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What is (and is not) working with inbound marketing in 2019?
This week on The Inbound Success Podcast, world-renowned author and keynote speaker Marcus Sheridan is kicking off our first episode of 2019 with his perspective on what it will take to succeed with inbound marketing in the year to come.
From adding video and audio to your content mix, to really owning the in-house creation of your marketing content and getting true buy-in from sales and the c-suite, he covers everything you'll need to succeed as an inbound marketer in 2019.
This week's episode of The Inbound Success Podcast is brought to you by our sponsor, IMPACT Live, the most immersive and high energy learning experience for marketers and business leaders. IMPACT Live takes place August 6-7, 2019 in Hartford Connecticut and features keynote speakers including world-renowned Facebook marketing expert Mari Smith and Drift CEO and Founder David Cancel.
Inbound Success Podcast listeners can save 10% off the price of tickets with the code "SUCCESS".
Some highlights from my discussion with Marcus include:
While most marketers are talking about "authenticity" as though it is a new trend, Marcus says that to do inbound marketing well, you've always had to be authentic.
The reason that most marketers haven't been able to capture the feeling of authenticity tends to be the lack of buy-in amongst company leadership.
In 2019, we as marketers can't just answer our audience's questions in writing - we're going to have to show them (through video) and tell them (through audio).
Companies that produce their own written, video and audio content in-house will do far better in terms of ROI in 2019 than those who choose to outsource it.
The most successful companies are the ones that build a culture of inbound that supports in-house content creation.
In 2019, sales teams need to be embedded with marketing teams so that the content they create truly addresses the needs of prospects and can serve as a sales aid.
Alignment between sales, marketing, and leadership, and the buy-in for inbound marketing that results, is for the most part just as much a problem today as it was 10 years ago.
Marketers need to stop speaking like marketers and start speaking the language of sales and leadership.
One way that marketers can get more buy-in from sales or senior leadership is to use their conference and training budgets to send people in those positions to marketing conferences such as INBOUND.
The concepts behind They Ask, You Answer are just as relevant today as they were when Marcus first came up with it because great, educational content will always be a valuable sales tool and an effective way to help your leads prequalify themselves.
Self-selection and self-configuration tools will yield tremendous results for companies in 2019. HubSpot's website grader is a great example of a self-selection tool.
The best way to position your company as a leader in the year ahead is to always be asking yourself "what can we do to reduce the friction in the buying experience?"
Companies that produce two to three textual or video pieces of content a week should to start to see hockey stick growth after the first year.
Resources from this episode:
Save 10% off the price of tickets to IMPACT Live with promo code "SUCCESS"
Listen to the podcast to get Marcus's playbook for success with inbound marketing in 2019.
Kathleen Booth (Host):Welcome back to the Inbound Success Podcast. I'm your host, Kathleen Booth. Today I am especially excited to announce that my guest is the one and only Marcus Sheridan. Welcome, Marcus.
Marcus Sheridan (Guest): Yay. Happy to be here, Kathleen. It's going to be a great conversation, I'm sure.
Marcus and Kathleen recording this episode
Kathleen: I am so excited. This is the first episode of the Inbound Success Podcast for 2019.
Marcus: It's a good start. Let's start this party right.
Kathleen: It can't get better than that, right?
I wanted to start, really, with something big. That's why I asked you here.
About Marcus Sheridan
Kathleen: For those listening, if you've been living under a rock for the last 10 years and you don't know who Marcus Sheridan is, he is a partner at IMPACT, which is the agency I'm with. He's also the author of They Ask You Answer. He is an internationally acclaimed keynote speaker on topics relating to marketing and communication. He is the principal and the founder at Marcus Sheridan International.
That is a very brief bio.
Marcus, for anybody out there who might not know who you are or those who may not know what you're doing now, could you just take a minute or two and catch everyone up?
Marcus: I'll try to do the really fast 101. The one that you didn't mention was I'm still a pool guy, too. I started out of college a swimming pool company called River Pools. Things were going okay up until the market collapse in 2008, 2009. That was when we were getting ready to lose everything and ended up embracing what we call today They Ask You Answer.
To make a long story short, it became the most trafficked swimming pool website in the world. That company really took off. It's extremely strong today. I wrote about what I was doing at River Pools, and as I wrote about that, that opened up other opportunities to speak and to do consulting.
Started an agency. It was called The Sales Lion, but we merged at the beginning of 2018 with IMPACT. That's why I'm one of the partners there.
Today, I also have Marcus Sheridan International, which to your point, that's really my speaking company, Kathleen. It's a bureau, as well. In other words, companies contact us that are having events and they're looking for particular speaker capabilities, subject matter, whatever. We're really well connected, so we recommend those. We essentially broker that.
