Revenue & Features Editor, Co-host of Content Lab, 15+ Years of Writing and Teaching Experience
September 17th, 2020
In modern business, there’s so much focus on short term successes (are we meeting our goals for this month? For this quarter?) that undertaking an initiative that unfolds more slowly can require a leap of faith.
At IMPACT, we preach the They Ask, You Answer philosophy, developed by partner Marcus Sheridan when his pool business faced closure during the Great Recession.
With a bleak future on the horizon, Marcus began to openly and honestly answer any customer question he had ever heard. These answers were posted on his company website and, in time, began driving thousands of visitors to his site.
Today, IMPACT helps businesses do the same: answering customer questions to become an educational resource for their industry. But, as anyone on business knows, building trust doesn't happen overnight.
We often share real-world results from clients that show how far they've come, but these often depict a year or two of hard work:
But what about a shorter timeline?
For businesses who are seriously considering embarking on a They Ask, You Answer journey, there can be some trepidation around that one central worry: So, when will I start seeing results?
Eric Dunn, a digital sales and marketing coach at IMPACT, has worked with numerous businesses that have aggressively pursued They Ask, You Answer, and he can offer a vantage point from which you can track progress.
So, how quickly can you start seeing results from They Ask, You Answer? It won’t happen overnight, but it can happen fairly quickly, if you’re willing to go all in.
What does it mean to get started with They Ask, You Answer?
In an abstract sense, the They Ask, You Answer journey begins in the mind of a business leader. According to Eric Dunn, “They Ask, You Answer starts with a mindset shift, a desire to want to grow, get better, or do something different.”
In many cases, an executive might hear Marcus speak at a conference. Or, they might pick up a copy of the They Ask, You Answer book. Even if a business leader is enthusiastic about Marcus’ message, they might not know exactly how to get started. “They know they want to take ownership of their digital sales and marketing, they’re just not sure how,” according to Eric.
They Ask, You Answer is a philosophy that needs a strategy.
Without a strategic structure in place, one of two things will happen: One, a company will never really move forward, not knowing exactly how to begin or who should own the initiative. Or two, a single business leader will try to go from 0-60, speeding ahead without a clear plan, only to meet resistance and confusion in coworkers, leading to frustration and abandonment.
In order to find They Ask, You Answer success, you need to build consensus.
They Ask, You Answer works best when the company leadership, marketing, and sales are all on board for the initiative.
Eric had a client in which only one of the three partners had read They Ask, You Answer and planned to initiate it. The other two business leaders were unaware of his plans.
In other situations, companies view They Ask, You Answer as a marketing initiative that doesn’t affect sales or other parts of the company.
A core tenet of They Ask, You Answer is taking the process of content production in-house. In order to do this, companies should hire a content manager who can write blog articles, interview subject matter experts, and work with the sales team to turn questions into content.
The hiring of a content manager can occur in as little as two weeks. We recommend an interview process that involves simulated tasks and other requirements, so it might take longer, though.
Eric has “seen companies who have gone from creating a job description to having somebody accept the offer and starting within two weeks.”
Once that person is in place, Marcus suggests having them start writing immediately:
“Content managers should start producing written work in the first week. In fact, the best onboarding is interviewing staff and asking them questions about the products and services that you sell.”
Soon after your content manager, you should consider hiring a videographer. Producing video content is just as crucial, and creating a “culture of video” will get your team comfortable being on camera.
Once you’ve gotten buy-in and hired your content producers, you’ve reached day one of your They Ask, You Answer journey. Here’s what to expect in the next few months.
They Ask, You Answer at 90 days: a best-case scenario
At 90 days, look how far far you’ve come!
Eric describes one of his clients that is 90 days into their journey. Their organic web traffic has exploded: “They’ve doubled their keyword growth in every category, and some have tripled.” In Eric’s words, “their commitment to writing and publishing quality content, at least three articles a week, is starting to really show results.”
As traffic increases, make sure you have processes in place to connect with visitors and capture leads that can be transferred to your sales team.
Sales and marketing alignment
The other significant change by 90 days will be in the communication in your sales process. While content managers strategize what goes on the website, sales leaders plan how to use that content with prospects.
Sales leaders should map out the buying process, from the first touchpoint to the closed sale.
According to Eric, your business should aim for “a standardized process that includes those educational pieces of content throughout every touchpoint with prospects, which will help shorten the sales cycle.”
This use of “assignment selling” allows your sales team to anticipate each question a prospect will ask — and answer it with a piece of content. Not only does this leave the buyer with fewer questions, but it also builds trust with your company.
They Ask, You Answer at 180 days: a best-case scenario
At six months, your They Ask, You Answer journey should really be gathering steam. As Eric puts it, “the snowball is built, and you’re just about ready to start rolling down the mountain.”
A culture of content creation
Successful They Ask, You Answer companies build a culture of content creation by consistently publishing optimized content that both draws traffic and shortens the sales cycle.
At this point, your sales team and marketing team should be working closely together. (Ideally, they have combined into a single revenue team.) All stakeholders understand exactly what is being written and when, and how it can be used in the sales process once it’s published.
Strategic planning and detailed reporting
Underpinning all of this momentum are quarterly strategy meetings to plan for the upcoming months and to make sure optimization has been done properly.
What’s more, your business should be adept at using HubSpot at this point. This tool offers you insight into how visitors are interacting with your content, which can help to inform pivots and future strategy. IMPACT’s HubSpot trainers can help you with this, too.
At 180 days, the They Ask, You Answer principles should feel somewhat like second nature, and the culture of your business will have adapted to incorporate this new mindset.
Shortcuts to avoid
A common shortcut Eric sees with clients is a hesitancy to hire a content manager. Trying, instead, to have someone already on your team handle your content production will not be successful. Content management is a full-time job, and if you add it as “one more thing” to somebody’s list of responsibilities, it won’t get done properly.
Another common shortcut to avoid is not making the time to align your sales and marketing teams. While no one is a fan of superfluous meetings, you need these teams to have common planning time if you want them to be working seamlessly together.
Set a time — perhaps half an hour a week, an hour every other week, or short daily huddles — that allows this alignment to happen. Just as trust is not created overnight, relationships aren’t either. Put the time in everyone’s calendar to make alignment a reality.
Getting started on your They Ask, You Answer journey
The story of Marcus Sheridan saving his pool business by answering customer questions — and thereby creating the They Ask, You Answer philosophy — has taken on nearly mythic proportions at IMPACT. As with any myth, it’s best to dispel any “happily ever after” endings.
They Ask, You Answer did not save Marcus’ business overnight, and it certainly wasn’t easy. But today, River Pools has become a leading national manufacturer of pools, and the company is renowned for its high organic traffic.
As you begin your They Ask, You Answer journey, remember that it is a commitment to a new approach to sales and marketing. With buy-in and with the right people in the right seats, you can progress quickly — as long as you commit and hold your team accountable.
In three months, you’ll be well on your way. By six months, these processes will become habitual and you’ll have true momentum. From there, the results can be amazing. Keep moving towards that goal!