Or, “Did your firm build up that number based on your estimates of all the other competitors and what you thought they were doing? Was it sort of bottoms up? Or was it based …” you know, so how did they come up with it? What was the basis behind it? How confident are they on it? Maybe you can say if someone gives you a number, you say, “All right, what’s the 90% confidence interval?”
All right, so, number 11 is opening up the thinking. So, one approach, for example, is to say, you might say, “Okay, what do you think is gonna be the growth rate of this industry over the next five years?” They say, “It’s gonna be 7%.” So, that’s fine. They’ll give you kind of their baseline assumption. One way to get a more creative discussion going is to try to say, “All right, let’s assume that it’s five years from now. The actual growth rate in the market it was only 2% and not 10%. Tell me the story of how that happened and why the growth rate was only 2%.” Or, you’d say, “Hey, let’s say it’s five years from now and the growth rate turned out to be 20%. What is it? What happened to cause the market to grow 20%?” That will sometimes spur more creative, open thinking and share with you some insights that you wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.
So, that’s 11 tips. Hope that was helpful. Hope you can implement some of those. I’d love to hear any of your tips that I’m missing. You can email me at unleashed@umbrex.com. You can also visit our website umbrex.com/unleashed and sign up for a weekly newsletter where we give transcripts of each episode and some other bonus features, recommended reading, and other great stuff. I’d love it if you thought this episode was useful. Please share it one LinkedIn, other social media. If you would write a review on iTunes, that would be awesome. Thanks for listening.

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