I don’t mean to sound melodramatic, but if you’ve had that “Aha” moment after reading They Ask, You Answer, and you’re extremely excited to start the program, this article may feel like a bit of a buzzkill. You won’t regret reading it, however, as it will certainly save you lots of time, tons of money, and one very, very large headache.
You see, I’ve had the pleasure of talking to hundreds of business leaders who have read the book or attended our conferences, and they all tell me how much they believe in the philosophy of They Ask, You Answer and feel ready to dive in. They all start out excited to implement the framework and grow their business, but there are some common misconceptions that, when allowed to take hold at an organization, can get in the way of They Ask, You Answer success.
But what the heck does it even mean to do They Ask, You Answer? And how can you stop yourself from falling into the trap of believing fallacies about the framework that can throw you off track?
In this article, we’re sharing with you what we’ve learned from company leaders who set off on their They Ask, You Answer journey with these misconceptions in mind and eventually failed.
The four common misconceptions we’ll cover include:
They Ask, You Answer is just a set of tactics.
They Ask, You Answer is a marketing initiative.
You already have the right people in the right seats.
There’s an end to They Ask, You Answer.
Then we’re going to explain how a different mindset can help you succeed. This way, when you start your They Ask, You Answer journey, you can be more aligned with the mindset of our clients who are not just succeeding with the program, but thriving.
After reading each misconception, ask yourself: “Knowing this, how will I execute They Ask, You Answer differently than how I thought I would?”
Ready to learn more about these mistaken beliefs so you can succeed with They Ask, You Answer?
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 only take away from it a list of to-dos. Many people who read books like this are looking for a quick cheat sheet or Lego instruction manual of tasks they need to complete to grow their business.
I understand that it can look like a list of tactics on the surface, but if you want to succeed with They Ask, You Answer, you need to understand that it’s not simply a project you need to take on — it’s a culture.
If your organization is consumed with checking off boxes instead of becoming the most trusted educator in your space, it’s easy to get off to the wrong start. Why? Because this day-to-day tactical thinking will have you focused on the vanity metrics of your success, which will lead you to strive for the wrong outcomes.
Here’s the question to ask your team members to determine whether the company is only bought into the surface-level tactics or is ready to take on the framework as a culture:
What’s our true objective?
What are we actually doing to get there?
How do we know when we’ve accomplished it?
Generally speaking, you will receive answers that will fall somewhere on this spectrum, and most will land somewhere between tactical and strategic:
Here are a few examples of tactical and strategic answers you might hear:
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.
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.
Because They Ask, You Answer recommends all of these things, these answers might seem appropriate. But in order to succeed, your company needs to understand that the focus needs to be much bigger than that.
Your company must see They Ask, You Answer first and foremost as a permanent cultural change — but what do the cultural answers look like?
We recognize that our sales and marketing teams have the same ultimate goal: to increase revenue.
We’re transforming our organizational structure and internal communications to focus primarily on educating our industry.
We’re aligning our long-term companywide goals with They Ask, You Answer’s goal of building trust through education.
The reason we advise businesses to focus on adopting They Ask, You Answer as a culture versus a project is because projects are implemented and forgotten, while cultural changes are permanent.
To do They Ask, You Answer long and well enough, the cultural philosophy needs to be woven into the fabric of how your company perceives itself and operates.
While it might sound like I’m splitting hairs here, this shift in perception is the difference between success and failure — especially in the long run.
Indicators of a cultural They Ask, You Answer initiative
Here’s how it looks when a company has properly adopted this cultural shift within the organization:
All team members believe they are a part of the initiative — this includes everyone from your marketing team members to your subject-matter experts.
Your staff believes They Ask, You Answer is not simply an additional task to add to the weekly checklist, but a strategy that needs to be developed and honed.
The marketing department isn’t the only team spearheading the They Ask, You Answer initiative — everyone is part of the company’s mission to educate prospects.
