Revenue & Features Editor, Co-host of Content Lab, 15+ Years of Writing and Teaching Experience
September 21st, 2020
At IMPACT, we believe that They Ask, You Answer can be a guiding philosophy for all types of businesses. To that end, we have worked with a wide spectrum of organizations across dozens of industries, who have implemented They Ask, You Answer and seen incredible results.
The reason this philosophy is industry-agnostic is because it is underpinned by a set of principles that are universally applicable.
Trust is the foundation of all business
The internet has changed the way people buy
Customers do more self-education than ever before
When we seek to educate our customers, we build trust
While virtually any business is likely to agree with these tenets, the full suite of They Ask, You Answer practices is more well-suited to some businesses than others.
Chances are, if you’re here, you’re likely already the type of leader who focuses on vision, culture, and learning, and They Ask, You Answer will perfectly complement your digital sales and marketing goals, no matter your size, industry, or business type. But in some cases, it’s not as good a fit.
They Ask, You Answer stumbling blocks — both tangible and subjective
Sometimes, it comes down to the tangible, empirical realities of your business. If you sell a product that costs very little — chewing gum, for instance — it’s unlikely that your customers are going to heavily research your product and need to extensively self-educate before making a purchase.
Or, say you’re a restaurant. While photos and videos of your food and processes are going to go a long way toward making customers want to walk in the door, those same customers might not be swayed by a 2000-word article on why your dining room is laid out the way it is.
In other cases, though, They Ask, You Answer might not work as well because of more nebulous, subjective criteria. Maybe your culture is not robust enough to handle the adoption and implementation of a new initiative. Maybe your turnover is too high.
To even address such subjects you need to be ready to look honestly at your company — at your coworkers and your business plan — and ask hard questions. But, better now than later.
So, although we see They Ask, You Answer as a broadly applicable business philosophy, there are certain situations in which it is less likely to flourish.
IMPACT’s Lead Digital Sales and Marketing Coach Chris Marr has worked to assist numerous businesses with their implementation of They Ask, You Answer. Along the way, he’s seen many successes, as well as some stumbles, allowing him to draw important conclusions about the philosophy’s application in real world settings.
Chris puts it this way: “If They Ask, You Answer was the right thing for every business, everybody would be doing it, but they're not — so there must be times when it doesn’t fit as well.”
This is not purely a speculative, academic endeavor. Our goal here is to prompt honest reflection among those considering going all-in on a business philosophy that can offer amazing returns on your investment — but requires buy-in and concerted effort.
5 signs They Ask, You Answer is not right for your company (at least not right now)
They Ask, You Answer has changed thousands of businesses. Will it change yours? Here are some red flags that suggest that your adoption will be more difficult.
Keep in mind that these are not deal-breakers, but they should be addressed honestly before you jump in with both feet.
1. You company culture is not healthy
Company culture can be hard to define, and even harder to change. Somehow, even as individual people come and go, culture remains steady.
Without a strong, healthy culture at your company, They Ask, You Answer will struggle to take root. Successful adoption comes from having the right mindset.
What does a strong culture value? While every business is different, your culture will need to support collegiality, growth, transparency, and enthusiasm for shared effort.
Have you tried other initiatives that have failed? Do you have significant turnover? Is your workplace one of gossip, cliques, and one-upmanship? Is there resentment and competition between co-workers?
These are hallmarks of negativity and cynicism, which can have a deleterious effect on any initiative. Chris sees red flags in companies “that are competitive, but not in a good way — where the people compete against each other.”
Fallout from this type of culture is “a high churn rate, particularly among sales and marketing teams.”
If your company culture is not supportive of ambitious, all-hands-on-deck initiatives, you will struggle to implement They Ask, You Answer effectively. Address these cultural issues first, then you can be ready for growth with They Ask, You Answer.
Closely related to company culture is the stability of your leadership. If you’ve seen significant turmoil among your leadership, with turnover, retirements, firings, and more, it can be difficult to administer a major philosophical realignment around They Ask, You Answer.
In such companies, Chris often sees a lack of clearly-defined structure. In many cases, there might be a CEO who micromanages others in the leadership team. “If I see that the CEO is trying to do everything, that would be a red flag. If CEOs are not willing to delegate and trust the people they hire, those people will leave.”
A revolving leadership team leads to overall company instability, which makes They Ask, You Answer all the more difficult.
3. Price is your biggest differentiator — and you're completely commodity-based
They Ask, You Answer was developed by a serial entrepreneur named Marcus Sheridan, who is now a partner at IMPACT. In 2008, Marcus’ pool company was suffering as clients reneged on projects, fearful of the widening Great Recession.
Facing this bleak outlook, Marcus focused on honestly and openly answering his customers’ questions on his website. Over the years, Marcus had heard thousands of questions from previous customers, many of them over and over again.
It makes sense, when you think about it.
Homeowners looking to make a major home improvement investment like a pool are likely to come with dozens of questions: Cost, timeline, insurance, financing, maintenance, and aesthetics would be on everyone’s mind, along with the unique particulars of their own project.
When a lot of money is changing hands, questions proliferate, and trust is even more vital to a deal being closed.
But, the inverse is also true. For smaller purchases, there will be fewer questions, fewer barriers to purchase.
Similarly, if price is your biggest differentiator, then price is likely the factor that holds the most sway in a purchasing decision. If your product stands out just because it is the cheapest, your customers are less apt to dig into other details about your process and your people.
According to Chris, “if you’re in a tight marketplace, you've probably got low profit margins and consumers might have dozens of other options for the thing that you offer. It might be a price fight to the bottom. Marketing is massively important for your company, but probably not They Ask, You Answer.”
However, in Marcus’ case, his business model was a sound one. The company he worked to save has flourished in the years since. The external factors of the Great Recession had brought the business to the edge of collapse, but as the economy improved (and Marcus’ content strategy gained steam), the business came roaring back.
If your company is struggling to make ends meet, you might not have the requisite financial health to implement They Ask, You Answer.
When we work with companies to implement They Ask, You Answer, we train them to bring their marketing in-house, which is benefited by the hiring of a content manager. Only financially soluble companies are in a position to do so.
Chris says, “if you’re a company that really struggles to make sales, there’s a chance that your business model is not a good one, and it might not be a good situation to introduce They Ask, You Answer.”
If the answers your business can offer don’t meet the needs of potential customers, there’s a good chance they will still go elsewhere.
5. Your business model isn't clear yet
If you’re an agile young start up, you might be making frequent pivots as you respond to market research. In that case, you might still be figuring out who your customers are — and how your company will help solve their problems.
Such a company might invest heavily in They Ask, You Answer, only to find that in 12 months their business model has changed, or that the company has floundered or been absorbed by a bigger company.
If this sounds like your company, remember that growing into your marketplace can take time.