Customer Interview

Are you creating the volume of engaging content you need?

According to the 2013 B2B Content Marketing Benchmark report by MarketingProfs, 64% of B2B marketers listed producing enough content as their top challenge followed by producing the kind of content that engages at 52% and producing a variety of content at 45%.

It doesn’t matter if you have an awesome content marketing program or a floundering program…. If you want to increase your volume of content and make your content more engaging, follow this one simple technique.

What is the technique?

Interviewing your best customers. Here is how we generated topics from quick fifteen-minute customer interviews.

Step 1: Getting Customer Interviews

Getting customer interviews shouldn’t be very difficult. It has been my experience that about 20% of customers you email for an interview request will respond, but I wouldn’t get to hung-up on the response rate because you only want to hear from your most enthusiastic customers anyway. I’ll explain this in more detail in the next section.

The first step is sending the interview request. I typically send an email saying something to the effect of:

Hi (First Name),

I hope you are having a fantastic week! We are working on some new features for (product or service name) and it would be wonderful to have your input.

It would mean so much if you could spare just 15 minutes of your time to provide insight into how you are using (product or service name).


(Your Name)

Based on how many customers you have, you can either email them individually or use your bulk email tool.

*Bonus Tip

If you do not have a very personal relationship with your customers and are having trouble getting them to respond, try sending them an InMail through LinkedIn.

Step 2: Conducting the Interview

Every time I speak with a customer they provide unique viewpoints and problems that spur ideas for amazing topics.

As valuable as talking with customers is, it is easy to spend hours talking with customers and you feel like you’re getting all this valuable information and then the next day you’re left scratching your head trying to remember what that epiphany had been. I have found taking a more scientific approach to be much more fruitful.

The Approach

The hardest part of the interview won’t be what you say, but rather, what you don’t say. Your goal is to say as little as possible to get the person to talk about his or her experience with your product or service. Don’t worry, we aren’t generating product-centric topics. When we are through with the process we will have been engaging customer-centric topics.

There are two critical questions you must ask.

1) How would you feel if you could no longer use (product name)

a) Very disappointed

b) Somewhat disappointed

c) Not disappointed

2)  What is the primary benefit that you have received from (product name)?

These questions were developed by Sean Ellis to determine the product/market fit of a startup.

The idea is to segment the customers who would be very disappointed if they could no longer use your product or service. Ellis explains this further in his post “Milestones to Startup Success.”

Vinod Khosla, one of the most successful Silicon Valley VCs in history, once suggested to me that startups should think of their early users as a flock of sheep. He explained “the flock always finds the best grass.”

For you this means you should start looking for a signal about who loves your product and why as soon as you release your MVP. Most products have at least a few people that truly consider it a must have. These people hold the keys to the kingdom. Learn everything you can about them including their specific use cases and demographic characteristics. Try to get more of these types of people.

While Ellis is focusing specifically on startups, Khosla’s metaphor can apply to any type company, no matter how long you’ve been in business. Your best customers and biggest fans, those who can’t live without your product, can lead you to your product’s must-have benefits. This is where the second question comes in. You ask, “What is the primary benefit that you have received from (product name)?” and then be silent. Most people will pause, think about it and then start providing you with a wealth of valuable information. I often get people who will talk for twenty minutes straight about their experience.

Recording the Interview

I highly recommend recording the call if you can. You will conduct a better interview and the recording will provide better notes. I find that reading back through thorough notes provides much deeper insights than when I try to take notes myself or recall the conversation from memory.

It is always best to ask people for permission and then you will be at no risk of upsetting the interviewee or breaking any laws. Laws about telephone recording differ from state to state. In my experience most people do not object to being recorded.

I use Calltrunk to record my calls. You simply enter the number you want to call on their website or on their phone app. Your phone receives a call and then your interviewee is called on the same line. When the interviewee receives the call, it will show as being from your number so they will recognize from whom it is coming.

Within minutes of the call ending your recording will be ready. You can then have Calltrunk transcribe it for you. I typically use for the transcription. They often get the transcription to me on the same day and it only costs one dollar per minute.

If you are calling an industry that is sensitive to security issues, you can have a second person on the call taking notes. I find most people are ok with recordings but some industries such as banking are going to be wary. However, almost everyone is okay with a second person being on the call.

Step 3: Post-Interview Summary

Despite having a transcript I find it helpful to capture the initial benefit(s) discussed while they are still fresh. I typically like to write down any main points I can remember and then re-listen to the interview. You will be amazed at how much you missed.

Create summary notes that capture the key points. Here is an example of my summary notes from an interview done for an SAAS test management product:

How disappointed would you feel if you could no longer use (product)?

Very disappointed

Primary benefit:

Keeping testing in one place.


We used spreadsheets before and it was very difficult to keep up with all our tests.

Also, (product) makes it very easy to share with the team.


He said they had tried other tools but that (product name) was more intuitive then the other tools which made the “keeping everything in one place and sharing” just stand out.

He also noted how quickly our support team has reacted to his requests.

Start looking for trends as you conduct more interviews. You would think that each customer will have a unique benefit and experience but I have found that trends begin showing themselves quickly.

Step 4: Transforming Key Benefits into Engaging Topics

After conducting many interviews we found our best customers typically listed one or more of four benefits.

    • Traceability
    • Keeping track of requirements
    • Organization
    • Test coverage

These topics needed to be the foundation of our blog to attract our ideal prospects, but we needed to get far more granular and customer-centric. I asked our most experienced tester if he would be willing to do an interview to dive deeper into these topics.

