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Jun 04, 2009
How To

Quick, Low-Cost Customer Interviews: 8 Steps to Develop New Marketing Collateral

SUMMARY: Social networks, blogs and other Web 2.0 technologies make it easier for customers and prospects to share opinions on vendors. That trend puts additional pressure on marketers to develop relevant marketing content that speaks directly to prospectsí interests and pain-points -- without a lot of additional marketing verbiage.

In this article, we explain how a B2B marketer creates an alternative to the standard client case study that uses a customerís own words -- and only their own words. The Q&A interview format makes it easier to recruit customers to discuss their experience, speeds up the approval process, and creates well-received content...
As a B2B marketer, Josh Horwitz, President, Boulder Logic, understands the value of client references in the selling cycle. His firm sells systems that help automate and customize customer reference marketing programs. But he also knows that creating full-blown case studies presents some challenges.

Between hiring writers, trying to blend the customerís story into company marketing messages, and then getting final approval from the client, delays and costs can add up. So instead, his team developed a quick-and-easy approach to creating customer reference content for their marketing efforts.

Instead of writing standard case studies that follow the typical pain/solution/benefit template, Horwitz and his team use customer Q&A interviews. These one-to-two-page documents are interview transcripts that use their customerís own words -- with no additional marketing verbiage -- to explain why they were looking for a new system and how they approached key challenges in the vendor selection and implementation process.

"We realized that the quote was the most important part of a case study or any other type of customer comment," says Horwitz. "So we eliminated everything else from the typical case study and turned it into something more authentic and unique, that didnít require a long approval process or the cost of hiring writers."

The simplified process lets them produce new content in a matter of weeks, compared to the months it can take to get a case study written and approved. And costs are minimal -- all they pay for is a conference call line, a transcription service, and about four hours of staff time to edit each interview.

If youíre looking for low-cost ways to develop new marketing content, hereís a run-down of the process Horwitz and his team use:

Step #1. Choose customers to approach for a potential interview

Horwitzís team begins by finding the best customers for potential interviews. They base their decision on three primary factors:

- Is the customerís brand widely recognized and respected among their audience, so the interview will resonate with prospects?

- Did the customer face challenges or have questions about the product that would resonate with prospects evaluating a purchase?

- Who within the organization is the best person to tell the story and provide the most relevant details? Often, that means reaching out to individuals lower down on the organization chart, rather than a top executive. The employees closest to the implementation typically have the most hands-on experience to share.

Step #2. Invite customer to participate in the interview

The team member closest to the client reaches out to ask for an interview. That could be Horwitz, another member of the marketing team, or a team member who performed the implementation.

When asking the client for an interview, the team member stresses important details about the process to help encourage participation, such as:

- The interview will be a transcription of their comments, not an interpretation by a writer. They will clean up the transcript to make the personís comments read smoothly, but will not change quotes or add any Boulder Logic marketing verbiage.

- The subject will have final approval over the edited transcript.

Step #3. Write interview questions

The team prepares a list of five to seven questions to help the customer prepare for the interview. They choose open-ended questions, rather than simple "yes or no" questions, to elicit insights from the customer.

- For example, they focus questions on common problems customers faced, or goals they wanted to achieve, such as:
o Can you describe your challenges with Customer Reference Management?
o What goals or improvements were you hoping to achieve?
o How did you justify an investment in this type of program?

- They also look for questions that describe the implementation process and how customers use the product, to address the concerns prospects commonly raise during the selling cycle, such as:
o How did you decide what tasks to tackle first?
o What were some of the challenges of deploying this as a global program?

- Finally, they avoid asking self-serving or leading questions about their own products. Instead, they approach the subject through open-ended questions, such as:
o What capabilities were required for your customer reference solution?
o How did you go about finding a system for customer reference management?
o Can you speak about your interaction with Boulder Logic?

