customer interviews

A lot of companies we consult hesitate to let us speak with their customers. That’s for a number of reasons, most of which are perfectly reasonable. 

  • They don’t want to bother good customers
  • Marketing people might ask the wrong questions
  • Chasing down customers for interviews can be a pain

But the risk of not talking to customers outweighs the risk of these fears coming true.

We’ve learned this lesson the hard way many times. Not long ago, our team made an elaborate plan to generate quote requests using a combination of content promotion, landing pages and marketing automation. We didn’t plan for customer interviews.

The first part of the campaign ran for a week and fell flat. Not a single person even clicked on our ads, despite thousands seeing them. We optimized and experimented with targeting options to no avail.

So we called a local company that fit the target audience and ran our campaign by the owner. His feedback was the following: 

We would never request a quote for a product we’ve never tried before. If you want to get a foot in the door, send us a sample of the product so we can compare it to what we have.

Offering samples never occurred to us because we never took the time to talk to the people we advertise to.

In this case, we got lucky. We caught our mistake early in the campaign. But what if you’re investing $50,000 in a priority segment? How about hiring a marketing agency for $100,000? That’s where you stop trusting your gut (and that of everyone else at your company) and talk to the people you want to buy your products.

Knowledge and empathy aren’t measurable in dollar amounts upfront. But soon, they’ll eliminate wasted time and money.

And the best part is that almost no one in the industrial marketing space is doing this. Empathy is a competitive edge.

Three ways to get started

1. Interviews

Compile a list of ten companies you love doing business with. Ask your key persona at these companies for 20 minutes to chat and just ask away. If they’re comfortable on camera, record the conversation and use it to create content later on:

  • What does a typical week look like for them?
  • What are things they struggle with in their job, especially in relation to your product or service?
  • What do they look for when vetting [insert your industry] companies?
  • How does their team come to a buying decision?
  • Is there anything they wish they could do but can’t?

2. Tag along with a sales rep

Ask a sales rep if you can shadow them for a week. Go visit prospects and customers and listen in on sales calls. Aside from getting to know your customers, it’s an opportunity to discuss how marketing should tie in with sales efforts.

3. Develop campaigns with your audience

Run a marketing campaign by an existing customer or someone in your target audience. Chances are they’ll catch gaps in your logic.

As you’re gathering information from customers, follow a few ground rules

Offer incentives

If you’re concerned about bothering your customers, reimburse them for their time. Interview them over lunch or send them a gift card in exchange for their time.

Compile and prioritize questions

What exactly are you trying to learn from your customer? Before asking away, think this through. A tip from Toby, one of our writers: “Ask your team to poke holes in your list of questions. And compile your questions well enough in advance for you to look at them again and revise. I end up editing question lists as heavily as I edit copy”.

Document everything

Make sure insights are documented and shareable with others – this is especially important when working with an outside agency. Record calls and interviews, take pictures and videos during tours and summarize key information in one central document.


I know that going out there and talking to strangers can be intimidating. Start by spending just one day every month getting to know your audience better. I promise it’ll be one of the best marketing investments you ever made.

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