Here is the interview request email:

(First Name),

Here is a little more detail about the articles I will be creating after our interview.

I’m hoping to create very detailed how-to 2,500 word articles about the topics below. My intention is to frame the articles in first-hand experience rather than theory.

I hope to be able to back up points with solid proof, stats and numbers. This may require further research on my part.

Topics should be about:

    • Traceability
    • Keeping track of requirements
    • Getting your testing more organized
    • Test coverage
    • Testing hacks – shortcuts – tips ’n tricks to speed things up and decrease workload 

Topics should not be about (product name) or (company name).

The topics were still too vague to get information that would make a rich article that would engage our target audience, but it was enough to start peeling the layers of the onion back and begin digging for the golden nuggets that would spur the right question for a rich article.

Here is an excerpt from the transcript of the interview in which our expert tester was diving deeper into the benefit of tracking requirements:

Then, the other item that you have also is about tracking the requirements that are getting your testing more organized. In that case, one of the key things that I try to do is, one of the recommended practices that seems to work always is where you should always look at your test cases as smaller objects or modules, and try to use it on every, that modular approach, so that way you can focus on specific areas of the functions of the requirements of the products that you’re testing.

Something to keep in mind is from a test in a positive perspective, you have the ability to be able to test far more, to be able to take more test cases, as well as figure out a better way to align your test cases in terms of either projects or

[inaudible 00:14:59] or function module and then also be able to, within the test case, have the ability to sort of group your test together. Say, I want to do all of my [inaudible 00:15:13] test cases, all positive scenarios first for functional feature and then do your negative scenarios product [inaudible 00:15:18] just to keeping it all aligned.

It sort of also ties into the trick or tip for new testers on how to be able to manage your test cases and executions more effectively during crunch time. When you’re really fighting for time, before the priority will be out the door. Specifically to that, mostly what happens in any environment depends on [inaudible 00:15:48]. The timing for test taking is usually reduced, but the [inaudible 00:15:57]. Prepping and organizing your test cases more effectively in this fashion allows you to manage and see the trend of which area you need to hit as far as [inaudible 00:16:14]. Does that make sense?

I read through the transcript a few times, let it sink in until the next day, then read it again and began highlighting the parts I felt had the makings of an amazing topic.

For example, in the above section I highlighted:

It sort of also ties into the trick or tip for new testers on how to be able to manage your test cases and executions more effectively during crunch time.  When you’re really fighting for time, before the priority will be out the door.

I then made a list of some of my favorite articles I recently read.

    • 5 Ways to Get Your Infographic to Go Viral  
    • The Science of Virality – Marketing Lessons from Internet Cats 
    • How We Use Lean Stack for Innovation Accounting 

I then matched up the highlighted sections of the transcript with a title from one of my favorite articles. For example I matched, “manage your test cases and executions more effectively during crunch time” with “5 Ways to Get Your Infographic to Go Viral” to come up with:

Four shortcuts for managing test executions when you’re behind schedule

The final result from the customer interviews and full twenty-minute expert interview was eighteen amazing topics.

    • Avoid these three common causes of test gaps
    • Six tips for better managing task assignments
    • How to break up requirements into modules that speed up testing
    • Why testing in the positive speeds up testing
    • Four shortcuts for managing test executions when you’re behind schedule
    • How to prepare test cases to take less time to execute
    • The art of building a great testing dashboard
    • Seven reasons your testing dashboard should be a testing discussion board
    • Linking requirements to test cases: Three things you have to do
    • How to spot problem areas in your functional modules
    • How group testing functional modules reduced testing time by 30%
    • How we manage test labs to identify problem areas
    • Three reasons you should be using test scores to align with dev
    • How prepping your execution suite in advance can save you time
    • Why not labeling test cases is costing you days
    • Nine reasons to reuse precondition data
    • How to group test cases by data definition that speed up execution
    • Why not understanding the business context is hurting you

Keep in mind that these are just example titles I used to get us dialed into a rich and engaging topic for an article. Just because the example title is Four shortcuts for managing test executions when you’re behind schedule doesn’t mean the final article has to be called that or must consist of four shortcuts, but it gets everyone on the same page and gets you thinking about the right aspects of the subject.

Now compare the topics above to what the client had been creating:

    • What do testers look for and expect from a test management solution?
    • New cloud-based quality assurance management solutions
    • Transitioning from on-premise solutions to cloud quality assurance solutions
    • New solutions for quality assurance teams – cloud-based test management
    • When you outgrow Excel

The previous topics assumed that their target reader would be interested in the benefits of having a quality assurance management system in the cloud. The new topics came from their product’s greatest benefits as stated by their best customers, but were reengineered to not be about the product but rather how to better manage the underlying root problem. Who is interested in reading about fixing these problems? People with the problem. Who buys this client’s products? People with these problems.


There are a lot of reasons to talk to your customers, most of which I didn’t touch on, yet most of us aren’t doing it. Coming up with amazing topics is low on the list of reasons to make it a regular habit, yet you can see how valuable a technique it is.

I hope this article has inspired you to try using customer interviews for generating amazing topics. What are some other ways you have found to generate topics?

About The Author

TD ProfilTorrey Dye is a B2B Marketer and founder of FunnelCake Labs.
FunnelCake Labs helps B2B companies create amazing content
more quickly.Google+

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