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Marketing Momentum: Masterful Interviewing for Case Studies, Part 2

By Katrina Olson

The most important part of a case study is the middle—the challenge, the solution and the results. So you want to ask the right questions while you have your subject’s (hopefully) undivided attention in the interview.

Of course, you can always follow up later, but to make the process as easy as possible for your subject, try to get all of the information you need from them in this one interview. But be sure to leave the door open by asking permission to contact them or their staff in the future.

The Questions

The questions below are organized to mirror the outline of your written case study (which we’ll cover next time).

The Challenge
What problem were you trying to solve?
What were you using before our product/service?
What prompted you to look for a better solution?
What frustrated you about your previous solution?
What was your biggest problem or complaint with your old solution?
What larger goal were you trying to achieve?

The Solution
Where did you look for a solution?
How did you end up contacting our company?
What were the top reasons you selected this product/service?
How did our staff help you find a solution?
How easy or difficult was it to implement this product/service?
How has it helped you to overcome your previous challenges?
How is it different than other alternatives you’ve tried?
What is your favorite feature? Why?
Tell me about the most positive experience you’ve had using this product/service. (Probe for specifics.)

The Results
How did this product/service perform compared to what you expected?
How has this product/service helped you achieve your goals?
What specific metrics can you share about the impact it has had? (You may need to follow up to get these.) Your Product/Service
What is the single biggest reason you would recommend our offering?

Interviewing Tips

Following are a few tips to make you an expert interviewer:

  • When you call or email to schedule an interview, don’t say, “I’d like to interview you.” Instead, say you’d like to ask some questions or get some information. Evidently, the word “interview” conjures up images of Barbara Walters making people cry.
  • Create a comfortable atmosphere by using “reassuring body language.” Make eye contact, lean forward, nod and smile.
  • Try to establish rapport. Look for connections. Talk about the staff member you both know or mutual acquaintances. Look around their office and comment on their photo with the big fish, picture of their kids or awards they have on display. This will also give you a peek into their personality.
  • Listen actively, paying close attention. Don’t think ahead—stay in the moment with your interviewee.
  • Be genuinely interested in them and their business.
  • Be calm, empathetic and sincere.
  • Don’t assume you know all the facts already.
  • Listen more than you talk. Don’t interrupt or cut off the speaker as if to say, “Okay, that’s enough, don’t talk any more.”
  • Look for nuggets of wisdom or quotable material. If you’re recording, note the time so you can easily find the comment later.
  • Pro tip: If you are silent for a moment, your subject will feel awkward and be compelled to fill the void. This is where you’ll get some of your best stuff.

Five minutes before the time is up, review your notes and ask questions to fill in any gaps. To wrap up, ask, “Is there anything else you’d like to tell me?” At this point, they’ll think the interview is over, breathe a sigh of relief and likely tell you something very insightful and quotable.

Of course, thank them for their time, shake their hand and send a follow-up email or handwritten note to show your appreciation.

In the next Marketing Momentum, we’ll cover how to organize and write a case study.

Olson is a marketing and public relations consultant, and principal of Katrina Olson Strategic Communications. She has written for tED magazine’s print edition since 2005, judged tED magazine’s Best of the Best Competition since 2006, and emceed the Best of the Best Awards ceremony for a total of seven years. She can be reached at katrina@katrinaolson.com or via her website at katrinaolson.com.


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