Follow-up questions are indispensable in B2B qualitative research. They are the key to unlocking substantial research findings; without them, businesses risk settling for surface-level findings that lack the power to drive meaningful change.
By asking the right follow-up questions, researchers can extract deep insights that go beyond the surface. This is what ultimately helps them to glean meaningful research findings that organizations can use as the basis of their strategic business decisions.
As a market research firm specializing exclusively in B2B tech, we’ve seen firsthand how effective follow-up questioning can lead to profound insights that drive change. We believe that going deep on core issues is the only way to get to unearth findings that matter. These are some of the top tactics and strategies that we employ to ensure that we gather such quality responses.
The Crucial Role of Follow-Up Questions
Interviews occur across various societal settings for different purposes. Some of the most common types of interviews are for:
- Market research
- Employment assessment
- Investigative journalism
- Police reporting
- Medical evaluation
- Academic study
- And more
Regardless of the context, however, one element remains constant: the indispensable role of follow-up questions. Follow-up questions serve the crucial purpose of delving deeper into responses and extracting the most critical pieces of information from the interview.
For example, consider the 1977 series of interviews conducted by British journalist David Frost with former U.S. President Richard Nixon. These interviews, often referred to as the “Frost/Nixon interviews,” were a series of televised interviews that took place several years after Nixon’s resignation in the wake of the Watergate scandal.
David Frost is widely regarded for his skillful and persistent follow-up questioning during these interviews, which led to Nixon making some significant admissions and reflections on his presidency and the Watergate scandal. Frost’s ability to push deeply, seek clarification, and persist in pursuing important lines of inquiry played a crucial role in extracting candid responses from Nixon. Ultimately how a good series of follow-up questions can lead to a compelling and in-depth response was dramatized in the movie Frost/Nixon, and is perhaps best illustrated by this clip from that movie.
In the realm of B2B market research, qualitative methods like in-depth interviews (IDIs) and focus groups also involve extensive questioning. Recognizing when to pause and probe deeper into a particular question is crucial to yield substantial findings.
When Follow-Up Questions Are Needed in B2B Qualitative Research
As an interviewer, there are moments when you might feel that your respondent has provided the insight that you needed on that particular topic and you are ready to move to the next question. Oftentimes, however, it takes more than one question to reach that point.
You may find it necessary to ask follow-up questions if your interviewee’s response is:
Broad and Vague
A generic and potentially unclear response can be a sign that the participant has more to share but may need guidance or clarification. Follow-up questions can help clarify, expand, and enrich the participant’s input, leading to more specific and valuable information.
For example, consider an IDI focused on uncovering details about the project management tools used by companies within a particular industry. If a respondent initially mentions that various departments utilize different tools for different scenarios before falling silent, it’s time to get more specific. Which tools are used by which departments? Why did they choose them? What’s an example of a situation where one tool would be used over the other? These are the details that will ultimately provide value.
Rambling and Diverging
If the respondent spends a very brief amount of time on your actual question before going off on a tangent about something separate, it’s time to lead them back to make sure you get your initial question answered. Follow-up questions can help get them back on track.
For example, you may be interacting with research participants who, while quite technical, have had fewer opportunities to explain what they do to a 3rd party, which might lead to a bit of rambling on the interviewee’s part. In this case, a bit of real-time shaping and directing of the interview can lead to more meaningful insights.
Short and Incomplete
A response that is lacking in detail will require follow-up questions to help get the specificity that’s needed. Asking questions to help zoom in deeper will lead to the discovery of more meaningful and actionable information. A good practical framework for this type of discovery effort is the 5 Why’s framework as illustrated by this short video.
For example, if you were investigating the use of cybersecurity solutions, an interviewee might simply state, “Yes, we utilized XYZ solution to address a security breach.” Digging deeper into what that security breach was, what caused it, and how the solution was used to mitigate the breach and perhaps prevent others in the future is key to developing great insight.
8 Tactics for Great Follow-Ups in B2B Qualitative Research
Generating great follow-up questions requires active listening, critical thinking, and a genuine interest in the conversation. Here are some strategies to help you generate effective follow-up questions:
Demonstrate a Deep, Shared Context
Respondents feel reluctant to delve into intricate details unless they believe it’s worthwhile and that the interviewer truly understands their subject matter. To establish trust and encourage in-depth discussions, it’s crucial to demonstrate your deep technical and business knowledge, gained from prior experiences in similar situations.
