An interesting thing happened while collaborating on some sales letter work recently. While sitting in on the initial client interviews, I found myself going back to Mike’s white paper interview template to “fill in” some gaps while we were talking to the client.
Mike’s white paper process is much more interview-heavy than other types of marketing writing, but it’s also much more comprehensive. The “Stelzner method” is more of a guided discussion than an in-depth creative brief filled out over the phone, and I’ve found it much more efficient for gathering information than your typical client discovery questionnaire. This is especially true when talking to technical experts, as they can tend to run off on tangents or even miss the point of a question entirely unless it is asked of them in several different ways.
For instance, in a typical creative brief the client is asked early on to describe what he’s selling. Oftentimes the client will tell you what the product does—not what it is, which often leads to a rambling discussion of features and benefits. Playing this kind of tag on the telephone can run interview times well over an hour, and lead to lots of confusion.
By using the White Paper interview template, which is much more focused, I let the client know that describing the bells and whistles will come in a later set of questions—for right now, just describe to me in simple terms what the mobile XYZ module “is.” Is it software? Is it hardware? By staying on task and asking the question different ways I can boil it down to bare essentials, get better clarity, and save a lot of time.
One of the tricks Mike taught me is to have a little “cheat sheet” posted on my computer screen with qualifying questions listed, like:
• Can you please elaborate?
• What are some examples?
• Why does it matter (to our reader)?
• What is the implication of NOT having XYZ?
• Can you say that another way?
I have to refer to these quite often to keep the client on target, especially when they’re excited about the product. For me, the “Stelzner method” for interviewing works much better than using creative briefs. I’m finding that the more I work with white papers, the more I adapt Mike’s method to my direct response work.
What about you? For those who write both white papers and other marketing materials, are the questions you have to ask a client similar? Do you find yourself borrowing methods from one writing technique to use in another?
About the Author: Apryl Parcher is Michael A. Stelzner’s apprentice. You can learn more about her at www.aparcher.com.Receive email updates when new articles are posted.