How to Unlock Brilliant Insights from Subject Matter Experts
During my time in high-tech corporate marketing, I often needed to interview product managers or engineers in order to create messaging documents, white papers, and more. What I quickly realized was these folks had a wealth of information in their brilliant brains, but they didn’t always understand how to give it to me verbally. So I developed skills to gently “tease” it out of them during interviews.
This skill has been invaluable as a copywriter and content marketing expert, too. I often need to interview clients’ subject matter experts (SMEs) to understand their business and put myself in their buyer’s shoes. Knowing how to conduct a thorough, but succinct, interview is a critical skill in order to create great content.
If your copywriter doesn’t understand how to interview people to pull out the necessary information, then you’ll likely get back poorly written copy and/or spend a lot of time on the phone explaining details to them. Not good and not what I aim for when working with clients.
Two Keys to Successful Interviews
The key to successful interviews is thoughtful, upfront preparation. It’s critical to carefully consider the information needed about a client’s business or product and capture that in short but probing questions that can be asked in 30 minutes or less (I try to take up as little of the client’s time as possible while still getting the information I need).
The next, and possibly even more important, aspect of interviewing is the willingness to go deep with your interview subject. If I’m interviewing a quiet software engineer in order to understand a new technology, I might need to probe at their answers in order to really get to the meat. When SMEs wander off on irrelevant tangents or give high-level answers that don’t really answer the question, it’s my job to bring them back and make sure I truly understand the information they’re giving me.
Of course, reviewing background materials is also helpful, but I still consider them secondary to the all-important interview. That’s really where I get the true story.
The next time you hire a copywriter, make sure they have a process for interviewing your subject matter experts. Great content hinges on conducting an outstanding interview.