The way you phrase questions and conduct follow-up inquiries should reflect your comprehension. This creates an environment where respondents feel at ease sharing intricate technical, business, or process information confidently, knowing that you can grasp what they are saying in its entirety.
Active listening allows you to pick up on important details and cues that can inform your follow-up questions. By attentively focusing on the respondent’s responses, you can identify nuances, inconsistencies, or areas that require clarification.
One way to aid in the active listening process is to equip yourself with an AI notetaking tool. At Cascade Insights, we consistently utilize AI tools that take care of the manual notetaking. This allows us to focus more on the conversation itself rather than the task of taking notes.
Rephrase the Question
By framing the question differently, you encourage the respondent to think about the topic from a new angle. This potentially yields additional insights, encouraging them to expand on their previous response.
Achieving this can be done through various methods, such as offering an alternative viewpoint, using synonyms or different terminology, or referring to past experiences. These tactics can help you explore the topic more comprehensively and uncover hidden details or perspectives.
Connect Back to Previous Statements
Connecting back to something a respondent said earlier is a powerful tactic because it demonstrates active listening and continuity in the conversation.
By referencing a previous point or statement, you can explore how their earlier responses relate to the current discussion. This not only encourages respondents to provide more context and detail but also helps you uncover patterns, contradictions, or evolving perspectives within their responses. All of this ultimately leads to a deeper understanding of the subject matter.
If something is unclear or you don’t fully understand a point, ask for clarification. This not only helps clarify their perspective, but also encourages them to provide more detailed information.
Simple questions like, “Could you please elaborate on that?” or “Can you give me another example of that?” or “What do you mean by the phrase…” can lead to valuable follow-up information. Another strategy is to rephrase their response in your own words and ensure it aligns with what they were trying to convey.
Particularly when dealing with complex or technical subjects, seeking clarification is critical to the interviewer gaining a comprehensive understanding.
Build on the Previous Response
Consider how you can reference something the respondent mentioned earlier in the conversation and use it as a foundation for your follow-up question. For example, if someone mentioned a challenge they faced, you could ask, “What strategies did you use to overcome that challenge?” or “Tell me more about that.”
By doing so, you create a sense of continuity and demonstrate active listening. This encourages the respondent to delve deeper into their earlier statement. It also helps you explore related aspects or seek further elaboration, contributing to a more in-depth and holistic understanding of the topic.
Approach each conversation with a curious mindset. Be genuinely interested in what the speaker is saying and consider the implications of their answers. Let your curiosity drive your follow-up questions.
Putting yourself into this mindset before every interview encourages you to naturally ask additional questions to explore intriguing aspects, uncover underlying motivations, or seek clarification when something isn’t entirely clear. By staying curious, you create an environment that fosters open and insightful conversations.
Turn Generalizations Into Specifics
Encourage participants to quantify their observations. Particularly if someone provides a broad or vague statement, ask them to provide concrete measurements or examples that substantiate their impressions.
Not only does this add depth and clarity to their response, but it also verifies the validity of their claims. Overall, the greater the specificity a respondent provides, the more valuable their response becomes.
B2B Qualitative Research: Question Quality > Question Quantity
“I never learned anything while I was the one talking.” – Larry King
The number of questions you are able to check off during an interview is inconsequential if it yields no meaningful insights. Rather, high-quality questions that probe deep into core issues are what actually generate useful findings.
Experienced interviewers can skillfully steer conversations using persistent and well-informed follow-up questions that encourage respondents to open up and delve deeply into specific issues. In doing so, they are able to transform superficial answers into profound insights.
So if you feel that your research has only revealed surface-level findings, give us a call. We’ve got the expertise and deep shared knowledge needed to deliver the highest quality findings that will drive business results.
Cascade Insights is a hybrid market research and marketing firm that specializes in the B2B tech sector. For more than 16 years, we have conducted powerful B2B market research. To learn more, visit our B2B market research page.
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