How to do in-depth interviews in B2B market research projects

How to do in-depth interviews in B2B market research projects

In-depth interviews are one of the main qualitative research methods. They tend to be a more practical methodology for B2B market research than focus groups. Recent advances in technology have made in-depth interviewing even more efficient.

In-depth interviews

When you have information gaps about your customers, in-depth interviews are one of the best ways to bridge them.

An in-depth interview is a one-on-one conversation where you thoroughly explore the respondent’s thoughts and experiences related to your product, service, or industry. Instead of multiple-choice answers, as per online surveys in quantitative research, you get rich detail explaining why part of your target market thinks or acts a certain way.

These conversations help you understand not just what B2B buyers choose, but the motivations and decision-making processes behind that choice.

As one of the main methods of qualitative research, in-depth interviews are well suited to new product concept research and getting a better understanding of the buying process.

In combination with quantitative research, you can use in-depth interviews for several other project types too:

Benefits of an in-depth interview include:

  • Getting detailed information from every respondent
  • Building a relationship, which often leads to more information being shared
  • Having more flexibility over the types of questions you can ask

 

Contents

Advantages over other B2B qualitative research methods

Advances in technology for in-depth interviews

How to do an in-depth interview process

Confidentiality

The future of in-depth interviews in B2B market research

In-depth interview case study

Best practices for conducting in-depth interviews in B2B

Advantages over other B2B qualitative research methods

The three main methods of conducting qualitative research are:

  • In-depth interview: Usually conducted via telephone or videoconference
  • Group discussion: Focus groups or online communities
  • Observation exercise: Run in-person or remotely using an app

In consumer research, all three are viable options.

But in B2B, one-on-one interviews via telephone or videoconference are the most common method. In short, the root of all the challenges of using focus groups in B2B is that senior decision-makers don’t have time for them.

If their time costs $100 an hour (or more), they’re only likely to consider it if you offer $200 an hour. Since focus groups usually need two hours and up to eight respondents, that adds up quickly.

Moreover, the right people to invite are spread out geographically and it’s difficult to schedule a time when they can all do it. They won’t want to discuss potentially sensitive information in front of competitors either.

Holding focus groups online solves some of these problems, but creates new ones too. It’s difficult to engage an online group, hold their undivided attention, and analyze their body language.

For similar reasons, observation exercises are rarely appropriate for your senior B2B clients either.

In-depth interviewing is more insightful and cost-effective for B2B market research compared to focus groups.

You learn much more from eight individual 15-minute video call interviews versus a two-hour focus group with eight respondents. Both interviewer and respondent can use those 15 minutes more effectively, having a more targeted conversation and exploring topics in more specific detail.

Your research needs to be efficient and make the most of customers’ time. They may take part if you can schedule a short interview during their lunch break, or in the morning before their commute, for example.

Advances in technology for in-depth interviews

In recent years, technology has made a typical in-depth interview even more efficient and insightful as a B2B research methodology than before.

Researchers used to do in-depth interviewing via office landline telephones. Fast forward to the post-pandemic years and now online calls, with or without video, are the norm.

Research participants are very comfortable with this overall. Even before COVID-19, tools such as Microsoft Teams and Google Meet were replacing the phone as the best option for a work call.

Telephone interviewing gets the job done but has its limitations. It’s harder to discuss research materials and transcribe the call afterward, for example.

In comparison, online calls have several advantages:

  • Quicker to arrange
  • Easier to reach respondents if they are hybrid or remote-working
  • Option for a video call, replicating a face-to-face interview, making it easier to build rapport and pick up on their body language and non-verbal cues
  • Easier to review materials mid-interview e.g. to analyze a website
  • Quicker and easier to get an interview write-up (using automated transcribing) 

The last point is a key one – there used to be a post-fieldwork delay to transcribe interviews. 

But now researchers can get a basic AI write-up almost instantly, while they wait for a more accurate human transcription.

