Interviewing Techniques to Extract Deeper Insights

July 25, 2016

how to interview better

For marketers, interviews form the basis of many important activities:

Doing research to inform user personas
Getting a better understanding of customers
Garnering insights for longform content
Creating customer case studies
Publishing the Q&A as a blog post

Interviews are also important for other roles: notably, product management and sales. Hiring managers, too!

Recently, we had a design thinking workshop at DNN. During the workshop, we learned how to garner deep insights from interviews. I now apply these techniques when performing interviews for my marketing efforts.

An Interview Counter-Example

First, let’s consider a counter-example.

When an interview question generates a one-word answer, you fail to uncover meaningful insights. Consider this conversation with my child and her school friends:

Me: “How was school today?”

Them: “Good.”

Me: “Without saying the word ‘good,’ tell me about your school day in a complete sentence?”

Them: “It was OK.”

To get more meaningful answers, I now try questions like these:

“Tell me about the best thing that happened during school today?”
“Tell me about something at school that bothered you?”

Now that you know what not to do, let’s consider more effective techniques.

1) Don’t interrupt.

The only thing worse than a one-word answer is closing off a story before it surfaces. Only interrupt if you need to get the conversation back on track.

Example:

Me: “Tell me about a time you used a similar product that gave you a positive ROI?”

Them: “Did I mention I ran five ultramarathons? I ran one on five different continents. Boy, I can remember the pain I felt after each one.” (You may be inclined to interrupt right here.)

Resist the urge and give it some time. The interviewee may continue for a little while on ultramarathons, but the punchline might be a fabulous analogy that connects to driving ROI.

2) Strategically phrase questions to draw deeper insights.

Just as I discovered with my child’s school friends, use open-ended questions that encourage deeper insights. Draw out the interesting stories and insights. One-sentence answers are an adversary; one-word answers are your enemy. Use a timer and see if interviewees can spend more than a minute on each answer.

Instead of starting questions with these phrases:

Can you
Would you
Do you see yourself

Try these instead:

Tell me about
Describe a time when
In what scenarios would you (and why)

Asking “Would you use” results in a one-word answer: yes or no. “Yes” is an easy answer, so people will answer affirmatively even when the answer is no. Instead, if you ask “in what scenarios would you use,” then the “yes” is implied, but you also uncover the requirements and conditions for the “yes” to occur.

3) Follow answers with a series of why’s.

As a parent, you may recognize this conversation:

Child: “Why is the sky blue?”

You: (Quote a few sentences from Wikipedia)

Child: “Why?”

You: (Quote a few more sentences from Wikipedia)

Child: “Why?”

Without you realizing it, your child is exhibiting effective interviewing techniques. It would seem awkward if you took this approach with your interviews. However, find the right phrasing in order to follow up an answer with a “why question.” You’ll uncover some amazing insights.

Try this exercise out at work:

Sit down with a colleague
Have them empty the contents of their wallet or pocketbook
Ask them a “why question” about any single item
Ask them another “why question” based on their answer
Continue for another 3-4 cycles of “why questions”

We did this exercise in our IDEO workshop and I learned fascinating things about a colleague.

4) Invoke emotion.

We experience life via emotions. From graduation to wedding to first day on the job, we experience emotions in everything we do. When you understand and capture people’s emotions, you add captivating elements to your story.

Be sure to explicitly tap into your interviewee’s emotions and feelings. Ways to start your questions:

How did it make you feel when
Describe your feelings when the new product launched?
Tell me five adjectives that describe your feelings about X?

Note: bonus points if you follow these questions with a few why’s.

5) Go for the extremes.

Common scenarios are boring. Boundary cases are interesting. When I’m feeling bored, the circumstances surrounding that feeling aren’t likely to interest you. However, when I describe “the time I felt the most bored, ever,” there’s probably a good story there.

Ask interviewees to describe the circumstances around extreme conditions:

Tell me about the last time you were overcome with joy?
Tell me about a time you were the most frustrated?
Describe the most memorable event from your childhood?
Think about the time you were the happiest in life. What was happening then?

Put yourself in the shoes of the interviewee. Isn’t the story more compelling when you describe the time you were “most frustrated” versus just “frustrated”?

6) Don’t ask leading questions.

