The art of the B2B interview

“You’re so lucky you run your own business. You get to do what you want when you want—your time is your own,” and “How do you coach people on interviewing when you haven’t had to interview in over 15 years, since you started your firm?” are odd, and frequent, comments I get … and perhaps you do, too.

We often think of interviews as part of the traditional job search and, absolutely, they are. Still, interviews are within the dynamic of business-to-business engagement. We often think of them as networking, sales, or pitches, and not really interviews.

When I first started facilitating group coaching and trainings, I would share the concept of IAAI, or “It’s Always An Interview” with anyone who would listen. That was not meant for intimidation, or for people to feel on edge, rather to remind each of us that every time we get the opportunity (note: not “have to be on”) to potentially connect and share expertise in a way that grows our business is a chance to interview, which means share and discover.

How so?

When you’re not telling, or selling, rather compelling, it is because you have passion, belief and the desire to include. When you ask, and listen, you get to hear and learn.

In a conversation about business, as you vet for fit, there are four wonderfully purposeful and leading questions to enhance the evolution of a business-to-business relationship (which is both personal and professional since it includes people in their professions), and when sincerely posed post research, they can be a foundation for moving forward. They are:

• Respecting your brand/direction is focused on X (from your research), how would you describe your culture in a sentence or two?

• What is something you are most proud of and what are you most perplexed by right now?

• How is this funded or what is your projected budget for your next iteration/change/project (what you are discussing)?

• (At the end of the conversation, if you deem there is a solid fit) Is there any reason, after this meeting/conversation, that you would not consider/advance my company to the next phase in your decision-making?

The value and purpose in each of these includes:

• Shows you are prepared, yet not presumptuous, and that you are interested in more than the deal, rather that you have an awareness that any change in an organization can impact culture.

• Sharing values is important to connecting and pride of an accomplishment shines light on values and skipping “what keeps you up at night,” in order to ask about perplexity, can allow for a depth of sharing that goes beyond sales to solutioning.

• While pricing can get awkward, asking about what department is funding a grant or other aspects of budgeting makes it more about a project than a transaction and, let’s face it, gets that money discussion rolling in a way that is still professional.

• While we tend to feel, and think, that “no news is good news,” and that having someone’s business in the CRM or pipeline means there is hope, it is best to know if you missed something and can rectify it, or if there is not a chance to move forward so you can respect their time, and yours, by knowing where you stand. This is the most important question to wait for the answer to without explanation or prodding. You will be rewarded for this with a frankness you may, or may not, be surprised by.

So no, not every interview comes at the most convenient time and, yes, I interview nearly every day, if not more than once each day. Interviewing is not solely for those in job search mode (although these can translate well to a job interview, too), and when we keep in mind that we, as business leaders, get to interview often, then we see it as part of our relationship-building and growth mindset, rather than a necessity in the business.

Now, with these four questions, with others interspersed based on the responses and the conversation, you will, if you are willing to hear what is being shared and even what is not said, put yourself in an enhanced position to gain insights into that prospective business as well as your own.

Debbie Lundberg is the founder and CEO of the national firm Presenting Powerfully. A 12-time published author, certified virtual presenter, certified life coach, certified leadership coach and certified image consultant, she is a performance coach who writes a business etiquette column for Tampa Bay Business & Wealth magazine. Her latest book, Remote Work Rockstar, has become a guidebook for working and leading virtually.

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