The Expert Interview Guide: Writing Effective Expert Interview Questions

The Expert Interview Guide: Writing Effective Expert Interview Questions

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Writing Your Expert Interview Guide

An expert interview guide is a comprehensive document that you can use to organize your thoughts before going into a conversation with a subject matter expert. A good guide is an interviewer’s best friend, complete with thoughtful expert interview questions that successfully extract the insights you need to make better business decisions. In addition to thoughtful interview questions, an interview guide should also address the following:

Define Your Research Needs: Clarify the purpose of the interviews. What specific information are you seeking? What are your research goals? Whether you’re trying to understand why the adoption of your product has been slow or trying to test effective messaging before a product launch, your study begins with a hypothesis.

Identify Your Audience: Determine who the experts are in your field or subject matter. Ensure they have the knowledge and experience relevant to your objectives.

Outline Topics: Brainstorm the main topics or themes you want to cover in the interviews. These should directly relate to your objectives and research questions.

Conduct Secondary Research: It is always important to first see what is available in the public domain (internet searches, company IR materials, trade journals, etc.). This will help you eliminate questions to which you can get a consensus answer from public material.

These steps will help you maintain order in the interview as well as help you write more defined expert interview questions that align closely with your research objectives.

Tips for Writing Effective Expert Interview Questions

Rather than starting with questions, you’ll use the research you did in your previous step to guide your question writing so that all key topics and research needs are covered. First, match the key topics you defined to an overarching research need. Once these have been properly grouped, you can then start defining specific questions for each research need and matching topic(s).

While this may seem daunting at first, think of this step as a mechanical exercise that leads to questions that flow naturally from the intelligence and insight you need to address the decisions you intend to make. As you finalize the guide, strike any questions already answered through secondary research and make sure the questions that remain are open-ended so that they won’t be answered by a simple yes or no. It is imperative to prompt as much insight and discussion as possible.

Example Expert Interview Questions by Topic

Some of the most common topics for expert interviews are questions on the market and competitive environment, regulatory issues, customer needs, and market entry barriers and strategy. While these may be more general, you can reference the examples below as you write out questions that are specific to your specific research needs and topics.

Market Overview and Competitive Landscape:

  • What are the key trends and drivers shaping the market right now?
  • How has the market evolved over the past few years?
  • What are the competitive advantages and disadvantages of the top companies in this industry?
  • How do new entrants impact the market, and what barriers to entry exist?

Regulatory Environment:

  • What regulatory changes have recently impacted the market?
  • How do you foresee regulatory developments affecting the industry in the next few years

Customer Needs:

  • What problems or challenges were you facing that led you to seek out our product?
  • What specific needs does our product fulfill for you?
  • How does our product fit into your daily routine or business operations?

Entry Barriers and Strategies:

  • What are the main barriers to entry for new companies in this market?
  • What strategies have been successful for companies entering this market?
  • How important are partnerships and alliances for market entry and growth?

Include Expert Interview Questions with Standardized Answers

After dozens of interviews, hours of conversation, and a healthy stack of transcripts, you’ll need a way to keep your info straight. For research projects where you may need to speak with 10 or more experts, you should ask a series of “rank these variables from 1 to 10” questions that you can aggregate into a useful data set.

For example, if you’re looking to evaluate the effect of a specific purchase-decision criterion, avoid explicitly asking whether it’s important. Instead, include it in a longer list of potential decision-making criteria and ask the respondent to rate, on a scale of 1 to 10, how important each is. This will help you compare results across respondents. As discussed above, this form of questioning will also help you avoid biasing your respondents’ answers.

Write Expert Interview Questions in a Way That Avoids Bias

Have you ever been asked whether you care about the safety of a car? What did you say? You probably said yes. Who wants to drive an unsafe car? But how important is safety compared with other aspects of the car? Will every customer mention safety as one of their key features without being prompted?

A researcher who proactively asks about the desirability of an attribute — including safety — is making assumptions about what customers care about.

While you’ll usually be conducting interviews to test your assumptions, you’ll want to keep those assumptions quiet. In her article on conducting VoC interviews, GLG Network Member and VoC expert Shoshana Burgett advises to never ask things like, “Do you like product X, or how much do you need feature Y?” These are leading questions.

When creating your guide, make your questions broader. For example, “What features are most important to you?” Safety might be one of them, but let the customer tell you that. Remember: you’re not trying to teach your customer how to use your product. Listen and understand their pain points so that you can better address them in your strategy.

Expert Interview Questions for Transitioning Between Topics

As you move through your conversation, you’ll want to be sure use between-the-lines questions before changing topics to ensure that all content has been covered. Some examples of between-the-lines questions include:

  • Your comments suggest that the market dynamics are highly unfavorable — how should I think about that impacting my project?
  • What else do you want to share on this topic before we move to the next topic?

Expert Interview Questions for Closing the Conversation

Once you have reached the close of your expert interview, you will want to close the call while still maintaining room to probe for additional information. Some wrap up questions could include:

  • What question did I not ask today that I should have? Tell me what I am missing?
  • What types of experts should I speak with on this subject matter?
  • What resources do you routinely use to stay fresh and up-to-date on this subject matter (blogs, statistics, journals, etc.)?

Don’t Be Afraid to Deviate from Your Expert Interview Guide

Sometimes you’ll be taken in a direction you didn’t expect. Your subject might go on and on about their love of a competitor that you didn’t even realize was a competitor, and that’s perfectly okay. Remember that your conversations will not follow a strict agenda. The best participants will be excited to talk about their areas of expertise and might have limited input into other areas. As the moderator, you have a responsibility to be cognizant of this. And if you stray too far from the core conversation, your interview guide can always lead you back to the heart of the matter.

Looking for more tips on qualitative interview prep? GLG has put together a guide that includes sample questioning frameworks, along with some templates to organize your findings.

About GLG

We are the World’s Insight Network, bringing decision makers the insight it takes to get ahead. When leaders need to make informed decisions, GLG provides meaningful connections through our network of experts, the world’s most varied and qualified source of first-hand expertise, with thousands of experts recruited daily to tackle tomorrow’s questions. Learn more about GLG expert calls or fill out the contact form below to speak with the right subject matter expert for your research.

Click here to access the Expert Interview Blueprint. Read our articles: Six Steps to Organizing an Expert Interview 
or How to Effectively Conduct an Expert Interview.