Remove declarative statements from your questions. In a conversation, we can suggest an answer to a question without even realizing it. So narrow the question down to its simplest form.

An example of how easy it can be to cloud the conversation:

Me: “Tell me about your roles and responsibilities.”

Customer: “I run Public Relations, but am also responsible for a small web development team.”

Me: “I never heard of that combination. How did a PR person get assigned web developers?”

Based on how I phrased my follow-up question, the customer may be slightly offended, and may answer in a defensive way. I’ve managed to bottle up the answer by inserting judgment. Don’t judge.

A better way to ask the follow-up question:

Me: “Interesting! Tell me what was happening within the organization when you were assigned this additional role?”

Try it Out

Try some of these tactics during your next interview. I’d love to hear how it goes! While I’ve incorporated this approach in my interviews, I still have a lot of room for improvement. By the way: how did this post make you feel?

Note: Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/briangiesen/4046038540/sizes/m/

Note: I originally published this post on LinkedIn.


Networking Event Hacks to Introduce Yourself, Meet People and Spur Conversation

February 13, 2016

me at a networking event

Photo credit: East Midtown on flickr.

Pro: I love to meet new people. I love networking events.

Con: I find it hard to introduce myself at these events.

My Issue: It’s hard to join an existing conversation because I feel like I’m intruding.

Here are some hacks I’ve used to get around this.

1) Start Early

Start your networking before the networking event.

If the organizers provide a list of attendees, reach out to some that you’d like to meet (e.g. via email, social media, etc.).

For me, arranging to meet people ahead of time makes it less awkward to search for a conversation among the crowd.

Also, take advantage of elevator rides. Strike up a conversation when you have the undue attention of others. Once you’re inside the event, there are plenty of distractions that can sidetrack your introduction or conversation.

2) Position Yourself in a Highly Trafficked Area

I learned this hack at an event in San Francisco. The event provided free pizza and beer.

There were two beer taps and attendees could help themselves. With a lack of networking opportunities falling into my lap, I decided to grab two slices, then pour myself a glass of beer.

In front of the beer taps was a counter. I placed my pizza and beer on the counter and started eating. In between bites, I’d stop and look around.

Sure enough, others found the counter a convenient area to place their food and drink. People who stood next to me would introduce themselves. That night, I met a serial entrepreneur and an executive recruiter. When I go back to the same event, I seek out that counter.

3) Strategically Look for the Available Seat

If people are seated and eating at tables, go grab your food, then scan the room for tables with available seats.

I look for the duo who have an adjacent seat empty.

Body language is important: are their heads pointed inward, or straight up and looking around? The pointed-inward duo may not be welcoming of a visitor.

If, as you’re walking around, someone makes eye contact or smiles at you, make a beeline for that table.

When I’ve picked out a spot, I’ll approach and say, “Is this seat taken?” It’s important to judge the reaction. If they say the seat is available, but their expression or body language says the opposite, I’ll say something like, “You know what? I think I’ll grab a spot closer to [SOMETHING]” and move on.

Once I find a welcoming group, I introduce myself, then ask people what they do for a living.

4) Find and Talk to the Organizer

At some networking events, it’s not apparent who the organizer is. At others, the organizer will grab the microphone and welcome everybody.

If I’m having a hard time meeting people, I’ll seek out the organizer and introduce myself.

I organize a Bay Area Meetup for B2B Bloggers, so I like to ask event organizers for tips. I also like to understand how they create, manage and grow their own event. The organizer is a natural magnet. And while I genuinely want to speak to them, one of two things often happens:

  1. They’ll introduce me to others (e.g. “Oh, you’re active on social media? You have to meet Amy.”)
  2. Others will come speak to the organizer and the organizer will introduce them to me

Sometimes, the organizer will be so overwhelmed with people coming over to talk that I’ll start up conversations with the overflow crowd.

5) Take Advantage of Waits and Lines

Is there a long line to get into the event, or for the free pizza? Lines are a great place to network.

Start with the two obvious opportunities: the person in front of you and the person behind you.

One icebreaker I like to use is, “Have you been to this event before?”

If “yes,” then ask what they like about it.

If “no,” then ask how they heard about it.

The conversation may flow from there. If not, then try the person behind or in front of you that you didn’t choose first.

