How to Interview Customers and Run a Focus Group

How to Interview Customers and Run a Focus Group

Welcome back to another episode in our passion marketing series. In the last episode, we discussed how to find the level 10 passions of our customers through the five whys method. Today, we’re going to discuss how we can interview customers and run a focus group. 

Key Takeaways

Here are some of my key takeaways from this episode:

  1. Identifying your love group and cultivating a relationship with them is a great way to get feedback from your customers.
  2. We have to listen to our customers so we can understand what they want and then give it to them.
  3. To recruit customers for our focus groups, interviews, or surveys we can go to our email list, Facebook pages, run ads, etc. 
  4. We should only interview people who are part of our love group. 
  5. Generally, for one hour with my customers, I expect to give them $50 of value. 
  6. In interviews, surveys, and focus groups we should ask open-ended questions, avoid groupthink, avoid leading questions, and ask about demographics. 
  7. We can use focus groups to determine customers’ passion statements, pain points, and favorite features. 

Customer Feedback and Pizza

Last week, I went to a pizza restaurant in Fort Worth called Delucca Gaucho Pizza. At the restaurant, they brought around different kinds of pizza to your table. For example, they had a buffalo chicken pizza, a Greek lamb pizza, a steak and garlic pizza, etc. Many of these amazing pizzas were themed after different cultures and geographic locations. I was so impressed with this concept that I sat down and called one of my favorite pizza restaurants back home, Righteous Slice. 

There is a pizza restaurant in the city where I live in Idaho, called Righteous Slice. They sell artisan pizza they make in a fired oven right in front of you. The man that runs Righteous Slice is a former stealth bomber and Air Force fighter pilot. He’s a professor of entrepreneurship and he’s just passionate about making pizza. He even went to Italy and got trained in making pizza. After the first year Righteous Slice was open, I had taken my family and many of my employees to dinners here. 

At the restaurant, they had a rewards program and they kept track of who spent the most money right with them. I was in the top 10 customers that spent the most money. Because of that rewards program, the owner correctly identified me as part of his love group and he involved me in things where he asked for my feedback about new menu items and service offerings. 

So, when I was impressed with the pizza concepts at Delucca Gaucho Pizza, what do you think I did?I called the owner of my local pizza restaurant and I told him all about this pizza concept and about these new pizza flavors. He took my call and he listened to my ideas. He told me, “Thank you so much for sharing. I think we’ll begin to implement some of those ideas in what we’re doing.” 

Identifying your love group and cultivating a relationship with them is a great way to get feedback from your customers. I wanted to call the owner of that Righteous Slice because he’s listened to me in the past. He’s rewarded me and he’s made me feel like part of the inner circle. He’s made me feel like a VIP of his restaurant, and I want to be part of helping create his experience. 

When we listen to our customers, they will be more willing to share their great ideas with us on how we can improve our business. This is why we should interview our customers and run focus groups. When we listen to our ideal customers, we will know exactly what they want and how we can help them. 

Why should you interview your customers? 

How do you create these relationships with your love group once you’ve identified them? We do this by listening to them. And how do we listen to them? One way is through interviews and focus groups. 

One of my favorite sayings is, “The more that I listen, the smarter I am.” When I make decisions for my ideal customers because I think I understand them, I’m usually wrong. But, when I take the time to listen to my ideal customers, I’m going to be a lot more effective about giving them what they want. That’s the key point of running interviews, focus groups, and surveys. I run them so I can find out what my customers want and then give it to them. 

This may sound really simple but it is one of the most important business strategies that we can implementfind out what our ideal customers want, and then give it to them. The other key reason why we want to do interviews and focus groups is we don’t just want to give our customers something good. We need to create products and services, marketing messages, and marketing channels that our customers are passionate about. And the only way to do that is if we listen to them through interviews, focus groups, and surveys. 

How to Recruit Customers 

In the beginning, people usually asked me, “Where do we go to recruit people?” Trying to get customers to interview may seem hard, but it isn’t too difficult if you know where to look. 

Where To Go

If you are an existing business and you already have customers, you can go through your existing customer list and find the people that have referred you most, who have bought from you the most, etc, like Righteous Slice did with me. If you can find your best customers on an existing list (such as your email list), that is the best place to recruit people for your focus group. Make sure that as you go through this list, you only invite customers from your love group. 