It's a lot of fun. I like to dabble with that, which I'm passionate about. They're very diverse, too, which is interesting. A pool company, an agency, a bureau, B2Bs, B2Cs in there. It's a great sandbox to experiment with and to say, "Hey, this is what's working here. This is what's working there. This is what's not working."
Kathleen: That's what I think is so interesting about you is that you have, to me, a really different perspective on marketing and what works with marketing. I would refer to it as a human-centered perspective. I've known you for a while. I've followed you for longer than I've known you personally. I always appreciated that you're not necessarily a marketing guy.
I mean, people think of you as a marketing guy, but you're more like a guy who's trying really hard to deeply understand people and what will work when you want to communicate with or connect with people.
To me, that's the theme that underlies everything you do, but I think that's also the theme that needs to underlie marketing.
Marcus: I'm glad you've noticed that, because I think that's a really big deal. I think one of the reasons why I've been really successful speaking about marketing is because I don't speak like a marketer.
One of the biggest issues that our space has is silos that exist between sales and marketing and marketing and leadership. One of the big reasons for that is most marketers fail to instill the vision of what they're trying to do and achieve with everybody else on staff. That's because they talk about it in a way that is marketing-centric.
Me, I've always spoken the language of, foremost, the business owner that was very concerned with sales and revenue. That happens to include marketing but not the other way around. That's, I think, why They Ask You Answer resonated so well with business owners and CEOs, salespeople.
That's always my hope, Kathleen, is that I can be human-centric in the way that I talk about the thing. The moment you stop that, you start to lose certain portions of your audience.
Here's silly examples. I was a pool guy and a business owner for 10 years. I didn't know what the words B2B or B2C meant until I started going to conferences. I was a business owner. I wasn't dumb, but I had no idea what they meant. I didn't know what top, middle, bottom of the funnel necessarily meant. ToFu, MoFu, BoFu -this junk.
I hope that I never suffer so much from the curse of knowledge that I can't communicate with your average Joe or Jane business owner, CEO, whoever that is.
Kathleen: Amen. Marketers are terrible violators of the jargon and acronyms and technical word rule. We should be great communicators. I mean, that's kind of what we're taught to do if you're a trained marketer.
I've always heard people say that marketers, when they put on their marketing hat, they forget everything they know about being a human being.
Marcus: Fundamentally, we're outrageously assumptive. We assume that people understand us, our products, our services, our lingo.
You see this a lot with just content marketing in general. I'm constantly reading stuff, I'm like, "They actually think I know what they're talking about right now, and I don't."
One of the industries that I think is the worst at this that I've messed around a little bit with is the big data industry. You find somebody out there that can define big data in a way that the common man or woman understands it, they're going to be rich. Let me tell you, these big data companies, they can't articulate what they do. They can't articulate the problem they solve.
Because of that, if you ask somebody, "What is all this big data stuff about?" they say, "I don't really know." Unless they're in the field, they don't actually know.
Kathleen: I would tend to agree. I mean, it's interesting. As somebody who's been in agencies for a long time, you work with people in lots of different industries. I have found that it's the more technically complex industries that have a harder time communicating, 'cause they fall back on industry jargon. I worked with a lot of cybersecurity companies, and they couldn't get out of their own way talking about what they did.
Marcus: That's correct.
Kathleen: That's often why they need to bring in outsiders to help them with their messaging. It's easier to come in as somebody who knows nothing and be like, "Talk to me about what you do. If you can make me understand it as your marketer or as your consultant, then I can make anybody else understand it."
Marcus: Our good friend Ian Altman talks about this. You always start not with what you do but the problems you solve. If especially every B2B company replaced solutions in their navigation bar in their website and replaced that with problems you solve, you would see there would be this drastic, dramatic difference in how often those particular pages were frequented.
I mean, fundamentally, what the buyer needs to do, the prospect, they need to be able to nod their head and they say, "Okay, now I get it. Ah, that's me. That's exactly what I'm experiencing. That's what I'm going through right now."
Unless it's stated that way, it's not good.
Kathleen: Now, you've been preaching about problems they solve for a long time. I'm not sure that'll ever change, 'cause that, again, speaks to the fundamental human need and the way we connect and communicate and comprehend.
What Is (And Is Not) Working With Inbound Marketing in 2019
Kathleen: I want to take a step back. The big reason I wanted to talk to you for my first episode of 2019 was that, since I've been involved in inbound marketing, even since I've been doing this podcast ... by the time this goes live, I'll have done probably 75 episodes. Even in just that short amount of time, so much has changed in the world of inbound marketing.
The podcast is about inbound. Most of my listeners listen because they're interested in inbound marketing.
When I first created this podcast, it was really to scratch an itch that I had, which was you hear these stories of people who are getting amazing results and doing great things. I really wanted to be able to find out what exactly are they doing to get those results in a way that felt very actionable.