Twitter Users Chime In

I asked Twitter users to chime in with their tips. Here’s how they responded:

Share Your Hacks

In addition to the fine hacks shared by these users on Twitter, please share your own hacks below, or tweet them to me. I’d love some new things to try!


How Events Fuel the Content Marketing Fire

December 14, 2015

how events fuel the content marketing fire

Quick, guess what B2B content marketers named as the most effective content marketing tactic?

OK, the headline probably gave it away, but a whopping seventy-five percent of B2B content marketers rated in-person events as most effective, over white papers, newsletters and blogs.

That’s according to Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs research report, “B2B Content Marketing: 2016 Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends — North America.”

2015-14-October-Shaio-Image1

From: B2B Content Marketing – 2016 Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends – North America slideshare

After in-person events, the marketers named webinars (66 percent) and case studies (65 percent) as most effective.

Why are events so effective for content marketing? Because they’re structured as a time-bound, content-producing machine: keynotes, panel discussions, training sessions and presentations. All involving people with a shared purpose and shared interests. How could you NOT create interesting content from events?

According to Monina Wagner (@MoninaW), community manager at Content Marketing Institute (CMI), “The key to leveraging in-person events for content marketing is knowing where to unearth ideas.”

Let’s consider five ways you can leverage events to unearth content ideas.

1. Event as a Listening Device

As content marketers, our existence is tied to our target audience. Picking the right events means finding those where we’re surrounded by that audience.

You can learn about your audience via Google Analytics, keyword research and social media listening, but there’s nothing quite like looking them in the eye and speaking to them. You’ll gain an appreciation for their perspectives and challenges in a way that metrics like bounce rate and time on page can’t deliver.

According to CMI’s Wagner, “Events provide an opportunity for an organization to see in real-time what topics resonate with its target audience.”

I want to adjust my own mindset to place a higher importance on listening at events. If I don’t produce a single piece of content from an event, but spent hours talking to my target audience, then I’ll have gained valuable insights.

“Live events give you an opportunity to really hear from your audience. Listening to their questions and challenges and then asking some good follow-up questions will often expose areas where you can fill an important content gap,” said Scott Ingram (@ScottIngram), strategic account executive at Certain.

2. Inspiration for Writing

I love to write. Give me a topic and I’ll dive right in. My challenge is finding things to write about. I prefer to cover a unique topic or delve into a distinct angle. That limits my choices. Sometimes, a comment that I hear at an event will inspire an entire post or article.

My prior CMSWire piece on infographics was inspired by a fellow content marketer. She made a comment about infographics at a Silicon Valley Content Marketing Meetup. On another occasion, I attended a meeting of customer experience professionals. A comment made during a panel discussion inspired me to write about spending more time with customers.

3. Write About the Event Itself

Your target audience is at the event. Others couldn’t make it. If you produce content about the event, both sets of people will be interested.

Last year, I attended Marketo’s annual customer Summit. Because my target audience attends that event, I published a blog post about it, which included six takeaways. Note: Hillary Clinton spoke at the event. One of my takeaways was that she’d run in 2016 (I was right).

For people who could not attend in person, sourcing footage from the event can be an attention grabber. According to Ingram, “Your people are there. What a great time and place to grab some great audio and video content that can be repurposed across multiple channels.”

4. Inform Future Content with Audience Questions

Good content marketing serves to answer questions faced by your target audience. Events are a great place to hear those questions get asked: during technical sessions, breakout sessions, presentations, panel discussions and more.

Write down all of the questions you hear. Next, jot down the answers to the questions. When you return to the office, catalog the questions into topic categories. Determine whether your in-house experts can provide answers that go above and beyond those provided at the event. If they can, you have a nice set of topics for blog posts, webinars, videos, e-books and more.

5. Report on Expert Insights

This is where content marketing meets influencer marketing. All events bring together subject matter experts who are influential in their industry. Put on your reporter hat to write articles about what the experts spoke about.

Recently, I attended a Social Media Club event. An expert panel spoke about social media marketing. The panel shared a number of interesting examples and case studies. The next day, I published a blog post with my takeaways from the panel.

Some of the panel participants saw my post and shared it to their social networks. When you write about someone’s presentation or talk, they’re inclined to share. So reporting on expert insights kills two birds with one stone: you develop content for your target audience, while having the experts share the content on your behalf.

