illustration of interview as phone call conversation

You know bad content when you see it. It reads like it was barfed up and posted online inside of half an hour.

It doesn’t work.

The foundation of effective inbound marketing for industrial B2B companies is relevant content that addresses an audience’s specific challenges and presents them with clear and compelling pathways to take action.

To achieve those goals, content must be informed by the technical experts within those organizations.

It’s straightforward, but it’s also easier said than done. Marketers often stumble before they even start because:

  • They’re unsure how to convince subject matter experts to take time to share what they know.
  • They’re ill-equipped to discuss and then translate highly technical subjects into clear, logical content.
  • They’re unfamiliar with tactics they can use to guarantee they get the full story—or at least as much of it as possible.

There’s no one way to overcome these challenges, and nobody’s way is perfect. But I’ll walk you through what works for us and the industrial B2B clients we serve.

Before you do anything else, get your team’s buy-in

It’s hard booking a conversation with a technical expert out of nowhere. They’re busy. And if you’re trying to optimize your company’s website from square one, they may not have helped marketers develop digital content before.

You need team-wide buy-in, and you get it by first developing an internal content strategy and clearly stating what success looks like. Then, determine whose help you’ll need to get there. It’ll most likely be a combination of engineers, operations managers, C-level decision makers and sales reps. Finally, let these people know what you’re doing and why.

If you hit resistance, here’s a tip: Identify those you think will be most helpful and work outward from there. If your content is good, data will start showing increased web traffic and leads. It’ll put you in better position to convince the stubborn ones that talking to you will be worthwhile.

When subject matter experts understand what you’re trying to achieve and why, they’ll be more inclined to help you.

Don’t be bashful. Make an informed case for creating valuable content. When you demonstrate that it’s tailored to your buyers’ stages in the sales cycle, it’ll be hard for your team’s experts and higher-ups to argue against it.

Interview prep: Go down the research rabbit hole

It’ll go largely unnoticed, but pre-interview research is a crucial step toward developing content that hauls in traffic and generates leads.

I start by crafting a tentative list of questions based on notes from our strategy team. I add, remove and edit questions on the list as my research progresses.

Channel your inner nerd. Turn off notifications, lock away your phone and open lots of tabs. Your interview subject will thank you for being prepared for a conversation that hits the ground running.

As you progress, you may start answering your own questions. This is NOT a stopping point. Instead, level-up by turning basic questions into meaty ones. Rather than asking what something is or how it works, ask how it applies it to your customers’ challenges.

The result will be relevant, useful content standing head and shoulders above an internet clogged with clickbaity listicles and dime-a-dozen summaries of rudimentary terms and concepts.

A note about conflicting information

It might shock you to learn that some topics online are misunderstood. It’s especially true for technically complex subjects.

What do you do if you see competing claims online? Two things.

First, keep researching. The answer might be out there—just look harder. For complex topics, I don’t accept a claim as true until I see two or three trustworthy sources repeat it.

If that fails, note the discrepancy and ask your expert to explain. This is your chance to correct the record and make the internet a better place.

Draw conclusions and test assumptions

This is the most direct way I know to get experts to connect topics or theories to actual challenges their customers encounter.

Lots of your assumptions will be wrong. Most of mine are.

Embrace your ignorance. Put yourself in your ideal buyer’s position and try to simulate their journey. It’s basically role-playing, and it’s been an effective strategy our teams use to build deeper understandings of our clients’ businesses and their customers’ challenges.

Great marketing content doesn’t trot out your company’s capabilities. Instead, it shows how those capabilities directly address your ideal buyers’ unique challenges.

Watch this video if you want some guidance on identifying your ideal buyers. It’s vital groundwork everyone should pitch in on so that marketing, sales and other teams are unified in their pursuit of new business.

Ask for more

Just because an interview subject provides an answer to every question on your list doesn’t mean you have the whole story.

You don’t.

It’s important to follow up if you think you need more. Your subject may initially self-censor, something we’ve seen a lot with engineers. They’re (usually) as considerate as they are smart. If you suspect they’re watering down their answers because they’re afraid you won’t understand, try these cues to get them to say more:

  • “You mentioned _________ a bit earlier. Can you tell me more about how it works?”
  • “Can you clarify what you meant by _________?”
  • “Does ___________ work that way every time, or are there exceptions?”
  • “Tell me how __________ would affect a customer in the real world.”

Digging deeper helps build rapport. I’ve found that experts get more talkative as they get comfortable. Like anyone else, they enjoy talking about what they do after they overcome the initial barrier.

Listen to actual interviews with real experts

If you’re curious how some of these tactics described have played out in real life, you’re in luck.

On the bonus page for this article, we’ve included:

  1. Three actual audio clips from selected interviews I conducted with experts on some technically demanding topics
  2. Links to the content pieces that resulted from those interviews
  3. A quick-fire PDF playbook summarizing the research and interview methods I discussed at length above

Check it out and share it with your colleagues. Hopefully it empowers you to make the transition from content planning to actual development of resources your buyers crave.

Need more guidance? Let us help.

Content Research/Interview Playbook and Interview Audio Clips

Download our Content Research and Interview Playbook PDF to help you conduct research and interview subject matter experts for the purpose of creating exceptional thought-leadership content. And listen to three real-life audio clips from interviews we've conducted with manufacturing subject matter experts.