How to effectively interview your target market’s potential product users

Once you’ve identified a target market and the profiles of your product users, you will have a picture of the types of people you should interview. The purpose of these interviews is to understand your target market’s problems, such as:

  • How potential product users do their jobs
  • What frustrates them
  • What takes them a lot of time
  • What would make their lives easier

The goal of these interviews is to identify market problems that you could solve with your product.

While you may think that you have the answers to what problems your product will solve, it is important to remember the following: you are not your target market.

Listening to actual potential users will be an enlightening and informative experience, and will provide you valuable data in the process of defining what your product should contain.

How many interviews to conduct in your target market

The number of interviews you conduct will depend upon the amount of variety within your target market(s). For example, a corporate customer with fewer than 100 employees will have different needs than a customer with more than 500 employees. Take a sample of each subset of your target market.

Interview enough people to ensure that you identify patterns across the collected data. Interview at least five people for each subset of your market so that you can observe trends in your data. By only talking to one or two people, you may over- or under-emphasize some of the collected data.

Where to find interview candidates

Networking is the best and most cost-effective way to find interview candidates. This can be accomplished through either face-to-face networks or online networks (for example, LinkedIn, Facebook). By asking your networks for people who meet your target profile, you can amass a good list of interviewees

Tips for your interview format

When arranging interviews, it is best to try interviewing people one on one. This will allow you to probe more deeply as required and not waste other interviewees’ time.

  1. When requesting an interview, be sure to explain to the interviewee that the interview will not take more than 30 minutes (generally, this is how much time people are willing to give without it being a burden).
  2. Outline the fact that you want to understand their role and how they do their job.
  3. Emphasize that there are no right or wrong answers, as your goal is to understand a“day in the life.”
  4. Assure interviewees that you are not selling anything and that you are only interested in gathering information.

Interviewing guidelines

  • Approach the interview with an open mind. Be prepared to learn something new and interesting, as you may develop a new view of your market.
  • The user is the expert. Your role is to observe and listen. You might be an expert in your particular arena, but this is not the time to show it; try to see the world from the user’s perspective.
  • Conduct the interview at the user’s location, or wherever the user feels most comfortable.
  • Ask open-ended questions. For example:
    • “How do you accomplish that?”
    • “Why is that important?”
    • “Who needs that information and why?”
    • “What purpose does that function serve?”
  • Avoid using a rigid script. Have a conversation with the interviewee. You might need to ask several scripted questions to begin the process.
  • Do not discuss your company or products. The goal is to conduct research, not to make a sale.

How to document your interview with potential product users

In the best-case scenario, an interviewee will allow you to tape or film the interview. However, this is not always possible (due to, for example, security issues, technology limitations or interviewee discomfort). The next best solution is to take detailed notes. Write down every piece of information because you won’t know what data will be important later. If possible, bring someone with you to take notes while you conduct the interview. Rewrite and summarize your notes immediately after the interview to better absorb the information while it is still fresh on your mind.

These types of interviews provide the best type of data about your market. By listening to what they say, you can make better decisions and identify market problems that will make your product very effective. For more information on evaluating data, read the article Deciding which problems to solve.


Stull, C., Myers, P. & Scott D.M. (2008). Tuned In: Uncover the Extraordinary Opportunities that Lead to Business Breakthroughs. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley and Sons.