Time to fill up my calendar with meetups, events and conferences. Not only will I hear interesting presentations and meet interesting people, but I’ll have a fresh set of ideas and topics. Given that 75 percent of B2B content marketers find this tactic effective, I’ll see you there. Can we do a short video together?

Notes About this Post

Image adapted from CommScope’s photo on flickr.

This post was originally published at CMSWire.


Content Marketing Lesson from an Evening in Venice

November 12, 2015

content marketing lesson

Dusk turned to dark and I walked from my hotel onto Piazza San Marco in Venice. As I reach the square, musical performers entertain a large crowd:

“When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that’s amore.”

The Performers

A portly man belts out lyrics from the song made famous by Dean Martin. He’s joined by performers on the accordion and clarinet. I gather alongside a crowd of nearly 100 people. I squeeze my way forward, so I can see the stage.

Here’s a photo of the performers:

performers in venice italy

The singer played to the crowd. He’d start in, “When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie…” then pause. He’d raise his arms to urge us to finish the lyric. When we fell short, he’d raise his arms again, as if to say, “What happened?”

The next time he came around to those lyrics, we did a better job chiming in. Here’s a photo of the assembled crowd:

audience in venice italy

After a few more songs, the singer had a message for the crowd. Knowing we were mostly tourists, he chose English:

“We’re going to take a short break. We’ll return in 15 minutes.”

The Other Performers

None of us stuck around for the 15 minutes. We saw another group performing across the square. The crowd of 20 people soon turned to 120 when we all walked over.

This group featured a violinist playing classical music. I stayed for a few of their songs, then left to explore other parts of town.

Spectators vs. Customers

Both performances took place at cafes with outdoor seating. They hired the musicians and the performances drew crowds. But guess what? The tables were 10% occupied. The “free” crowd outnumbered the paying customers 20:1.

While I enjoyed both performance groups, I left each cafe without spending a dime. In fact, I don’t even know the name of either cafe. On a return visit to Venice, I may seek out the evening entertainment in Piazza San Marco, but have no affinity or loyalty to a particular cafe.

That’s a lost opportunity to the cafe!

The Content Marketing Lesson

Here’s the lesson for content marketers:

  1. Your content is the musical performance
  2. Make good music
  3. Create an association between the music and your cafe

 

Create great content, but don’t stop there. Your content should make your brand more memorable.

Make your readers come back to sit at a table. Soon enough, they’ll be ordering food and drink.

 


Social Media Sharing Falling Short? Why You Should Keep Trying.

October 6, 2015

social media sharing makes an impact

The results of a recent tweet:

twitter metrics via buffer

Crickets. No clicks, no engagement, nothing. Did anyone even see the tweet? Twitter’s analytics dashboard tells me some of my tweets receive less than 100 impressions. Given that I have close to 7,000 followers, that’s discouraging.

twitter analytics

Given results like this, it’s easy to get discouraged. Here’s why.

We’re Results-Driven

My day job as a marketer makes me data-driven and results-driven. Looking at my personal Twitter account with a Marketing lens, I think about where I can optimize. If optimizing doesn’t move the needle, then I ask whether to focus my time on other things.

Lack of Progress is Discouraging

Occasionally, I’ll hit it out of the park with a tweet. But for the most part, I’m hitting weak grounders to shortstop. Making an out.

At the plate, professional baseball players fail most of the time. But they accept that. On social media, we’re less patient. While we want to continually drive in runs, the reality is that most of us hit below .200.

Is Anybody Out There?

If a tweet falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, was it a waste of time? I tweet to provide interesting content to others. If there was no one on the receiving end, then it wouldn’t be worth sharing.

That’s why metrics (like those shown above) are discouraging. I found an interesting article, I tweeted it and 44 people saw the tweet. But no one clicked or engaged with it. Was it worth my time? Read on to find out why those 44 impressions may mean all the difference in the world.

It’s Important to Keep Trying

Dark social” is a term coined by Alexis Madrigal to reference hidden measures of social sharing. It’s sharing whose data is not captured and tracked. If you tweet an article and I share the link via email or IM, then that share is not captured by Twitter’s analytics.

