Two days ago, I was speaking with a new client – the owner of a small, boutique accounting firm here in New Jersey – about her website content. She started the conversation by saying:
“I was so nervous before you called. I was wondering if I should have a cocktail first to take the edge off!”
I asked if I had said something last time we spoke to make her nervous. She said it was a questionnaire from her web developer that was giving her anxiety.
What colors do you want to see on your website? What words are most important to you? How would you describe your business?
She was afraid to give the wrong answer. It was like taking a test. Too much pressure.
This is one of many reasons why I interview clients instead of asking them to fill out questionnaires. Even the term “interview” sounds too formal. It’s a conversation.
I explained that we would just be having a conversation and I wouldn’t be grading her responses. I would only be asking questions to bring out the information I need to develop a message that would help her grow her firm.
Hundreds of conversations about marketing messages have taught me that if you try too hard to give the right answer, you probably won’t give the best answer. Or the answer you truly believe in.
Just say what you feel. Talk to me like you would talk to a friend.
That’s not easy when you’re typing or writing the answers to a questionnaire. And most people would rather talk about it than write about it. They would rather prepare for a call than do a homework assignment.
Here are a few more reasons why I believe in live interviews with clients – and record those interviews – as a means to uncovering and developing the strongest possible marketing message.
I want to capture your voice.
I need to understand how you communicate – your way of explaining things, the language you use, the figures of speech – so I can communicate the same way to your ideal client.
Having a relaxed conversation, and listening back to the audio of our conversation, allows me to write in your voice – either your individual voice or brand voice – so there’s no disconnect between what you say in writing and an actual conversation.
I want to have a free-flowing conversation.
The standard questions are only the beginning. The answers to the follow-up questions tell me what you really think and feel.
This is how I get into what’s unique about your business, your products, and the values you represent. This is how I get beyond the “who” and the “what” and into the “why” and the “how.”
Asking follow-up questions in the moment adds context to the thoughts and information being shared. It allows you to continue to expand on the original answer while it’s fresh in your mind.
I want you to keep talking.
Asking you to pause so I can scribble notes is awkward and disruptive. Not only is it kind of annoying, but it can break your train of thought and the momentum of the conversation.
Awkward, extended pauses can also lead to overthinking. Did I just give the right answer? Am I rambling? Is that what I should say on my About page?
I want you to just say what you feel. Let me figure out the right wording. That’s my job.
I don’t want to miss a thing (as Aerosmith used to say).
Because I’m not scrambling to take notes, I can listen to and process every word you say.
Because I’m recording, every bit of information is captured. I won’t have to bug you later with unnecessary calls or emails for clarification.
I probably won’t use much of what you say in your marketing content, but those parts of the conversation still help tell me who you are, what you do, why you do it, and how you make people’s lives better.
I want to build a relationship.
I started my conversation with the accountant by asking how her daughter was doing. She had mentioned last time we spoke that her daughter might be having complications with her pregnancy.
She’s fine, thank goodness, and so is the baby.
An immeasurable value-add from these conversations is the opportunity to build relationships. As we get to know each other, trust grows. Every conversation creates a closer partnership.
And the project becomes less about the transaction and more about the relationship.
You might assume a live interview is a heavier lift than a canned questionnaire. That’s actually not the case. Not for me, and definitely not for you.
I remember speaking with a physical therapist about a blog article while he was driving to a conference. His exact words?
“I’m so glad you do it this way. If I had to sit down and write the answers to questions, it would never get done.”
Based on my experience, live interviews save time for both sides.
Full disclosure: I did use questionnaires once was when I was writing staff bios for about 20 people. All bios were required to have the same format. For the sake of consistency, I used questionnaires. And yes, I had to follow up with about five or six people and ask them to expand upon one-word answers and clarify certain responses.
To be clear, the point of this article is not to bash marketing service providers who use questionnaires. If you have a model that works for you and your clients, go with it.
For me, the value of a live conversation can’t be replicated with a questionnaire. It’s an essential part of my business process, and one that my clients appreciate.
Those conversations are a prerequisite for effective marketing content. And they help me build the relationships that build and sustain my business.
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