How to Interview a Business Expert

How do you interview a business expert? How long should an interview take? 

How to Interview a Business Expert — for media or a blog

I learned about this quick interviewing technique when I was working as a sailing journalist for the ISAF Sailing World Championships in Perth. The journalism quick technique has improved how I work with my business clients.

I recommend using a 10-minute interview format for a written media article of 200-400 words. Have no more than 5 questions and keep the answers to around 2 minutes. Be ready to substitute questions, but do not add questions. Use your interview to build a bridge between a business expert and a potential client.

Example of an Engineering Expert

Start with a goal that answers why your want to publish an interview with the engineer. Examples:

  • A new version of  a product is going to be released
  • The engineering firm is looking for new clients
  • Business people ask for the competitor by name

The goal is to shape 5 what, how or why questions around:

  1. How does the new product help the ideal client?
  2. What are the characteristics of the ideal use of the product?
  3. What is the product category and name?
  4. Why is this firm’s product better?
  5. What is the next step for a potential client?

An interview should parallel the larger steps in a business plan. When you interview a business expert, you want to work towards the least informed ideal client. Don’t worry about critics or competition responding to the article. Worry about the person who should be using the product.

Always Think About Why

Interviews are an opportunity for an impartial person to get the purpose of a product. Often people who engineer, develop or design a product are too involved in the details. When you know how to interview a business expert you don’t just summarise the product, you translate why the customer wants the product.

Why does the client need this? Why does your firm offer this product?

A quick tip about asking “why” questions – don’t ask a person like a lead engineer starting with “why do you.” Using “you” can put people on the defensive. Instead of asking the person, ask in an impersonal way, “Why does your firm …” or “Why does Babblefish Engineering …” When you are working with a personal brand, such as a fitness trainer or an artist, then you want to ask, “Why do you…”

There are many ways to look at “why” – from both the customers’ and the engineering firm’s reasons why. Take a look at Simon Sinek’s video, “Start with Why” to learn more YouTube: https://youtu.be/IPYeCltXpxw

Shauna McGee Kinney at Edith Cowan University - Perth Australia

How to Interview a Business Expert

As the interviewer, you decide how you are positioning the questions. Are you writing an informative article or an advertorial? Is the article published to an audience that contains ideal clients or clients loyal to the competition? Choose your questions to direct the article to meet the majority of the audience’s expectations.

In this example, we are interviewing one of the firm’s engineers. Let’s look at the order and purpose of these 2-minute questions:

 

  1. How does the new product help the ideal client?
    This question guides the conversation towards summarising the product. Ask your interviewer to generalise. If you don’t get a full-answer, ask the cliche question, “What problems does the product solve?” Be ready to ask the expert to hold off on details or special features.
  2. What are the characteristics of the ideal use of the product?
    Now the engineer can add descriptions of features and details about the product. Asking this question second allows the pent-up excitement about particularly novel innovations to come out, AFTER the summary is done. You are looking to describe the ideal client with numbers and common industry categories, such as retail property managers or commercial builders with 20 or more tenancies in the property.
  3. What is the product category and name?
    Yes, we assumed that at the start of the interview we knew the product name and category. Getting the name and category easier after the product summary and features have been discussed. As an interviewer, you may need to ask some closed questions such as, “If you were at a trade show, would this be displayed in construction products or facilities management?”
  4. Why is this firm’s product better?
    This question can also be asked, “Who is your competition and how is your product different?” Write down the names of competitors and competing or similar products. Research the competition when you do the fact-checking after the interview.
  5. What is the next step for a potential client?
    If the commercial builder or retail building manager with 20 or more tenancies wants the product or more information on the product, does the person call or email? Is the engineering firm available to visit offices within a specified distance inside the city? Consider guiding the interview with details that you may or may not use in the final write-up, such as how long do most projects take from enquiry to using the product.

Take Notes or Record Audio?

Should you record a 10-minute interview or take notes? I recommend doing both, but take the notes with a pen and paper. I found that the sound of typing is picked up quite easily in an audio recording.

Write down the minutes and seconds when you start one of your questions. Don’t worry about fitting every second of the 10-minute interview with voice – a gap to organise your thoughts is shorter than you think. Write down bullet points, nouns and verbs as you interview the business expert. These words are just enough to help you jog your memory.

Take photos when there is a physical product you are discussing. Be sure to state if the photos are going to be published and ask if anything cannot be shown. For example, there may be a proprietary product being assembled in the background. You may only be able to use the photo to help write your copy.

I don’t recommend using video for a print interview. Video takes up a lot of disk space and presents challenges of lighting. Video interviews are planned and captured in a different manner than an interview published in text.

If you cannot grab audio using the voice recorder on your mobile phone or an audio application on your computer, you will need to slow your interview down and add more detail to your notes. Add more bullets, drop articles like “the, a, an.” Be sure to write the proper noun if your interviewee answers with “he” – write his name.

How to Find a Business Expert

When you interview a business expert, there are two types of interviews. One is an impartial interview for a media publication and the other is a marketing interview for the client’s interests. Ann Smarty provides sources for media interviews in her 2014 article. She talks about how to interview a business expert and get what you need to attract clients.

If your interview is going to be published on the engineering firm’s website then the questions should speak to a customer who would call or email the firm directly. However, if you are writing for a media publication or website that potentially has articles from competitors and related products, you might want to interview an outside business expert instead.

How to Find Perfect Experts to Interview on Your Website

Whether you are using an internal business expert or an external business expert, your interview can border upon public relations. Try to avoid specifying crisis incidents, unless this is a direct response to the crisis. Generalise with ranges of numbers or generalised examples of the types or incidents this product addresses. 

Fact Check Your Interview

After you finish the interview with the business expert, take a break of a couple hours. Before you start writing, research the names, dates and numbers that your interviewee stated. Call the business expert if you need to resolve conflicting information, such as the start date of a company versus the incorporation date of a company.

Write the interview quickly. Give yourself 30-40 minutes to complete the first draft of a 200-word story. And estimate up to 60 minutes to complete a 400-word story. Put the work down for at least 2 hours. Re-read and edit the story. Then send the story to an outside editor when you have one.

Send the copy to your business expert for a review. Gather corrections in a phone call or in writing. You may need to re-edit the copy depending on the complexity of the changes. As an example, if a business expert says they want to remove the mention of features for retail facility managers, you may want to rewrite the whole article rather than editing.

Tower cranes above Perth Australia skyline

You Can Write Your Own Interviews

You can interview a business expert and write your own interview. The more frequently you interview and write, the faster and better your stories will become. If you need help filling in or want to share the workload, feel free to contact me. My experience with interviewing business experts for text articles:

  1. Aim for a 10-minute interview to get content for a 200-400 word article
  2. Prepare 5 questions and allow about 2-minutes answer per question
  3. Start with why instead of what or how-to
  4. Record the interview and take handwritten bullet points with timing
  5. Check the facts and research the competition after the interview and before writing
  6. Decide if your audience is reading an advertorial or a informational article
  7. Write the first draft quickly (30-60 minutes) and don’t worry about editing
  8. Take at least a 2-hour break and then edit
  9. Ask for another set of eyes to edit
  10. Have the business expert review the copy before publication
  11. Accept that 1-2 of every 10 articles may need to be rewritten