My Term: Dark Impact

What I’ve come to discover is this:

Dark social also encompasses the hidden impact of your content. I call it Dark Impact.

Your content can have an impact on people, whether they share it or not. Some personal examples follow.

LinkedIn

Recently, I saw a close family friend whom I haven’t spoken to in 10 years. Her first comment was, “I see your posts on LinkedIn. I can almost hear your voice in your posts. I learned a lot about what you’ve been up to.”

Via LinkedIn, she was able to learn about my job changes, as well as understand my current interests.

dark impact

My friend never once interacted with my LinkedIn posts. I had forgotten we were even connected!

But there sure was an impact to my shares.

LinkedIn, Part 2

At a neighborhood block party, I chatted with neighbors who happen to be retirees. I’m connected with them on LinkedIn. At the block party, they told me they enjoy the content I share on LinkedIn.

One neighbor commented to another, “You should connect with Dennis on LinkedIn for the posts that he shares.”

Another neighbor sees the content I publish via LinkedIn Publisher. “I read your post on LinkedIn. I can’t believe your’s was right next to one by Arianna Huffington,” the neighbor said.

dark impact

Without speaking to my neighbors, I would not have known the impact my LinkedIn activities made with them.

I had no idea they read my LinkedIn Publisher posts.

Twitter and Blogging

At meetups and events, I’ll meet someone who says, “I think I recognize you from Twitter.” They had seen content that I shared, or saw retweets from users with large followings. Once, I met someone at an event who said, “Aren’t you the person who blogs about virtual events?”

Remember the 44 impressions I mentioned earlier? NONE of the people behind those impressions engaged or interacted with my tweet. But SOME remember me simply for the fact that I tweeted.

The tweet may have been meaningful, it may have been irrelevant. But I tweeted. And as a result, I was remembered for it.

dark impact

My Twitter and blog metrics may show low clicks and minimal engagement.

But it’s making a difference with someone, somewhere.

 


What to Do?

Keep trying. Don’t get discouraged. Don’t give up. Share useful information. Whether you realize it or not, you’ll make an impact.

Next, leave home and get out of the office. Meet new people and network. That’ll help connect your social media activities with the people you’re impacting. It’ll shed a light on the dark impact.


Use Blogging to Generate Leads

September 16, 2015

use blogging to generate leads

Q&A with Dayna Rothman, the Director of Content Marketing at EverString.

In a recent blog post, you talk about helping “shape the story for the business.” How does storytelling translate to lead generation?

Storytelling and content marketing are a critical piece of lead generation.

In fact, I believe that content should be the basis of all lead generation campaigns that you run. As all marketers know by now, your buyers have changed.

They are not only self-educating along the buyer journey, but they also have extremely high expectations. Your buyers want a brand they can relate to — they want a brand that tells a story.

The more enticing your story and your content is, the more likely it is that people will give you their information. Then, you can use those stories to move buyers through their journey.

Note: read Dayna’s post, Creating a Category Through Storytelling: Why I Joined EverString

Tell us about what you cover in your book, “Lead Generation for Dummies”?

All aspects of lead generation for all different levels and company sizes. The book discusses everything from hiring a team, creating a lead gen strategy, to all of the different inbound and outbound lead gen tactics you should take, what metrics you should track, and more.

Note: Buy the book at Amazon, Lead Generation for Dummies.

Before Marketers start blogging for lead generation, what must they do first?

Marketers need to understand their lead gen goals as it pertains to the blog. How do they want generate leads? Through subscribers? By having visitors download content assets from your blog? Are you using your blog in outside lead gen campaigns? Once you figure out your goals, you can optimize your blog and individual posts.

What blogs do you read to help inform your own blogging?

Well, the Marketo blog of course! When I was there, we focused on optimizing lead generation through different avenues. I also love Copyblogger, MarketingProfs, and sites like Gawker and Mashable.

How do you measure the effectiveness of blogging to drive lead generation?

There are a few ways to measure effectiveness. You can look at blog subscriber growth, content assets downloaded from individual blogs, referral traffic, where do people go after reading your blog, etc.

B2B Blogger Meetup

Want to hear Dayna speak? In October in San Mateo, we’re holding a B2B Bloggers Meetup. Dayna will do a presentation on “Blogging for Lead Generation.”