How to do an in-depth interview process

Here’s the process for running in-depth interviews:

Design

Write a discussion guide for structured interviews that includes the right questions to answer your research objectives. As an example, for a buying process research project, aim to establish every step of the process and explore each one in detail. 

The duration for an in-depth interview tends to range between 15 minutes and an hour. It depends on factors such as the complexity of the research objectives and how much time senior decision-makers are willing to spare.

We recommend including an initial section to establish context – with questions about the respondent’s business, goals, challenges, pain points, and so on. This ‘warms up’ the interviewee, but the answers here will also help contextualize insights they reveal later.

Moderation

It’s crucial to use experienced, independent interviewers for B2B projects. They need to be familiar with your sector, understand the terminology that the respondent uses, and know which follow-up questions to ask at the right time.

Also – include a list of detailed probes in the discussion guide, so that the interviewer can ensure the respondent covers your key themes in depth.

Analysis

To analyze qualitative data:

  • Transcribe the interviews
  • Identify initial themes
  • Brainstorm the findings
  • Review the themes and revise
  • Storyboard the findings

Take an iterative approach – if you find information gaps during your analysis, spend more time looking through the transcripts or if necessary, conduct some follow-up interviews.

Reporting

With qualitative reporting, it’s crucial to use visualization techniques to bring the findings to life.

Qualitative insights can provide rich detail and valuable reasons why customers think or act a certain way. But you’ll struggle to communicate this around a business via lengthy Word reports.

Use illustrative models to explain complex information quickly and clearly. If you’re doing a product development market research project, visually highlight parts of the concept that do or don’t resonate with respondents, for example.

With the respondent’s permission, also consider using vox pops – a powerful alternative to written quotes that let stakeholders hear the insights directly from customers or prospects.

Confidentiality

As with a focus group, you can ask respondents to sign an NDA beforehand too, ensuring the confidentiality of any sensitive materials you share during the interview.

Moreover, in contrast to a focus group, respondents don’t need to worry about sharing sensitive information in front of competitors. They can request anonymity if needed too.

At the start of the call, the interviewer stresses that the results of the discussion are only for the client, who won’t share these with third parties without the respondent’s consent.

The interviewer should also restate the pre-agreed incentive amount and confirm how the respondent will receive it. Always think carefully about how to incentivize in B2B market research.

Before the interview begins, the interviewer must also ask for permission to record it, to get a write-up afterward. Respondents are almost always comfortable with this – if not, then the interviewer needs to take notes to collect data during the call.

The future of in-depth interviews in B2B market research

Some clients still prefer a B2B focus group to an in-depth interview. However, over time, the popularity of in-depth interviews will likely keep increasing at the expense of focus groups.

The widespread use of video calling technology, since the pandemic enforced remote working for many staff, has made it simple to replicate a focus group’s more visual elements.

For example – you can show respondents product concepts or marketing materials with screen-sharing features. Alternatively, you can share these using one-time links which they cannot access again after the interview.

And in B2B research, there are several practical advantages to using an in-depth interview instead of a focus group. As mentioned, you can get more detailed information from each respondent, build a stronger relationship with them, and ask a greater range of questions.

Moreover, you save costs on focus group venue hire. Also, you may be able to pay relatively lower incentives since the interview times are shorter.

In-depth interview case study

Here is an example showing the impact of in-depth interviews on a client’s business objectives:

How building buyer personas helped a Web3 start-up grow

  • Background: They wanted to do a segmentation initially, but didn’t have the cultural, financial, or technological readiness to implement one effectively. Instead, we recommended developing qualitative buyer personas as a more practical alternative. 
  • Objective: They wanted to gather market insights to inform product and web development to get a better understanding of the audience they were building for. 
  • Methodology: We conducted 30 in-depth interviews with the target audience of developers and founders.
  • Findings: The target audience differed in two main ways: 1) why they’d joined the Web3 industry; and 2) why they chose our client over alternatives. Combining these insights, we identified six personas with different messaging and product needs.
  • Outcomes: They prioritized three personas, and then developed web pages as well as propositions for each. Most of the client’s business growth has come directly from using these personas.

