A guide to asking the right customer interview questions

Great sales rely on great relationships, and great relationships depend on great communication. And great communication? Well that starts with great questions.

Asking great questions

It turns out that one of the best ways to grow your business is by asking customers the right questions. It sounds simple, but asking questions is complicated. Add to this the challenge of understanding what your customers are really telling you when they give answers, and you can begin to see why asking the right kinds of questions can be critical for your business, or your career. 

This is especially true if you’re interested in B2B tech sales. Selling tech in a B2B environment means being able to build great relationships with your business customers. Whether you’ve just completed a B2B upskilling program like SalesCamp from Palette Skills, or you’re already working as a business development rep (BDR), you need to understand the challenges your customers are dealing with. And that starts with asking questions. 

To help you learn how to ask great questions, we’ve put together an easy template you can steal from us and start using right away. You’ll want to set aside some time so you can contact your customers, to ask if they are willing to meet with you either by phone or by video, and have a conversation. It’s called a customer interview, and it’s scary and fun and very rewarding

Start the conversation

Let’s begin with two basic truths. Great sales rely on great relationships, and great relationships depend on great communication. Yet many business leaders and marketers struggle to communicate effectively with their customers. So it’s important to start thinking about great conversations, and how to have them.

After all, if you want to build an innovative growth strategy, or just grow your sales, you need to find out as much as you can about your customers. That means you want to know what keeps them up at night. What are they worried about? What excites them? Where do they get their information? Unless you’re having conversations with your customers, you can’t expect to know these things about them—and these insights are key to growing your business. 

The best way to make sure you have great customer conversations is to have the right customer interview questions. After that, your main role is to listen.

People in business and sales are having conversations all the time. The problem is, these conversations tend to be unstructured, and fail to take into account how most of the time, customers are people pleasers. Why is this a problem? Because it means customers are telling you what they think you want you to hear. And unless your customer is angry, it can be hard to communicate to a stranger what they don’t like about the way you do business. 

Understand pain and solve problems

Let’s say your business is selling a self-cleaning cat litter box. If you asked a customer if they’d be willing to buy your product, they’d probably say yes, if only because they didn’t want to hurt your feelings. Here, you haven’t really had a conversation, and you haven’t really learned anything about your customer. 

Now imagine initiating a conversation where you ask your customer about the issues she faces when she cleans her cat’s litter box. It’s far more likely you’ll get honest answers to your questions, and as a result, you will be in a better position to understand her experience, and her needs. Avoid talking about your product or service, and use the conversation to focus on the problems they solve for your customer. 

Past and future

Let’s say someone were to ask you something like: “Tell me about a time when you had a bad shopping experience.” It’s more than likely you have an anecdote about an experience that gets you fired up, and ready to talk. When we ask people questions about their experiences, we’re more likely to get authentic answers. So avoid questions that can be answered with a simple yes or no. That’s why questions that start with “Tell me about a time when you…” are a great way to gain insights on people’s behavior. It’s no secret that a customer’s past experiences can tell you a lot about their future.

Be a great listener

We like it when people tell us what we want to hear. And a little human trait called the confirmation bias means that it’s easy to assume someone’s answers mean what we want them to mean. However, to get good valuable insights from your customers, you need to take your ego out of the equation. And that’s not easy.

Try not to make assumptions or ask leading questions when you talk to customers. Instead, ask questions that start a conversation. Listen to answers and ask follow-up questions to clarify and expand on your customer’s response. This shows you are interested in what they have to say, and helps you gather more information.

Steal this template

Before you begin your customer interviews, make sure you’re clear on the goal of your  conversation. Do you want insight about new features in your software? Want to know which of your products your customers love most? Next, make sure to offer an incentive to reward your customers for engaging with you. Make it a unique gift or offer that your customers care about, rather than a generic gift card. 

From there, reach out to 10-20 of your customers for 15-20 minute long conversations. Let your customer decide whether they want to chat by phone or by video. You need them to be comfortable enough for an honest conversation. 

Now that you’ve set up your interviews, here’s how to make the most of them. ‍

    1. Keep it casual: Since you’re speaking with strangers, give them time to settle in. Start with small talk to get your conversation flowing naturally. Ask your customer questions about themselves, including how they’ve been doing, and what they’ve been up to.‍
    2. Introduce yourself: ‍Introduce yourself as a person, and not just as a business. Give your customer an idea of how the conversation will go, and be clear on how you’re going to use the information they’re sharing, and address privacy concerns
    3. Let customers speak about themselves, and listen to what they say: This is where the magic happens. You want this conversation to feel as natural as possible, so use questions as guideposts to stay focused on your customers. Don’t worry too much about repeating a question. As your customer gets more comfortable with you, they’re more likely to answer your question honestly. So feel free to follow-up to get a clearer picture.

Here are a few example questions you can use. Add in other questions as you get more comfortable with the customer interview format.

“As a customer who (uses your product or service) what’s the biggest challenge you’re facing?”

“Tell me about a time when you faced a problem (related to your product or service) in the past. What did you do to solve this problem?”

“Are there other products or services you’ve bought or used to solve this problem?”

Wrap it up

Your customers took time out of their day to speak with you, so wrap up your conversation graciously. Acknowledge their time, and how valuable their feedback has been. Describe how it will be used, and emphasize how their privacy will be protected. Finally, ask if they are open to having a follow-up conversation.  

This follow-up depends on what your goal is. Are you launching a new product, or a new version of your software? At this point, you’ve established positive rapport with your customers, so don’t let it go to waste. Let your customers know they can reach out to you, and make sure to send a follow-up note thanking them for their time. 

And now? Now the hard work begins. Study what your customers have communicated to you through great conversations, and start to build a way forward for your company or service based on what you’ve learned about other people, and their unique experiences.

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This article has been shared with us by Growclass. To find out more about Growclass, click here.



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Eligibility for SalesCamp

To be admitted and accepted into the program, you must be:
  • Be actively searching for work and ready to take on employment opportunities tech sales.
  • Be able to legally work in Canada. 
  • Not be a full-time student.
  • Be a highly motivated individual actively seeking out new opportunities.
  • Have least 3 years of formal work experience in Canada or abroad.
  • Have an English language rating of CLB Level 8, or IELTS of 6.5 overall.
  • Be available for Zoom sessions, many of which will be full-time.
  • Be able and committed to attending networking day events as part of regular programming.
  • Be comfortable using technology and learning online.
  • Live or intend to live in the province where the program is being offered.
  • Have a reliable internet connection, device, and a quiet environment for virtual learning.
  • Be committed and able to join the Canadian workforce full-time immediately following the program.
You may not be eligible if:
  • You do not pass our application and/or interview skills assessment. 
  • You are not actively searching or able to start a job in business-to-business tech sales.
  • You are not able to legally work in Canada.
  • You do not reside in the province where the program is operating.
  • You are going to school full-time.
  • You do not have three years of work experience outside of your studies.
  • You are interested in taking SalesCamp solely for learning purposes, but are building your own business and not intending to work in the field.

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