Should You Send Case Study Interview Questions in Advance?

BY Holly Yoos
March 23, 2021

Sending your case study interview questions to your interviewee in advance sounds like a no-brainer, doesn’t it?

And certainly, if you type “should you send case study interview questions in advance” into Google, that’s the boilerplate advice everyone gives.

But is that truly good advice?

Or does it depend on the situation?

At Case Study Buddy, we’ve conducted (literally) hundreds and hundreds of case study interviews, and we’re continually testing new and better ways of conducting them.

And the answer isn’t as clear cut as you think.

The case for providing questions in advance

You can make a strong case for sending case study questions in advance.

When you provide questions in advance, you give your customers time to prepare so they can answer your questions more fully.

If they have a gap in their knowledge, they have the opportunity to fill it. If they know you’re going to ask about X—and they don’t know about X—they can talk to other team members who DO know about X before sitting down with you.

This can reduce or eliminate the follow up needed if customers can’t answer your questions on the spot. It shortens the process and decreases the hassle factor for you both.

Which is important—because when participating in case studies becomes a hassle, they’re much less likely to agree next time.

And if your primary deliverable is a video testimonial, you want your interviewee to come prepared with answers and anecdotes so that they’re not caught off guard or scrambling to respond. (The downside, though, is that pre-canned answers can feel quite wooden, but more on that in a moment!)

So yes, sending interview questions in advance can be a good idea.

But still, there are also good reasons NOT to.

Reasons NOT to send questions in advance

Providing interview questions in advance can also have downsides, such as:

1.   Refusal to participate

Sending a laundry list of questions to your customer may cause them to back out—especially if they feel the process is going to be too onerous or take too much time.

The solution here? Keep your list of interview questions short and sweet. Remember, you can always ask questions that aren’t on your list if you have time.

At the same time, communicate and commit to a firm timeframe for the interview. If you ask for 20 minutes, stick to 20 minutes. (Or, at least, get their consent before going overtime.) This will help alleviate concerns that participating is going to be too much of a pain.

2. Loss of emotion and spontaneity

Emotion is a great thing to capture in an interview, especially it’s being recorded for a video case study or audio clip for a testimonial. When customers expresses relief at a problem solved, or joy at an outstanding result, you want to capture that spontaneous expression of emotion.

But when you send interview questions in advance, interviewees might rehearse their answers, which dials down the emotional impact.

Again, you can avoid this problem by holding some questions in reserve. Don’t put questions on your list that are likely to evoke more emotional responses.

3. Failure to review

The most common problem we see in sending questions in advance is that the interviewee doesn’t bother to review them.

This happens about 50% of the time in our experience.

For experienced interviewers, this isn’t a big deal. They know better than to expect interviewees to be prepared, and they can adjust on the fly to get the information they need.

It’s this the kind of “expect the unexpected” aptitude that really sets experienced interviewers apart from novices. The ability to think on their feet and go off script when needed—while also staying laser focused on the case study brief—is a dazzling balancing act, especially considering the limited time you have available on a call.

It takes a lot of experience to learn how to do it well.

But no one ever said doing case study interviews is easy!

So what should you do with those interview questions?

Given these drawbacks, what’s the final verdict on sending interview questions in advance?

Our current practice IS to send at least some of the questions in advance. (Although we reserve the right to change this practice if we find the drawbacks start to outweigh the benefits.)

We send the questions not so much to help people prepare for the interview (although that can be a side benefit) but more to help put people at ease.

Some people just feel more comfortable having the questions in advance—even if they never look at them.

People are funny that way!

Make metrics the priority

So while you could argue the pros and cons of sending case study interview questions in advance, there’s another element of pre-interview preparation that’s often overlooked.

Getting everyone on the same page with success metrics—preferably in advance of the interview—is essential.

Did your SaaS solution lead to a 20 or 30% lift in sales? Is your customer’s marketing team saving 30 hours a week through automation? Or is it 45?

Case studies are strengthened by quantitative metrics. And your interviewee may need to check with other members of their team to get those metrics.

That’s why we advocate that our clients align with their customers on success metrics in advance of the interview. This gets everyone on the same page so that interviewees have those powerful metrics in hand and feel confident in their responses.

Getting everyone aligned on metrics takes work upfront. But it’s worth it to generate the killer soundbites and testimonials that can result.

Many of our clients tackle this by scheduling an alignment call with the interviewee the day before the interview.

When everyone’s NOT aligned on metrics, interviewees will often want to focus on features, processes or results that aren’t in the client brief.

So, if we ask about revenue growth because it’s in the client brief (for example), the interviewee will say, “Sorry, I don’t have those numbers,” and then will go on to talk about something else that isn’t in the brief.

So whenever possible, you want to get both the client and customer on the same page when it comes to quantitative results.

Doing this also has the secondary benefit of quantifying the value the client is delivering to the customer. We often hear customers say things like, “Wow, I didn’t realize how much time we were saving with XYZ!”

Send the questions; get the metrics

Sending interview questions in advance won’t hurt in most situations and will be greatly appreciated by some, especially the more nervous or skittish interviewees.

Just don’t expect the interviewee to look at them in advance.

Where you SHOULD focus your efforts is getting everyone aligned on metrics.

That’s where preparation and coordination is needed the most.

Because when you do, your case study will be even more persuasive—and you’ll walk away with powerful quotes and testimonials you’ll want to pepper throughout all your sales and marketing assets.

Want us to coordinate and conduct those case study interviews for you? Eager to get the most ROI from every single story you do? 

Contact us to start the conversation.

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