If you don’t have enough customers yet, you need to identify your demographic and then go recruit them. Facebook groups are often a really good place to recruit. You might do partnerships with people that have email lists of people who you think are in your ideal customer group and recruit from those. You can also run ads on Facebook targeting people with the demographics that are in your love group. There are lots of different ways but you’ve got to be very specific with who you target. 

Who to Recruit 

When you put together the surveys, focus groups, or interviews, make sure you have the right people. If you sell to stamp collectors, you’re not just looking for any stamp collector but you want to find people that are passionate about stamp collecting, that buy the most, and refer the most.If you’re selling to an enterprise CEO, don’t ask a college student or a marketer for feedback. If you’re selling to enterprise CEOs,  only ask passionate enterprise CEOs. Make sure you only interview and get data from people who are part of your love group. 

If 80% of our customers are women, we want to ask women to join our focus groups. If we are running an adoption agency, we only want to ask families who are wanting to adopt. We only want to get answers from our ideal customers. 

When I ask questions, the very first questions I ask in the survey, interview, or focus group, are questions that qualify the customer as part of my love group. If they don’t answer the questions correctly at the beginning, I will not count their responses to generate the results for that focus group. For example, if I’m looking for people who do a lot of stamp collecting and I asked the question, “Do you have a large stamp collection?” and they say no, then even though I compensated them for the survey, I will drop their results. We should not consider any of their answers in the results forum for those focus groups or surveys if they are not our ideal customers.

What To Do

One of the biggest mistakes that entrepreneurs make in running a focus group is they expect everybody to do it for free. However, the reality is that people are busy and their time is valuable. It is not reasonable to expect people to come into a focus group or spend time on the phone with us when we’re not giving them anything in exchange for it. 

I have a general rule when I do a focus group or interview and I’m looking for about an hour of their time. It is that for an hour of my customers’ time, I expect to give them $50 of value. That doesn’t mean it has to cost me $50, but it needs to be perceived with a $50 value. If you give them your product, and your product has a retail value of $50 but it only costs you $15, that’s an ideal scenario.

However you do it, I recommend that if you’re looking for an hour of their time, give them $50 of value. That tends to work out really well. When we give them less than that, it tends to be a lot harder to get the people we want to attend those focus groups or those interviews. 

With that, if you’re going to give that value, don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions. When I write my surveys, I often have 50 or more questions. These are not fast surveys. There are a lot of people that will tell you that when you write your surveys, you should do them really fast and short. There should only be five or six questions. And that’s true if you’re expecting people to do it for free. But, if you’re going to pay people, you can expect them to put a lot more time into it. 

The reality is that the types of surveys, focus groups, and interviews that I’m talking about are not five or six questions. You’re not going to be able to get enough value with that little amount of questions. I am a much bigger fan of asking the surveys that are 30 to 60 questions long, putting those together, and then compensating people accordingly. Now you can see why I need to compensate people. It is because I’m asking a lot more out of them. If you’re going to put this together anyway, you might as well get answers to all the questions that you need or at least a much larger group of those questions.

Finally, as you are recruiting your customers, make sure to thank them and treat them right. If you want to bring people back for another focus group, you need to be kind and understanding. I believe we need to do a really good job of saying thank you to the people who participate in our focus groups and surveys. 

That lesson was taught to me by our PR director at very early on. She was so good about getting people to do anything and her secret was that she was really good at saying thank you immediately. She would create beautiful gift baskets and say thank you in lots of other amazing ways. By saying thank you really well through a gift and something of substantial value, we are much more likely to get people to do what we want when we need it in the future. 

How to Run an Interview and Focus Group

  • Ask Open-Ended Questions 

We should ask both closed-ended questions and open-ended questions in our interviews. Closed questions are important because you can easily calculate numerical results. When you give people “yes or no” questions, it is easy to turn the information into charts. When you ask people to rate their passion statements, you can easily calculate those and find the highest level passion statement.

Most people are really great at asking close-ended questions, but often forget about asking open-ended questions which are just as important. For example, beyond rating the passion statements you’ve already come up with in a survey, you should also ask what other passion statements the customer has. Open-ended questions also work really well for lots of other types of questions such as listing different pain points. Make sure you give the customer opportunities to tell you things that you don’t already know. 

For example, I did a series of focus groups for a food store. We asked about a lot of passion statements like “I love to be prepared” and “I want to protect my family”. But in the end, we found that the highest rated passion statement was, “I love bacon.” This is an answer we only could have got from asking open-ended questions. 