Normally, when I interview people, we talk about what's a specific strategy or a specific tactic you're doing, or tell me about a campaign. We're not going to do that today.
What I wanted to talk with you about is, looking back at the evolution of the field of inbound marketing, if we can even call it a field, when it first became a thing, there was very much a formulaic approach to it.
HubSpot drove that. They invented the term. They came up with a methodology that was driven by their product, and all of that has evolved over time. In a lot of ways, it's still very driven by HubSpot's product and the need to promote the use of that.
To step outside of that product-driven world, I'd love to ... this is going to be a big question that I'll throw out and then we can drill down. I'd love to find out from your standpoint with inbound marketing, with where we are today in the world we live in now, what is still working from that original philosophy or approach?
What are the timeless elements? What's not working, and what do you think is going to be needed to really knock it out of the park? Let's just talk about 2019, 'cause I can't even forecast what's going to happen in 2020. Who knows? There could be robots that rule the world by that point.
Marcus: You're exactly right. What is still working ... I think to answer that question, you have to look at principles. The beauty behind principles is they're timeless and they should, hypothetically, always be working.
It's funny to me that all of the sudden you hear more and more people talking about trust, authenticity, and transparency. It's like, "Guys, this is not new."
The idea authenticity's the big thing in 2019 ... seriously? If we've been doing this the right way, since even when HubSpot was started ... the whole premise behind They Ask You Answer is an obsession with the way buyers think and the willingness to address exactly what that thought is.
Sometimes the thought is a question, and that question could be good, bad, or ugly. Usually, when we're willing to address the bad and the ugly, that's when people call us authentic. That should have been happening for a while now.
Now, the reason why it didn't happen for many is because of the buy-in issues and the lack of implementation across the board, the vision, lack thereof, from leaders of organizations.
One thing that is working just as well today as it was when I got on HubSpot in 2009 is the idea of truly obsessing over your customers' questions. I'm talking about the difficult ones. And the willingness to address them well.
Now, how that's evolved, though, is the way that we address it.
Maybe now we're saying we can't just write it. We've got to also show it through video and not just say it. We've got to eventually give them the ability to listen to it. We're talking about voice here, which I don't think is the major 2019 play. I think voice, although I'm working on it right now ... I just had a River Pools skill developed for Alexa that's very good. You're going to see it here soon, Kathleen.
Kathleen: I can't wait to test it out.
Marcus: It's really neat. It'll have a full fiberglass swimming pool conversation with you. I'm only doing that now not because I think I'm going to need it in 2019, but I think I'm going to need it in 2020.
I think this authenticity thing ... it bugs me a bit, because that's been working for a long time now. What doesn't work in conjunction with content while we talk about that is we've known for a while that quality was important, but I think it's really starting ... how long have people been outsourcing content and getting results?
Now you see fewer and fewer companies outsourcing content and getting results. Of course, the question is why? Because A) it's not authentic, B) it doesn't truly represent the soul of your business, C) it usually isn't qualitative enough to truly answer the question well, whatever it is, in an expert-like way where the reader, the viewer, the listener can say, "Okay, I get it. Now I understand."
What we're seeing here, we've seen this at IMPACT tremendously, is that when companies take ownership of the thing, the skill -- in this case, that might be producing the textual content or producing the videos in-house , even though often times there's a bit of a learning curve, embrace the messy that comes with that at first -- they end up catapulting way beyond those that outsource those six videos a year to some video production company or outsource a blog post every week to a ghost writer.
Which, come on. If the ghost writer's any good, they've got to interview all your SMEs, your subject matter experts, anyway. It's essentially like you're doing it in-house.
You can't escape it anymore. You can't do this half-cocked, like, "Let's just dip our toes."
Sometimes companies come to me, Kathleen, and say, "I just want to dip our toes in the water." I think you could probably do that a little bit before. You can't dip your toes in content and be really successful. You either play hard or you just don't play.
Just do something different. You know what I'm saying?
Kathleen: I couldn't agree more. Like I said, I've been in the agency world for a long time and have played around with different solutions to the content question. When I had my own agency, a lot of our clients didn't want to write their own content. In the beginning, we were trying to just purely outsource it. We would have an insurance agency that wanted us to do blogs and they'd say, "We need blogs on these ten topics." We'd find a writer and that writer would write them.
They were fine, but to be perfectly honest, if a writer is writing a blog on 10 things you should know before you buy car insurance and they're not an insurance expert, what are they doing? They're going out and they're Googling.
They're finding 10 other blogs with the answer, and they're basically just rewriting what's already in existence.
It doesn't add any value. The only way you can add value is if you are delivering something unique, original, different. That can either be factual information. It can be a point of view. It can be an analysis, what have you. I completely agree.
The only time we only had success with creating content for clients was exactly what you described. We had the amazing Liz Murphy, who is now with IMPACT today, who figured out this methodology of doing phone interviews with our client subject matter experts. 15 minutes per article.