Best practices for conducting in-depth interviews in B2B

#1 Interview relevant internal stakeholders too

Your client-facing staff in particular will know a lot about your target audience. Consider running a semi-structured interview with each of them at the outset of your research process, or a virtual workshop.

It’s a good way to make sure that the rest of the project will build on a foundation of existing internal knowledge. Therefore, it avoids the risk that the analysis will focus on things that key staff already know.

Moreover, these semi-structured interviews should give stakeholders the time to share hypotheses to test during the research.

#2 Take the time to recruit relevant and genuine B2B respondents

One of the biggest challenges in B2B research is finding senior decision-makers to take part in interviews.

They tend to be short on time and participating in research is not a priority. Knowing how to recruit decision-makers for B2B market research is a specialist skill.

However, there are several tools experienced researchers use to recruit business decision-makers for B2B market research projects.

It’s rare to find genuine, senior B2B decision-makers on market research panels. Use a short screening interview to make sure respondents a) are who they claim to be and b) have the relevant expertise to take part in the subsequent 15-60 minute detailed interview.

#3 Use different interviewing techniques to unlock hidden insights

Keep in mind that if you ask someone a question, in any life scenario, you may not get the right answer. Your customers may not always know or be able to accurately articulate why they make certain decisions.

They have subconscious thought processes, with emotions often affecting B2B buying behavior rather than solely rational or functional factors. But there are ways to explore these emotional, subconscious thoughts in market research and we use several interviewing techniques to do this.

Many of these are a type of projective qualitative research technique. Examples include analogies and personification, hypothetical scenarios, inversion exercises, and image sorting.

For less senior customers, more observational-style interviews may be possible as a stand-alone research method. There’s ‘in the moment’ data capture (e.g. asking them to film themselves using a product) and neuroscientific data collection methods e.g. eye-tracking and facial expression analysis.

These tools can help take respondent bias out of the analysis, revealing hidden insights that a more traditional interview could miss.

Summary

Benefits of an in-depth interview include: getting detailed information from every respondent; building a relationship, often leading to more information being shared; and having more flexibility over the types of questions you can ask.

Advantages over other B2B qualitative research methods

In-depth interviewing is more insightful and cost-effective for B2B market research compared to focus groups. Both interviewer and respondent can use time more effectively, having a more targeted conversation and exploring topics in more specific detail.

Advances in technology for in-depth interviews

Researchers used to do in-depth interviewing via telephone but now online calls, with or without video, are the norm. These are: quicker to arrange; easier for reaching respondents: easier for building a rapport; easier for reviewing materials mid-interview; and quicker for getting an interview write-up, using automated transcribing.

How to do an in-depth interview process

Write a discussion guide for structured interviews. Include a list of detailed probes in the discussion guide, so that the interviewer can ensure the respondent covers your key themes in depth.

To analyze qualitative data: transcribe the interviews; identify initial themes; brainstorm the findings; review the themes and revise; and storyboard the findings. With qualitative reporting, it’s crucial to use visualization techniques to bring the findings to life.

Confidentiality

As with a focus group, you can ask respondents to sign an NDA beforehand too, ensuring the confidentiality of any sensitive materials you share during the interview. Keep ethical considerations in mind too: the interviewer should also restate the pre-agreed incentive amount, confirming how the respondent will receive it; and before the interview begins, the interviewer must also ask for permission to record it.

The future of in-depth interviews in B2B market research

Over time, the popularity of in-depth interviews will likely keep increasing at the expense of B2B focus groups. Video calling technology has made it simple to replicate a focus group’s more visual elements and pick up on body language. Moreover, you save costs on focus group venue hire and respondent incentives since the interview times are shorter.

Best practices for conducting in-depth interviews in B2B

We recommend that you: interview relevant internal stakeholders too; take the time to recruit relevant and genuine B2B respondents; and use different interviewing techniques to unlock hidden insights.

Chris Wells
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