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Revenue and Features Editor, Co-host of Content Lab, 15+ Years of Writing and Teaching Experience
March 15th, 2021
The story of Marcus Sheridan’s pool company has gained almost mythological status at IMPACT.
For the sake of time, I’ll give you the short version: As the country spiraled into the Great Recession back in 2008, Marcus’ pool business quickly found itself in deeper and deeper trouble. Customers backed out of contracts and asked for their deposits back, leaving the future looking bleak.
In a time of economic uncertainty, pools were seen as frivolous expenses, and customers were tightening their belts.
Marcus was in a tough spot; he didn’t know what he could do. The bigger issues facing the country were well beyond his control. So, he focused on what he could control — expanding River Pools' website.
Marcus had read about inbound marketing and knew that the internet was forever changing the way people buy. More and more, customers were looking for information online, and they were doing plenty of research before they reached out to a company.
Marcus took it upon himself to write articles for his company website.
Having worked in sales for years, he had heard every possible question, concern, and objection buyers had. If he answered these questions directly on the website, if he addressed every concern, people could find out the information they needed and they'd feel more comfortable making such a big purchase.
So that's what he did, night after night.
Over time, these articles gained traction and brought in new customers. Eventually, they brought in so much traffic that the business started to expand.
Marcus called his business philosophy They Ask, You Answer. The premise was simple: If a customer asks a question, you should answer it openly and honestly on your website.
And with that, a movement was born.
Putting They Ask, You Answer into practice
Now, years later, Marcus is busy spreading the word to businesses all over the world. His book by the same name has been widely read, shared, and lauded. Book Authorirty listed it as number one on its 100 Best Digital Marketing Books of All Time list.
We encounter team after team who are thrilled to come across the philosophy and eager to implement it.
But, as they focus on the first steps of putting They Ask, You Answer into practice in their organization, they also wonder about the long term.
Can we really keep up steady content production for years to come?
Will The Ask, You Answer be a framework we can keep following indefinitely?
I asked Marcus to explain the long-term application of his business philosophy — and asked to check in with River Pools in Virginia, the company he helped save more than twelve years ago.
Here are some of his thoughts.
Long-term They Ask, You Answer: Successes and stumbling blocks
To put it simply, the hardest part of They Ask, You Answer is getting started. To do so, you need to shift the culture of your organization, and you need to bring on new team members, both of which can be harder than they sound.
But you’ll be glad you did.
Marcus laughs about something he hears from CEOs frequently: “They say to me, ‘Marcus, I can’t believe I was hesitating to hire a videographer two years ago. Now I’ve got two full-time videographers and am thinking about hiring a third.’”
Once they start down the path, these business leaders can’t believe they ever had doubts, but some did. Likely because of the leap of faith required to go all-in.
Having now seen so many companies follow his methodology, Marcus knows what success looks like, and it’s true that the biggest results aren’t immediate. They Ask, You Answer requires an investment of time and manpower to get going.
Sure, you can start using content in your sales process right away, something Marcus calls assignment selling, and the effect can be profound. But the momentum of organic traffic is something that takes time, and companies should not expect to rank in Google searches for six months or so.
The bigger results lie further ahead still.
“I think the biggest gains from They Ask, You Answer,” Marcus reflects, “are in that 12- to 18-moth range. That’s when companies see that hockey-stick growth.”
They need to trust the process and invest the necessary resources to get there.
IMPACT coach Eric Dunn explained how rewarding it is for him when skeptical clients see the light and feel the momentum. One client he works with (an HVAC company) never thought they’d be able to publish three articles per week for any sustained amount of time. How would they ever come up with that many things to write about?
After ten months, Eric reports, they’d upped their own quota to four articles per week — and they’d brought on another writer to help with the demand!
Once you’ve got a healthy momentum, strategic direction, and a great team assembled, the biggest stumbling block Marcus sees is what he calls scope creep.
When businesses get started with They Ask, You Answer, they sometimes hamstring themselves by not having a dedicated content writer. If content writing becomes another duty piled onto someone who already has a full plate, the whole thing fails.
Similarly, if a mature They Ask, You Answer company is humming along, it’s tempting to add new duties to your content manager’s workload.
Marcus gives this example: “Companies take that excellent content manager and say, ‘You’re doing great — let’s have you help out at this upcoming tradeshow.’ Before you know it, they’re doing more and more stuff, and less and less content. They either burn out trying to do it all or the content production suffers.”
When production slacks, the initiative can falter — even for companies who have already built a strong They Ask, You Answer foundation.
The original case study: River Pools
So, how is River Pools doing all these years later? Well, the business bounced back, thanks to the content Marcus produced. However, it could only grow so far, being a regional pool installer. So, River Pools expanded into pool manufacturing, selling fiberglass pool shells to builders around the country.
Through it all, content production never stopped. Marcus reports that they’ve got two full-time writers and two full-time videographers on staff today.
As to that content production? “We’ve probably averaged a couple of pieces of new content a week,” says Marcus. He adds, “That’s a minimum, and that’s every week since the beginning.”
If you’re interested, type a pool-related question into Google and see what comes up. All these years later, some of those early Marcus articles (which, undoubtedly, have been expanded and updated since) still own premier real estate in search results.
Your They Ask, You Answer journey
With a strong foundation and healthy momentum, They Ask, You Answer can guide your business for years to come. After all, the central tenets are timeless:
Candor and honesty will be appreciated by everyone who reads your content, whether they buy or not
That said, Marcus warns against another way businesses can limit their success. “A common problem I see is when companies just set it on cruise control and not really look at the numbers or look at the trends.”
“You always need to challenge yourself and think, ‘What haven’t we really talked about?’"
At all times, businesses need to think about doing things that shake up the marketplace and truly empower customers. “If you’re not doing one thing a year that makes your competition complain about you,” Marcus says, “you’re probably not being very innovative.”
This is They Ask, You Answer at full maturity: merging innovation with candor and transparency. When you do that, both you and your customer win.