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The 4 most common misconceptions about They Ask, You Answer

What exactly does it mean to "do" They Ask, You Answer? You'd be surprised how often folks get this answer wrong. Because while They Ask, You Answer is simple, it's not easy.

The 4 most common misconceptions about They Ask, You Answer Blog Feature

Will Schultz

Digital Sales and Marketing Coach, 4+ Years of Video Training and Consulting

October 14th, 2020 min read

If you are all jazzed up after reading They Ask, You Answer, if you recently heard Marcus speak somewhere, or if you've just had your own "AH-HA!" moment about content marketing, then this little ditty of a soapbox is for you.

I wrote it from a place of love, I promise.

I don't want to be melodramatic, but if you are post-"AH-HA" and pre-execution with They Ask, You Answer, this article may feel like a bit of a buzzkill. You won’t regret reading it, however, as it will almost certainly save you something like $3 bazillion, two entire oodles of time, and one very, very large headache.

🔎 Related: Wait, what the heck is They Ask, You Answer?

You see, I'm very familiar with that "AH-HA" moment, that "click" of understanding. I’ve read the book four times now, and I somehow find a way to get my own new and improved "AH-HA" moment every time I read it.

I've also had the pleasure of talking to hundreds of business leaders who have read the book or attended our conferences, and they all want to tell me about the same thing:

How much sense it makes to them and how much they understand and believe in the philosophy...

“It makes so much sense!”

“I get it! I know this will work!” 

“My industry is begging for this!” 

“Our employees won't be hard to convince!”

And then there’s the cherry on top — the line that I hear most often:

“I’m ready to do They Ask, You Answer!”

But what the heck does that even mean? What does it mean to do They Ask, You Answer?

Think of how many thousands of people have read this book or heard about They Ask, You Answer. They’re just like you right now. They were also excited. They had their own "AH-HA" moments with seemingly nothing standing in their way. They were ready to go right now.

🔎 Related: How They Ask, You Answer fails when you have the right pieces

Yet, we’re not surrounded by thousands of success stories of businesses that have done They Ask, You Answer well. Why is that?

They Ask, You Answer is simple, but it’s not easy

In fact, They Ask You Answer is deceptive and disastrous in its simplicity.

And the different responses to what it means to "do They Ask, You Answer" is the clearest way to see the difference between our case studies and everyone else that tried, failed, and went back to the drawing board.

I know what you're thinking right now. You're excited about a new sales and marketing philosophy, you know your company better than anyone else, and you're having logical ideas for how to get started, but… 

“Who is this fear-mongering nay-sayer who doesn't know our business? Who is asking me to read this article and pump the brakes?

“What does he know about us? Why should we trust him? Why would we need his advice to be successful with something so simple?”

I’ve heard it all, folks. I’ve worked with many businesses of varying sizes and industries; I also once owned a business myself. So, I get it. I understand your questions and your skepticism about slowing down on a business philosophy that seems, on its surface, to be rather straightforward. 

I don't want you to lose your excitement — quite the contrary, my goal is to help you capitalize on that excitement by setting you up for true success with They Ask, You Answer.

Moreover, I want you to recognize that understanding the final objectives and outcomes of They Ask, You Answer does not guarantee your success while implementing the strategy.

My simple goal is to help you have the right mindset as you define what it means to "do They Ask, You Answer" within your company. And since "mindset" can sometimes be a fluffy term, here is what I’m specifically talking about when I say that word:

  1. Your timeline for how long everything will take
  2. The scale of change that you're planning to execute
  3. The number of people this affects in your organization

That's the mindset I'm talking about — it's about thinking big and long-term enough to be successful with They Ask, You Answer.

By the end of this article, I want you to know the results you're looking for clearly, and the best way I can help is to broaden your mindset about what it means to “do They Ask, You Answer.”

🔎 Related: 12-month DIY They Ask, You Answer implementation plan

I'm going to do this by sharing the word-for-word beliefs that I've heard from company leaders as they set off on their They Ask, You Answer journey and eventually failed.

Then we’re going to debunk the most common misconceptions about They Ask, You Answer together, so you can start planning your execution with as close of a mindset to our case studies as possible.

And, as you go through this, ask yourself after each section:

“Knowing this, how will I execute They Ask, You Answer differently than how I thought I would?”

Misconception #1: They Ask, You Answer is just a set of tactics

“I’ve read the book and I know the weekly tasks that my company needs to consistently complete. In order to be successful, I have to make sure that we write two to three articles and produce two to three videos every week. As long as we create those, and also find ways to use them in our sales processes, we’ll be on our way to glory.”

