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When we bring on a new branding or marketing client, one of our first steps is to conduct a series of internal interviews with around a dozen members of their organization—everyone from key stakeholders to entry-level employees.
The information we gain from these interviews is invaluable. But for clients, it can sometimes seem redundant. After wall, what was the point of a kickoff meeting if not to share all this information up front?
The answer, of course, is that the kickoff meeting and internal client interviews serve two entirely different purposes. The kickoff meeting is project-oriented. It’s there for both teams to meet and greet each other, and for us to reach alignment on key deliverables, project strategy, and timeline.
Kickoff meetings are invariably dominated by two or three participants. They’re a dialog between the leaders on your team and ours, where the other team members listen in and contribute as needed. That’s a fine and efficient process, and that’s how we’d like to keep it.
But this format leaves little room for nuance and can lead to a kind of group think that, consciously or otherwise, prevents other perspectives from being voiced. Beyond this, there simply isn’t enough time in the kickoff meeting to hear everyone’s story in-depth.
We wouldn’t recommend this step if it weren’t such an effective tool to learn more about your organization. Here’s why it works so well.
The number of interviews we conduct largely depends on the size of your organization, but we like to talk to about a dozen employees. For a small business, this usually means interviewing every team member. For a mid-sized business, we usually speak with a selection of team members from the leadership to management to front-line employees.
Unlike the kickoff meeting, where our team is engaged in a fifty-fifty dialogue with the client, one-on-one interviews are our chance to mostly listen. We ask questions to guide the conversation in certain directions, but we also leave plenty of room for our client to tell us about things we might not know enough to ask about.
Those tangents are often the most productive part of our interview. The door-to-door service tech can tell us about common customer FAQs, or the pain points they’ve resolved that have lead to their highest customer satisfaction scores. The marketing director can tell us about the biggest hesitation their clients have before closing a sale, while the CEO can tell us about their aspirational five-year plan for the company.
We need to hear all these voices to formulate a complete marketing strategy. And we can only hear them when we’re talking with them one-on-one.
In most instances, we prepare a single questionnaire and ask every team member the same set of questions. This is to gain a baseline answer which we can compare across every interview.
If we’ve already spoken with a client extensively, this can mean that some of our interviewees are telling us things they’ve told us before, albeit in a different context.
However, covering this ground again in the interview has the advantage of collecting a definitive response in one place. Moreover, it’s common for clients to give more detailed answers when asked directly about a key aspect of their business. We often notice that clients can gloss over important information because it’s so familiar to them that they forget it is less obvious to outside observers.
This is also why we ask the same questions of top level executives as we do entry level employees. Those higher up in an organization tend to give aspirational answers based on what they would like their organization to be, whereas those on the ground floor give descriptive answers based on what the organization actually is.
One of the most important questions we ask clients has to do with their first interactions with the organization. For owners, that question can be “what inspired you to start your company?” For employees, it can be “how did you first hear about this organization, and what made you choose to work here?”
The goal of this question is to bring forward the backstory of the individuals working with the organization. We want to know what their first impressions were, what motivated them to apply for a job, how much they knew about the organization before they signed on, and what they’ve learned about it since.
This is an especially important question for non-profits. If your organization relies on volunteer work, or frequently hires full-time employees from a pool of volunteers, knowing how to grow that base is critical to your organization’s success. When we hear these stories in our interview process, we learn about which recruitment methods were successful in your organization’s past—and how we can apply them for the future.
By the time we have finished our client interviews, we are able to assemble a document that forms a clear snapshot of the organization across many levels. That document highlights common themes that clearly resonate with all members of the organization. But it also brings forward points of divergence.
This is a great thing for a company. While organizations should feel aligned on their core principles, the presence of other perspectives shows creative thinking. It shows that individuals can bring forward other ideas, and that these ideas can be used to help the organization grow.