Step #4. Record interview on conference line

Interviews are conducted over a conference call line that has recording capabilities. The service Horwitzís team uses charges 10 cents per minute.

- Whenever possible, the person who invited the customer to participate conducts the interview. Calls are kept to 20-30 minutes to respect the clientís time.

- The interview process follows the list of questions previously sent to the client. The interviewer may ask follow-up questions to help clients fully develop their thoughts, but does not attempt to influence the customer's answers or nudge them into repeating company marketing messages.

- Interview subjects are told at the start of the interview that they can stop and re-phrase their comments whenever they want.

Step #5. Transcribe interviews

An mp3 of the conversation is available within minutes of completing a call. The team then sends that recording to an outside transcription service, which completes a written transcript within a few days. The service the team uses charges $1.50 per minute.

Step #6. Edit transcript

When the transcript is returned, a member of the marketing team begins editing it into the final interview format.

- Editors are instructed to edit comments for clarity, removing "ums" and "ahs" or long digressions. But they do not change or re-phrase any of the customerís comments.

- The team leaves the interview in the question-and-answer format, saving them from the time it would take to stitch together a wide-ranging conversation into something with a more narrative flow.

- Because the goal is to produce a one- to two-page PDF, editors sometimes must remove intriguing comments to focus on the most important and relevant information.

- The editors do not add anything to the customerís comments, such as company marketing messages.

Step #7. Send interview to customer for final approval

When the edit is complete, the team emails the final version to the customer for approval. They also offer to send the raw transcript alongside the edited version, so the customer can see that their words have not been taken out of context or re-written in any way.

They ask the customer to approve the interview within one week, which is typically not a problem, says Horwitz. Some interviews have been approved in one day.

Although the team discourages customers from re-writing their comments, they do allow for small changes if the customer is uncomfortable with how theyíve phrased an answer.

"We could spend a lot of time polishing the language, but thatís not the point," says Horwitz. "We keep it very raw, very authentic."

Step #8. Promote some interviews publicly, but hold others in reserve

The team has created a library of customer interviews to be used in different circumstances:

- They host a selection of customer interviews on the company website, in a section labeled "Meet Our Clients." They periodically rotate the mix of interviews hosted there, to keep the content fresh.

- Other interviews are held in reserve to be used by marketing and sales personnel on a case-by-case basis. For example, a member of the sales team can offer a prospect an interview with a client in the same industry, or one who faced similar challenges. Or, the marketing team can use an interview in the early stages of lead nurturing to help introduce prospects to the company.

- They use customer interviews in conjunction with other B2B marketing content.

"There are all different kinds of marketing content out there, so this is not something to replace the value thatís received from an in-depth customer case study, or a whitepaper, or audio/video content," says Horwitz. "I think thereís value in all of those things in the right place."

Useful links related to this article:

Creative samples from Boulder Logicís customer interview strategy
http://www.marketingsherpa.com/cs/BoulderLogic/index.ht
l


The team uses FreeConference as its conference line provider:
http://www.freeconference.com/


Verbal Ink (Formerly Escriptionist.com) provides transcriptions:
http://www.verbalink.com


Boulder Logic
http://www.boulderlogic.com/

Comments about this How To

Jun 08, 2009 - Natascha Schuberth Thomson of SAP says:
Interesting, simple approach to creating a case study. Thanks for sharing. Might not mash with big corporations branding needs though. As you are already recording, why not make a podcast out of the event, then post podcast with the transcript. That's very Web 2.0.


Jun 10, 2009 - Patricia Donovan of Healthcare Intelligence Network says:
Great ideas. We use this strategy to create paid content for special reports. We run a monthly survey on a hot topic, and include a question on whether the respondent is willing to be interviewed (and then ask for contact info). We review the responses from willing subjects and set up, record and transcribe the interviews. We write a detailed analysis of the survey results and supplement with several interesting case studies. The interviews are great for relationship-building and we also identifies subject matter experts for future products.



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