It’s easy to learn about They Ask, You Answer and recognize only the marching orders that come from it. Many people that read books like this are looking for that cheat sheet, that Lego instruction manual of tasks they need to complete.

It’s particularly easy to fall into this mindset with They Ask, You Answer because you will need to keep up with regular, recurring weekly and monthly activities. For instance, you will need to regularly write articles, produce videos, and have content brainstorming meetings to be successful with They Ask, You Answer.

I understand that it can look like a list of tactics on the surface.

However, if that’s how They Ask, You Answer is introduced to your organization, you are sure to fail at becoming the most trusted educator in your space. Why? Because this day-to-day tactical thinking will have you focused on the vanity metrics of your success, which makes you strive for the wrong outcomes.

🔎 Related: 9 reasons teams fail to achieve They Ask, You Answer success

And I’m not talking about the high-level outcomes that seem universally agreed upon —“More traffic, more leads, more sales please!” Everyone wants the same output from this.

Here’s the question to ask your team members to determine whether the company is only bought into the surface-level tactics:

  • “What are we actually doing here?” 
  • “What’s our true objective?” 
  • “How do we know when we’ve accomplished it?”

There is no single correct answer to this, but generally speaking, you will receive answers that will fall somewhere on this spectrum:

If your company has done particularly well at educating the entire company about They Ask, You Answer, then most people will have an answer somewhere between tactical and strategic. 

Tactical answers

  • We’re writing articles and producing videos to answer our customers’ most common questions.
  • We’re learning how to sell in an unbiased way.
  • We’re creating trust-building content that drives traffic, leads, and sales.

Strategic answers

  • We’re trying to rank organically on Google to have a better online presence.
  • We’re working toward becoming the most trusted online educators in our space.
  • We’re learning to provide our prospects with the information they need so they reach out to us more often.

If everyone from your sales, marketing, and leadership teams gave answers close to the examples above (and truly believed what they answered), then I would congratulate the people in your organization that made it happen. That’s still a significant amount of education and buy-in.

🔎 Related: Why is lack of buy-in the #1 killer of great digital marketing?

However, these are not the types of answers that your sales, marketing, and leadership teams can give to be successful with They Ask, You Answer. By being tactics-first with your They Ask, You Answer journey, you are missing the point of what you’re actually trying to accomplish. 

You are setting your company up for failure if you think that this philosophy only equals a list of new weekly processes, new position hires, and new sales/marketing tactics. You’re going to create new processes and hire new people that are destined to have an expiration date. 

Because yes, They Ask, You Answer includes all of those things, but its focal change is much bigger than that. The regular completion of the tactics is not the objective itself, rather it is an organic extension of the larger changes being accomplished.

Your company must see They Ask, You Answer first and foremost as a permanent cultural change — but what do cultural answers look like?

Cultural answers

  • We’re recognizing that our sales and marketing teams have the same ultimate goal: to increase revenue.
  • We’re transforming our org structure and internal communications to focus primarily on educating our industry.
  • We’re aligning our long-term company-wide goals with They Ask, You Answer’s goal of building trust through education.

Taking a step back, I know these answers might remind you of the teacher’s pet in high school. I want you to fight yourself from rejecting this as “fluffy” and instead see it as “high-level” and “cultural.” 

Yes, it’s soft around the edges, but it’s also as permanent as you can make something in your company. In order to do it long enough and well enough, They Ask, You Answer needs to be woven into the fabric of how your company perceives itself and operates.

This can sound like I’m splitting hairs, but this shift in perception is the difference between success and failure in the long-run.

Symptoms of a tactical They Ask, You Answer initiative

What do the symptoms look like for a company who is thinking at a tactical and not a cultural level? I’m so glad you asked…

  1. Some team members don’t believe that they are a part of the initiative.
  2. They Ask, You Answer is simply the addition of a few more tasks to add to the weekly checklist.
  3. The marketing department is seen as the team spearheading the They Ask, You Answer initiative.
  4. The vision, mission, and annual goals of the company has nothing to do with educating the industry.
  5. Leadership team members don’t have a clear role in the initiative.
  6. The creation of content is usually the first thing to fall off someone’s plate if they’re busy.
  7. There are no shared goals or regular meetings between sales and marketing teams.
  8. Sales seem to be doing marketing a favor by helping with content creation.

Now, ask yourself:

“Knowing this, how will I execute They Ask, You Answer differently than how I thought I would?”

Which leads me oh, so smoothly into my next misconception...

Misconception #2: They Ask, You Answer is a marketing initiative

“I see what needs to be done to be successful with this initiative, and it seems like more than anything, this will be a redistribution of our marketing team’s time. I believe that this is the right priority for them to spearhead and they will call upon the rest of the company when they need help creating something. We’ll all be willing to pitch into their work.”