The vision, mission, and annual goals of the company all point toward becoming the No. 1 educators in your industry.
Leadership has a clear role in promoting the goals of your They Ask, You Answer culture.
Content creation is the main focus and is never allowed to fall off someone’s plate if they’re busy — the other tasks should be secondary to content creation.
There are lots of shared goals and regular meetings between sales and marketing teams.
Everyone helps with content creation, especially sales and your subject-matter experts.
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 in to help with their work.”
You might find that a lot of the regular They Ask, You Answer work sounds similar to the work that marketing has always done. After all, They Ask, You Answer is about content creation and lead generation. It’s basically inbound marketing, and you’re producing information that will be your online magnet for people to find you and reach out to you, right?
Eh, not really.
I get that They Ask, You Answer is easy to think of as a marketing initiative, but its goals couldn’t be further from it.
The goal of They Ask, You Answer is not solely to grow brand awareness, generate leads, or improve organic traffic. It is, however, a sales initiative, which means the real goal is to use all these means to increase revenue.
Traditionally, businesses list the marketing department 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 window, thanks to a little thing called the internet.
Let me explain.
Marketing and sales have 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 concept looked something like: “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, sales. 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 concept is now more along the lines of: “Marketing is in charge of providing information online for a prospect to 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 by filling out a form, participating in live chat, or calling the business on the phone. Then, the sales department is in charge of buttoning up those sales and answering the final questions.”
What happens if you don’t have enough information online to get your prospects to the point of being confident enough to reach out?
Your leads dry up.
The takeaway? The traditional responsibilities of “marketing” and “sales” have blended. 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.
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 should always have the same goal of generating 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 they have the same goal to begin with.
How do you execute They Ask, You Answer properly in your organization?
Educate your sales and marketing teams to realize that they have one shared goal.
Introduce They Ask, You Answer to your company as a sales initiative, not a marketing initiative.
Clearly show the sales team how this sales initiative will benefit them personally and ultimately make them more money.
Misconception #3: We already have the right people in the right seats
“My team is all extremely bought in to They Ask, You Answer, and we clearly see how this will benefit everyone. We’re a scrappy 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.
It’s one that I 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. Many turn to IMPACT for coaching but try to avoid making new hires.
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 you’re slowing the process by first hiring people, onboarding them to the company, getting them bought into They Ask, You Answer, and then rolling out the philosophy “the right way.”
Other businesses don’t want to restructure and hire because it’s too expensive for them in the short term, and they “first want to see the value of They Ask, You Answer” before investing in people.
There is one question you need to consider here: What happens when everyone owns something?
Then no one owns it.
Again, you need to create a permanent cultural change for a company, one that requires the restructuring of your organization. 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.
First, you need a content manager. They are usually the leaders of the revenue team and act as a liaison between sales and marketing departments. They are responsible for writing and publishing two to three articles per week and own the required internal communication to effectively create the right content to be used in the sales process. They also manage a content writer and videographer and determine what content to prioritize.
Second, you need a videographer. They are responsible for taking on your entire video production plan. This includes planning and writing scripts, shooting and editing, and making sure you publish two to three videos per week.
This list is simplified, but it should give you an idea of the work that’s required to become the educators of an industry. Without these two roles at the heart of a They Ask, You Answer initiative, entropy will set in, responsibilities will fall to the wayside, and the company will not be able to follow through with the initiative.
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, whether it’s 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 the precedent that this is a permanent change. Why would you hire people for something that you don’t plan to continue to do in five to 10 years? And 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 your prospects have will change over time.
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.”
What should you do differently now that you 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 meant to persuade you not to “do They Ask, You Answer,” rather it is intended to help you 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 ultimate goal of the initiative will be to make our organization the most trusted educators in our industry permanently 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.
They Ask, You Answer Fundamentals with Marcus Sheridan
Master the Fundamentals of They Ask, You Answer
In this course, you will learn:
The way people buy has changed and what that means for your business
How to create the right types of content to drive sales