When I was hired as the content manager at a local sleep clinic in Alaska, I didn’t know a thing about content marketing, inbound marketing, email marketing, or social media marketing.
Heck — I didn’t know anything about marketing, period.
On top of that, I had no idea what a sleep clinic was, what a sleep specialist did, or that there was an entire field of medicine dedicated to diagnosing and treating sleep disorders.
I answered a Craigslist post looking for a “writer with video editing experience.” Then, after sending in some articles I wrote for the school paper and a documentary I filmed for a class, I found myself hired for a position I had never even heard of.
Fortunately for me, the owner of the sleep clinic had been a longtime fan of Marcus Sheridan and grasped the values, principles, and strategies of They Ask, You Answer.
In the two years I worked for the sleep clinic, we achieved results beyond our wildest expectations. Traffic grew from 2,700 visits per month to over 100,000 in the first year alone.
We booked more sleep studies than ever, and — something we hadn’t considered — we were selling equipment all over the United States.
Because I was such a strong believer in They Ask, You Answer, I eventually left the clinic to work directly for Marcus, teaching others to achieve similar results.
Now, I’ve been teaching They Ask, You Answer and digital marketing for over five years.
I’ve worked with over 100 companies training their content managers on how to implement the methodology effectively.
I’ve worked with dozens of companies that had moderate success. And sadly, I’ve worked with several companies that saw barely any progress.
Maybe you've been in this place too, where you’re not sure about the rules of inbound, but you believe in the power of They Ask, You Answer. If so, you might be wondering: “What are the main differences between the companies that had amazing success with They Ask, You Answer, those that had decent results, and those that failed completely?”
Here, we’ll cover the top reasons companies fail at They Ask, You Answer so you don’t experience the same setbacks.
The following common mishaps can seriously derail your efforts:
You don’t have company-wide buy-in.
You didn't hire a dedicated content owner.
Sales and marketing aren’t aligned.
We’ll go over these and more, so you can be sure to avoid the pitfalls these companies found themselves navigating.
This is the No. 1 reason companies fail at They Ask, You Answer.
Lots of companies that read the book also hire a content manager, and some even work with IMPACT consultants to teach their content managers how to develop all the content needed.
Unfortunately, beyond reading the book and hiring for this position, many companies have a hands-off approach.
They leave the entire success of They Ask, You Answer up to the content manager — but without leadership, sales, and the entire organization behind the process, the results can end up lackluster.
I’ve seen time and time again, amazing content managers pouring their heart and soul into creating incredibly valuable content, but when there’s no company-wide buy-in, many in the organization will have no idea what the marketing team is doing, what kinds of content they’re creating, and how they themselves can use the content to educate prospects.
If leadership doesn’t get behind They Ask, You Answer, it will end up just being viewed as another marketing tactic and not a business philosophy adopted from the top down.
2. You didn’t hire a dedicated content owner
At your organization, do you know who is in charge of your company’s payroll?
How about new business?
You probably answered yes to both of these questions, and quickly.
But if I asked you who was in charge of your content, could you answer as easily?
For many businesses, the answer is no.
Many businesses think that content can just be an add-on to several employees’ regular duties.
To be truly effective at content marketing and They Ask, You Answer, however, there needs to be a core person responsible for it. It should be their sole duty, not a part-time contribution.
You might be asking yourself, “If people are contributing to different facets of They Ask, You Answer, why does someone need to own it?”
Even if salespeople and subject-matter experts (SMEs) are contributing to producing content, a content manager holds everyone accountable. They ensure content is a priority and that people aren’t ducking, dodging, or procrastinating on their contributions.
The content manager will cultivate your content calendar, develop your style guide, establish content goals, assign blog articles to the appropriate people, review and edit content, format and publish articles, set up email workflows, and ensure everyone is pulling their weight, all while keeping everyone in the loop of what is being done and why it’s important.
If you don’t have a dedicated content manager, your content will likely be infrequent, inconsistent, and disorganized.
3. Sales and marketing not aligned
Many companies see marketing and sales operating in separate silos.
Marketing brings users to the website and converts leads, then sales reaches out and turns them into customers.
But without proper communication between the departments, neither sales nor marketing will know how effective They Ask, You Answer is.
Without sales helping marketing develop article topics, the marketing team may end up creating mostly top-of-the-funnel content that doesn’t lead to sales.
Or, the marketing team may have created great bottom-of-the-funnel content that could prove valuable in helping close sales, but if the sales team doesn’t know it exists, they won’t use it.
In a perfect They Ask, You Answer scenario, sales and marketing work together as a cohesive unit. Sales has a finger on the pulse of what marketing is producing, and they actively use the content in their sales processes.
Which leads us to assignment selling.
4. Not using assignment selling
If you’re a salesperson reading this article, I have a few questions for you (and if you’re not a salesperson, these would be great to ask your sales team):
When you’re about to have a meeting with a prospect, do you already know most of the questions they’re going to ask?
Do you already have those answers queued up, ready to be fired off?
If you already know 80% of the questions a prospect will ask, do you think your sales calls would go faster and be more effective if the prospect knew most of those answers ahead of time?
I’m going to assume your head is vigorously nodding, yes.
When salespeople anticipate the questions and concerns prospects have ahead of a sales call, they can use assignment selling to keep the sales process moving quickly.
Once a prospect books time with a salesperson, that salesperson can send content to the prospect that addresses many of the questions they’ll have on the call.
Doing so better prepares the prospects for the sales call, cuts the time down of the call dramatically, shortens the sales cycle, and ultimately, helps build trust with the prospect.
Assignment selling can also be done retroactively.