I know that a lot of the work that has to regularly happen sounds eerily similar to the work that marketing has always done. They Ask, You Answer is about content creation and lead generation. 

“It’s basically inbound marketing, we’re producing information that will be our magnet online for people to find us and reach out to us, right?”

Eh, not really.

I get that They Ask, You Answer is very easy to confuse with a marketing initiative, but its goals couldn’t be further from traditional marketing. The goal of They Ask, You Answer is not to grow brand awareness, generate leads, or improve our organic traffic.

Nope, this is a sales initiative, and the goal is to increase revenue. And before anyone plays the game of “responsibility hot potato,” we need to swallow a bigger pill.

🔎 Related: 7 massive ways They Ask, You Answer benefits sales

Traditionally, the marketing department has been seen as an expense, while the sales department has been seen as a profit center. And, folks, it’s time to throw that belief out the door, thanks to a little thing called the internet.

Let me explain.

Marketing and sales has changed a lot

Twenty short years ago, the average customer reached out to a business when they were ~20% of the way done with their buying process. The formula was:

“Marketing is in charge of making our company known to prospects. Once a prospect finds our company, they call us, and then sales turns on the charm and brings the buyer from 20% to 100%. Way to go, you suave sales teams, you made that revenue happen!”

But now, the internet has given the buyer almost all of the power, and most of the “prospect education” is required to happen long before a prospect makes themselves known to the organization. 

The average prospect doesn’t make themselves known to a business until they are ~80% of the way through the buying process. The new formula is:

“Marketing is in charge of providing enough information online for a prospect to be almost certain that they know exactly what they need and who they should get it from. Then, when they only have one or two more questions, they make themselves known to the organization through a form-fill, live chat, or phone call and the sales department is in charge of buttoning up the sale and answering the final questions.”

What happens if you don’t have the information online to get your prospect to the point of being confident enough to reach out? 

Your leads dry up.

The takeaway? The traditional responsibilities of “marketing” and “sales” have bled together. They are both responsible for educating the buyer through the purchasing process, and it’s up to the prospect to decide when they want to reach out and jump from one to the other.

🔎 Related: How to create a revenue team with sales and marketing

For most industries, marketing departments are now doing more selling than their sales departments, and the trend is only increasing as more information becomes publicly available online.

So, what’s the new sales and marketing normal?

Sales and marketing departments have the same goal, which is to generate revenue for the company.

And absolutely nothing solidifies this alignment more than incorporating the philosophy of They Ask, You Answer into your organization — provided that your sales and marketing departments actually believe that they have the same goal to begin with.

How do you execute They Ask, You Answer properly in your organization? 

  1. Educate your sales and marketing teams to realize that they have one shared goal.
  2. Introduce They Ask, You Answer to your company as a sales initiative, not a marketing initiative.
  3. Clearly show the sales team how this sales initiative will benefit them personally and ultimately make them more money.
  4. Teach your sales team how to use content in their sales process to make their job easier.
  5. Separate the responsibilities that the marketing team will play in this sales initiative.
  6. Create a revenue team within your organization that meets regularly to reinforce this goal alignment.

After reading this, ask yourself: 

"Knowing this, how will I execute They Ask, You Answer differently than how I thought I would?”

Misconception #3: We already have the right people in the right seats

“My team is all extremely bought into They Ask, You Answer, and we clearly see how this will benefit everyone. We’re a scrappier organization, and I’m confident that we can all band together and chip in to make this work without changing the company’s structure or adding to the roster.”

This is the misconception that makes me feel most like a Debbie Downer.

Why? because the misconception is not only due to a lack of understanding about the philosophy of They Ask, You Answer, but it’s also an overestimation of a company’s own team and ability to get things done.

🔎 Related: Why They Ask, You Answer is a full company initiative

It’s one that I have to talk about more than most because the companies that have this mentality are usually the ones that are most excited about They Ask, You Answer, and many end up getting coaching from IMPACT rather than allocating that money to hiring someone. 

I frequently talk to businesses that want to invest in coaching but not in hiring. And I understand the thinking. When your team is all super bought in, you want to hit the ground sprinting, working with a coach from IMPACT like myself, using only the people that you already have. 

It sounds like a buzzkill to first hire people, onboard them to the company, get them bought into They Ask, You Answer, and then roll out the philosophy “the right way.”

Others don’t restructure and hire because it’s too expensive for them in the short-term and they “first want to see value out of They Ask, You Answer before investing in people.”

The short response to this misconception is this...

What happens when everyone "owns" something? 

That’s right, everybody. NO ONE OWNS IT.