Make sure you ask closed questions where appropriate, but also be sure to ask the open ended questions so you can get the answers that you don’t already know. 

  • Avoid Groupthink

Another really important thing to know in going into these focus groups and interviews is to avoid groupthink. We don’t want people to adjust their answers simply because of what someone else thinks. 

In the focus groups, a lot of times people will vote with their hands or say their answers out loud. But, this can lead to groupthink. If one person says their answer first, other people in the group may change their answer to fit in. 

If you have them vote with their hands, I’ve developed a method to help prevent this. I have each participant put up two hands and rate their passion statements on a scale of zero to 10 with zero being the lowest level of passion and 10 being the highest level of passion. I have everybody give their answer at the same time and make sure they don’t change their answers once it’s up. We want to know what they think and not what they think after looking at everybody else’s answers. 

If you’re not asking a question with a set of numbers that they could put up with their fingers, you can write out a survey for them to fill out beforehand. We use Survey Monkey or Google Forms and we write out a survey electronically. Then we give every single person in that focus group, an iPad or some other form of tablet, and we have them answer the questions on the survey first. Once the answer is submitted, we can then open it up for discussion.

If you get one very dominant person in a focus group that sways everybody’s answer your data is completely worthless, so it’s very important to find a way to avoid groupthink. 

  • Avoid Leading Questions 

Another really important point to make note of is to make sure that you don’t sway the answers yourself. We want to make sure we don’t ask leading questions in our sessions. 

What we’re after here is listening effectively. We’re not trying to get data to support what we already believe; we’re trying to get correct data about what people really think. If we write leading questions, we’re going to make our survey results completely worthless. 

I once ran a focus group with a business I was helping to find their ideal customers’ passions. We brought their customers together one evening, we provided food, and then we found out in that focus group that our ideal customers did not want the product we had designed. It was a resounding no from our audience. It would have been really easy for us to sway their direction, to try to convince them why our product was so great, but at a certain point, we need to listen to know when our group says no. 

When you find a no in a focus group or survey, don’t push it. Don’t find a way around it to get people to say yes and to sway them so you will hear what you want them to say. We should see this answer as a blessing and be grateful that our ideal customers have told us what they don’t want. This way, we can avoid that failure. 

A lot of people talk about how half of businesses in America go out of business within just a few years of starting. How many of those businesses could prevent that failure if they asked their customers what they wanted first? 

  • Ask About Demographics

I’ve told you that the first set of questions I ask are questions to make sure that the participants are part of my love group. After that, I like to ask a few questions about demographics, such as age, gender, income, geographic location, etc. This helps us confirm who our ideal customers really are. 

So let’s say you went in and you found people that were in your love group. You might be able to break it down and say okay, of the people who said they wanted this product the most, where do they live? What is their gender? How much money do they make? Where do they go online? Once you found this group of people who rated your product and service as a level 10 passion, you want to then go back and understand who those people are so you can replicate those in your advertising and other marketing efforts. 

  • Rate Passion Statements, Find Pain Points, and Determine the Customers’ Favorite Features  

The next thing that I cover in these focus groups, surveys, or interviews are passion statements. I take the passion statements from the one-on-one interviews and I make sure it applies to a larger group. 

I also love to try to understand the problems and pains that the customers want to solve. A lot of times our products and services can solve multiple problems so it’s a good idea to get a list of problems our customers have. We don’t have to focus on only one pain point. 

Another thing that I love to do that’s been very valuable in these focus groups and surveys is identifying the products and features the customers want most. If you sell protein powder, you might ask them in the surveys what flavors of protein powders they like. Get their feedback for new features and products. If you’re thinking of launching these five new products, ask your audience first. Before we go through the effort to release a new product or service, it’s essential that we go to our audience first. We should ask them what they really want and then give them what they want. It’s really not that complicated. 

Finally, my last bit of advice that I have for you in running these focus groups or interviews is to always record them. When I’m running them, I have people take notes and we also record the audio and or video if I can. There’s many times where it’s been very valuable to go back and see exactly how people responded to a question. Get the exact wording. 

Thank you so much for joining us today. If you enjoyed this episode, I encourage you to tune into next week’s livestream on Wednesday at 12 p.m. MST about creating passion platforms.


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    About the author

    Nathan Gwilliam

    Nathan Gwilliam

    I help organizations navigate tectonic shifts that are transforming the business landscape, so they can optimize marketing, accelerate profits, and make a greater difference for good.

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