How many of your emails to prospects sound something like:
“Hey Dave, just checking in to see if you’ve looked over the proposal I sent you. If you have any more questions, I’d be happy to answer.”
You’ve most likely written an email just like that one above, right?
So why not follow up with real value and continue to build trust with the prospect by showing them you have their best interests at heart?
If there was something you didn’t get to cover on the call, send them information on that. If they asked you a question you didn’t have a great answer to, follow up with a better answer.
Your follow-up emails can give prospects much more value than just “checking in again” and may look something like:
“Hey Dave, as you’re reviewing the proposal, you’re probably wondering _____. I shot you a quick video I’d like you to review walking you through it. I’ve also included two really helpful articles diving further into it below.”
Furthermore, assignment selling helps your team to start using the content you produce immediately.
While it can take several months for a blog article to get to the first page of Google and start to bring in traffic, assignment selling helps you get your content into the hands of prospects as soon as it’s published.
The sooner it’s in their hands, the faster they’ll have answers to their queries.
When you’re the ones giving them the answers, the more likely they’ll trust you.
If they trust you, they’ll want to buy from you.
5. Not willing to train/develop employees
I’ve connected with many content managers whose entire formal training consisted of receiving a copy of They Ask, You Answer and being told to “make it happen.”
I can name on one hand the number of companies who were able to achieve incredible success without help.
For companies that truly want to embrace a culture of They Ask, You Answer, formal training is key.
I’ve seen it time and time again. Companies read the book, get inspired, and head out into the field to implement it themselves.
Some are successful. Most are not.
So why is proper training important?
Let’s say you were going to test your survival skills by being dropped off on a deserted island for a month.
Sure, you could watch some episodes of Man vs. Wild with Bear Grylls and get the overall gist of survival techniques.
But wouldn’t your chances of success be much greater if you were directly trained by a survivalist expert?
Proper training can be the difference between surviving and thriving.
The same goes with implementing They Ask, You Answer.
The companies we’ve seen have the most success were those that worked directly with They Ask, You Answer experts.
The core principle of They Ask, You Answer is being the premier thought-leader in your space.
And to truly make this work, you have to have the mindset of a teacher.
The majority of the content you produce should be educational. It should answer the questions your consumers have as honestly as possible.
It can be tough to admit the problems with your products or services or be willing to acknowledge situations or types of buyers the products/services are not a good fit for.
Education is all about establishing trust. It’s about proving to prospects that you’re willing to put their best interests ahead of your own.
When people feel like you’re looking out for what’s important to them, they will trust you more.
Again, the underlying doctrine of They Ask, You Answer is building trust. If prospects trust you, they’re more likely to buy from you.
Be the most honest, trustworthy teacher in your space.
7. You’re too promotional
The other mistake I see with content is when it’s overly promotional. If you’re trying to turn every teaching moment into a sales opportunity, you’re not putting the interests of the reader first.
Put yourself in their shoes.
When you’re researching a purchase decision, especially one you want to get right, how do you react to articles that seem like they’re hiding something or not giving all the answers? How do you feel when the educational content is a thinly veiled brand advertisement?
You probably leave the article and find one that has value to you, right?
When writing content, follow the 80/20 rule.
80% should be educational, and only 20% should be promotional.
We don’t want people feeling like all we’re trying to do is sell them on ourselves. That’s not putting them first.
However, we don’t want to be so educational and un-promotional that after reviewing our content, people leave to find a company that can help them solve their problems.
The best way to promote your products or services is to save the pitch for the end of the article. Give them the answers to the questions that brought them to the page, then let them know how you can be of further assistance.
8. Not consistently publishing
I touched upon this point briefly when mentioning the importance of a content manager. One of the primary duties of a content manager is to keep the content flowing.
One of the core tenets of They Ask, You Answer is having a consistent publishing schedule.
The clients we’ve seen have the most success with content marketing are the ones that regularly published 2-3 blog articles per week.
Every blog article you create can bring organic traffic to your website, be sent to prospects via email, or be promoted in advertising campaigns. Each question answered can help influence buyers towards making a purchase.
If you’re publishing rarely or infrequently, search engines won’t see the necessity to visit your site to scan for new content. Why would they swing by your website every week if you only have something new once a month?
On the other hand, when you’re cranking out content like a publisher, search engines recognize they need to keep up.
They’ll start crawling your site more often because they know you’ve got new pages to index and rank.
And for your prospects, they’ll be overwhelmed with the depth and breadth of your thought-leadership. They’ll have tons of valuable content, from you, to educate themselves on.
The longer we keep people reading our content, and the more often they come back for more, the more likely they’ll reach out to us when they need help.
9. Thinking there’s an end date
One of the most common questions I get asked from business owners about They Ask, You Answer is how long will take to be done?
They assume that if they’re able to publish 2-3 blogs per week, surely, there will come a time when they have answered every question.
Whenever someone suggests this, I love to point to what Marcus has done for his pool company. River Pools and Spas has been publishing blog articles since 2008 and shows no sign of slowing down.
New information and technology emerge all the time, new products launch, new questions get asked, new keywords appear in tools like Semrush, best practices change, older articles need revamping, and there’s always a new spin or way of looking at a topic to discuss.
When you consistently publish content, you keep your brand positioned as the thought-leader and most trusted expert in your industry.
I really hope that if you’re considering implementing They Ask, You Answer for your organization, that you commit to avoiding these common pitfalls.
The companies that see the greatest results and end up as hall of fame case studies are those that fully embrace it as a culture. Everyone in the organization not only recognizes the importance of the philosophies and strategies but also actively participates.
If you’re considering adopting a They Ask, You Answer culture for your organization, you’re going to need help.