The longer response goes back to the conversation around what we’re really doing when we say we’re going to “do They Ask, You Answer.”

This is meant to create a permanent cultural change for a company, one that requires the restructuring of the org chart. It is meant to align your sales and marketing departments, to transform company objectives to be rooted in the mindset of educating your industry - including your employees, prospects, and competitors.

So, who do you need and what do they own?

  • First, you need a digital marketing manager. They are usually the leaders of the revenue team and act as a liaison between sales and marketing departments. They own the required internal communication to effectively create the right content and determine how and when to use it in the sales process. They also manage a content writer and a videographer and determine what content to prioritize. 
  • Second, you need a content manager. They are responsible for writing and publishing two to three articles per week. 
  • Third, you need a videographer. They are responsible for producing and publishing two to three videos per week.

This list is simplified and templated, but it should give you an idea of the work that’s required to become the educators of an industry. Without these three roles at the heart of a They Ask, You Answer initiative, entropy will set in, responsibilities will fall off plates, and the company will not follow-through with the initiative.

After reading this, ask yourself: 

“Knowing this, how will I execute They Ask, You Answer differently than how I thought I would?”

And this leads to my last misconception, one that usually gets discussed only after a company has tried to implement They Ask, You Answer for a while…

Misconception #4: There’s an end to They Ask, You Answer

“Once we create content that drives a high level of traffic to our website, turn our website into a high-converting self-selection tool, and map all the content we can think of to our sales process, we’ll finish our They Ask, You Answer initiative. I think it will take around 500 articles and 500 videos.”

Everyone starts executing a They Ask, You Answer initiative with goals in mind, around organic web traffic, new leads, or increased sales due to content — and those are all smart metrics to measure and set goals for.

However, if you begin your They Ask, You Answer initiative without understanding that there isn’t a date of completion, you will be setting your company up to fail.

Again, this is about creating a perception so your team members see this as a permanent change: 

  • Why would you hire people for something that you don’t plan to continue to do in five to 10 years? 
  • Why would you create processes and update the organization’s communication and structure? 

You probably wouldn’t.

Furthermore:

  • Why put so much work into doing everything if you don’t plan to maintain it? 

You need to consistently update your content to remain relevant in organic search rankings. You also need to continue to update the sales enablement content because the questions of your prospects will change over time. 

🔎 Related: 10 reasons why your website and content isn't ranking

There will always be a newer, clearer way to answer previously addressed questions, and there will always be more questions to address for any industry. Always.

Knowing that your industry is always changing and that the internet is always improving, everything you do to become the most trusted educator in your industry needs to be permanent, continuous, and indefinite.

If it’s not, then you’re not trying to do what IMPACT is teaching businesses to do, you’re trying to do something different. “Different” is absolutely fine, but you need to be honest and specific with both your team members and yourself about exactly what it is that you’re trying to accomplish.

Personally, I think that anything less than “all-in” is what causes organizations to feel like they’ve failed when trying to “do They Ask, You Answer.”

After reading this, ask yourself: 

“Knowing this, how will I execute They Ask, You Answer differently than how I thought I would?”

“OK, what should I do differently now that I know all of this?”

First, keep in mind that this isn’t binary; there is not a light switch of “success” or “failure.” In truth, there is almost always some measurable success in the ultimate failure of adopting They Ask, You Answer. 

Companies have seen huge ROI by trying They Ask, You Answer without ever achieving the final goal of becoming the most trusted educators in their space.

Sales enablement content has been used to close deals that otherwise wouldn’t have been earned and many deem content creation as an amazing training exercise.

So, this article is not to persuade you not to “do They Ask, You Answer,” rather it is to better understand exactly what it means to do it, as almost everyone that implements it really does want to execute it properly and completely.

But here’s the (slightly) frustrating ending…

There is no perfect, one-size-fits-all way to execute They Ask, You Answer

Way more companies have failed at becoming the most trusted educators in their space than those that succeeded. I believe that is because many do not specify exactly what they’re trying to accomplish when they say they’re going to “do They Ask, You Answer.”

So, my challenge to you is that before you do anything, be clear and specific with both your team members and yourself about what it is exactly that you’re set on accomplishing.

If it were my organization, I’d describe it as a permanent cultural change, a sales initiative that involves aligning the objectives of our outdated sales and marketing departments. The initiative will be tied to long-term company goals, and it will require multiple new hires focused on producing and using content in the sales process. 

The goal of the initiative will be to ultimately make our organization permanently the most trusted educators in our industry through the creation of unbiased information.

And if you fail to “reach the moon” of this multi-year cultural sales initiative? 

You’ll likely land among the stars.

Swiss cheese-y.

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