What are your goals when you interview a potential customer? Sure, you’re checking for interest in your product…but you should first be focused on establishing a rapport, a relationship with that customer. Interviewing is an art and a science, and it takes practice to create this critical entrepreneurial skill.

Great interviews are really rich conversations in which we strive to understand how the person we’re interviewing experiences and sees the world. We must go beyond just understanding what our customer wants, to uncovering why they want it. We are seeking to understand what motivates them and for what “job they are willing to hire us.”

In a recent IDEO course I took, the instructors provided several great hearing tips:

  1. You must build trust, a relationship, a rapport early in the interview. It starts with giving them your full attention—eye contact, acknowledging facial expressions and respectful body language. We must project a sincere interest in the conversation, be an active listener and refrain from adding too many of our own viewpoints. When was the last time you were talking with someone, and they stopped the conversation to check their phone or looked around at others in the coffee shop? How did that make you feel?
  2. Keep your interview questions open-ended. Allow them to set the pace of the interview. Don’t rush. Listen and learn from their story. Remember the last interview you gave where the interviewer was rapidly checking the box of questions rather than trying to understand your perspective?
  3. Start broad to better get to know them, to understand their background and the context of their experiences and their interests. As the conversation progresses, then start asking more specific questions regarding how they might “hire” your solution. Remember, pace is important–it’s a conversation, not an interview. Too often I’ve started with questions to validate my solution, rather than seeking to understand whether or not my solution will meet the needs of future customers.
  4. Ask for examples, stories that provide richer insights. Conducting your interviews in places where your solution might be used is a great way to see how those solutions might be used and what the customer has to “fire,” so your solution can replace it if a good fit.
  5. Finally, listen for inconsistencies and gaps in the conversation; if we’ve built a rapport, we should feel free to ask why with non-judgmental curiosity. But, remember we must balance our need for deeper information with the trust level of the person we’re interviewing.

We must have a clear understanding of what and why our customers “hire” us. We gain much of that understanding by truly hearing what they are saying, rather than just listening. 

Next week, let’s discuss observing the world around us to better relate to prospective customers.