Tell us what you plan to cover during your Meetup presentation?

I will cover how to think about lead generation when it comes to your blog. I will discuss how to optimize your blog and what different CTAs you should consider to collect lead information.

I will also talk about how to format your posts and what outbound campaigns you can use to drive traffic to your blog and increase leads.

Meetup Details

Everyone is welcome to attend and the Meetup is free. All of our Meetups take place in San Mateo, CA.

October 28, 2015 [Wednesday], 6:30-8pm: Blogging for Lead Generation, featuring Dayna

Hope to see you there!

Note: I originally published this post at LinkedIn.


10 Things to Check Before You Publish that Post

July 20, 2015

blogging checklist

Wait! Before you hit “Publish” on your next blog post, consider using this ten point checklist.

1) ALT tags on your images

The ALT tag is used to describe (for search engines) what your image is about. This is particularly useful on image search sites, such as Google Images. If someone searches an image for “plastic container” and you’ve used the same term in your ALT tag, your page may get listed higher in search results. Readers won’t see your ALT tags unless they view the HTML of your post.

Helps with: Organic search traffic, including traffic from image search sites.

2) Add internal links

Browse your post for terms that relate to pages on your website (e.g. product pages). Hyperlink the phrase to the relevant page. I also like to use Google Analytics “UTM” parameters in the URL (e.g. utm_source, utm_campaign) so I can see how much traffic this “internal linking” drives. Search engines like sites that use internal linking effectively.

Check out this post by Brian Honigman on website metrics. You’ll notice that I inserted numerous internal links to relevant DNN product pages.

Helps with: Organic search ranking, page views per session, bounce rate (lowers it), time on site, conversion rate.

3) Embed related content

I check DNN’s SlideShare and YouTube channels to see if there’s any content directly related to the post. If there is, I grab the “embed code” from that site to incorporate the SlideShare or video directly into the post.

In this post by Steve Roth on Google Hummingbird, I embedded a case study from our SlideShare channel.

Helps with: Time on page and (possibly) conversion rate.

4) Have links open in a new window

I add (target=”_blank”) to my hyperlinks. This way, when a reader clicks on a link in my post, that link opens in a new browser window. I don’t want the reader to leave my post.

Helps with: Time on page, bounce rate (lowers it).

5) Spelling, grammar and syntax check

Once I publish a new post, I like to do one more read through it. Occasionally, I’ll find errors, which means that I didn’t do enough of a “QA check” prior to publishing. I like to do a final read-through before I hit the publish button.

Helps with: Reader trust, return visits.

6) Use H2 and H3 tags on headings

This item (number six in my list of ten) is using an H3 tag. Instead of merely bolding a heading, the use of these tags helps search engines understand the structure of your post. Use them.

Helps with: Search engine indexing, which may have a slight impact on organic search traffic

7)  Calls to Action (CTA)

Readers loved your post. What do they do next? Don’t strand them. Give them somewhere to go: a related post, a trial of your software, an offer to sign up for your newsletter.

In this guest post by Brad Shorr on website redesign, the call to action is to download a related eBook from DNN.

Helps with: Page views per session, bounce rate (lowers it), time on page, time on site, conversion rate.

8) Meta Description Tag

The meta description tells readers and search engines what your post is about. On social shares, this field is often pulled in to provide context. It’s also the text displayed (below the post title) in search engine results. I keep mine pretty brief: one sentence that captures the essence of the post.

Helps with: Traffic from organic search and social shares.

9) Image filenames

Similar to image ALT tags (covered above), filenames can be an important search engine ranking factor. Electric-toaster-oven.JPG is better than IMG20150496-lage.JPG, because search engines can figure out the former is a toaster. On the latter filename, they have no idea. So double-check that your images have well-understood filenames. If they don’t, then re-name the image file, upload the new image and delete the old one.

Helps with: Organic search traffic, including traffic from image search sites.

10) Confirm comments are enabled

It’s a recently debated topic: whether to allow comments on your blog. I vote “yes.” Let readers share their thoughts, while moderating inappropriate, profane or off-topic comments. I love to hear from readers, even if what they say hurts🙂

Helps with: Reader trust, reader engagement, time on page, time on site.

Note: I originally published this to my LinkedIn profile.


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