One of the truest and often most revealing forms of research is the executive interview. It also can be one the cheapest research options.
Executive interviews are one-on-one encounters. A third-party interviews stakeholders, customers, employees or other target audience members using a discussion guide to focus and advance a conversation.
As a qualitative research technique, the findings from a series of executive interviews should be assessed as representative viewpoints, not quantified data points. Like in any other type of research, the findings are only as reliable as the sample. If you want to know what key executives in a corporation think and you interview all of them, your findings should be comprehensive. If you have 1 million retail consumers and interview 20 of them, you need to be careful about over-generalizing.
What you miss in quantifiable results is more than compensated for by rich engagement with people you interview one-by-one. Interviewees aren’t asked questions with “yes” or “no” answers. They respond to more open-ended questions that allow them to share their thoughts – both on topic and off. A flexible format allows the conversation to veer off course to touch on subjects that are relevant, but not included in the discussion guide.
Skilled interviewers put people at ease before the conversation begins. They assure interviewees they won’t be quoted directly in a final report, which encourages more candor in the conversation. The confidentiality of executive interviews is one of their strongest selling points, especially if the topic is sensitive.
Executive interviews don’t require the physical facilities of a focus group or the purchase of a random sample. You need to identify who to talk to, set up an appointment, conduct the one-on-one interview either in person or on the phone and compile findings.
This approach to research is best suited to:
- Determining team alignment on a strategic plan, a marketing strategy or a new venture.
- Getting the lay of the land before designing a new website or marketing collateral.
- Assessing how consumers or users value a product, service or organization.
- Conducting a gap analysis to see determine the width between expectations and outcomes.
- Asking about customer or employee satisfaction.
- Testing the questions for a traditional telephone or online survey.
Executive interviews are an elegant tool to discover how people think in detail about an issue, not just how they view it. In-person interviews allow the interviewee to talk in comfortable surroundings such as their own office. They take less time than a focus group and scheduling can fit the interviewee’s time frame.
Executive interviews are less about data and more about the reasons behind the data. They reveal the views of people in valuable ways you don’t measure by percentage points.