She would just extract all the knowledge out of their brain, turn it in into an article. She'd still have to send it back to them and they'd still have to be a part of the process.
Would it be better if they wrote it themselves? Absolutely. At that time, that was the most we could get them to do. The difference in the results was dramatic between that and the alternative.
Marcus: There's a definitive profile of the companies we've seen with world-class digital inbound marketing case studies versus the ones that have not. Almost every single time, it comes back to ownership. What can they do, what can they produce themselves?
This is why at IMPACT we've been shifting the traditional way, which is do it for you, versus walk with you, grab your hand and walk down that trail together.
I've seen time and time again, if a company hires a videographer, that's usually not enough, because that videographer, they might know video, but they don't yet know how to create sales, marketing, and customer experience videos. That's different. They don't know sales and marketing strategy.
If they have somebody that teaches them that ... the good thing is it doesn't take a lifetime to learn that. Within a certain period of time, you can take that person that just knew how to do video and create documentaries or create films and truly turn them into someone that understands what the visual sale looks like.
Now, the whole company can have a culture of video in-house. I think that idea of having a culture of inbound in-house, a culture of video in-house, a culture of content, of teachers in-house -- I think that this is a principle. I think that is not going to go away for a while. There's a very strong decade of this.
I know AI's going to play with all this stuff, but AI, what they won't do, is they're not going to be able to replicate the videos that I'm doing right now. There's something about those that is extremely human that resonates with the marketplace.
Instead of worrying about that, we've got to establish ourselves. Are we learning how to do these things in-house as organizations? Are we eliminating the silos? Does the sales team realize they're a part of marketing?
I think, before, marketing could be on an island in 2009, Kathleen. I don't think marketing can be on an island today. I don't think they can have great success if they're not embedded with the sales team.
If the sales team and the other subject matter experts aren't at least involved somewhat, some way, shape, or form in the content production process, I would argue that it's almost impossible for it to fly big at this point in time.
Kathleen: It's really interesting that you just said that, 'cause when I was listening to you talk about having a culture of inbound, a culture of content, a culture of video, in my head I was picturing somebody listening to this podcast, and most of my listeners tend to be marketers, and picturing them having a panic attack.
Many of the marketers I've spoken to I think would love to have more company-wide alignment or support around what they do, but I feel like a lot of them either don't know how to get it, are afraid to ask for it, or in some cases --and I have had clients tell me this --I have had clients say, "I don't want to open up that can of worms. I don't want to have the attention that that would bring."
There's a real fear within marketers of that kind of change. How do you navigate that process? I mean, you've worked with a lot of companies on this-
Marcus: The problem is marketers have to understand just a few realities. One of the biggest realities is that if you have a CFO, if you have somebody that's paying the bills, unless you can really start to prove that you're driving revenue for the company, you're always going to be underpaid, underappreciated, and not really listened to, which is frustrating, but it's true.
What has not improved at nearly the rate that it should have is this alignment between sales, marketing, and leadership. That has not happened over the course of what is now for me about 10 years of being in this space.
Buy-in for the most part is just as much a problem today as it was 10 years ago.
Kathleen: Why do you think that is?
Marcus: There's a multiplicity of reasons. Let me break them down, a few of them, for you.
The first one was our original conversation on this call: marketers need to stop speaking like marketers and start speaking the language of sales and leadership. That's major.
Number two. You go to an event like INBOUND or any of these other events, 90% of the room is still marketers. Then you have a handful of salespeople and leadership. More often than not what happens is they get fired up at INBOUND, they get a ton of ideas, they go back to the office on Monday, and everybody rains on their parade, because they weren't there.
The reason why leadership so often pushes back, it's not because they're a stick in the mud. It's because they're ignorant of the thing. I don't say that in a bad way. It's just truth.
Because they're ignorant of it, they say things like, "I don't have the time," or, "No, I just don't think that's in the budget right now."
The reason why we say things like time and budget has nothing to do with time and almost never budget, but it's always because, "I don't value it like you do."
Why don't they, Kathleen? Because they haven't been educated nearly well enough yet. It is still the fundamental problem in this entire inbound space. That's why marketers have to be obsessing over that.
Sometimes I've had marketers tell me this before. I'm like, "When's the last time you went to leadership and said, 'You know what? You gave me a $2,500 education budget this year. I would like to give you, Mr. or Ms. CEO, my ticket to INBOUND. Would you be willing to go in my place? I will stay here and man the fort. Your vision for what I'm doing is more important than me going there and hearing about all of which I already know'?"
We don't do that. We don't send the sales manager. We don't give up our budget, either, do we? We keep going to INBOUND. We keep going to Content Marketing World or maybe even IMPACT Live, which is really where you need to be going the most. This is what we're not doing. This is what we've got to change. Those are the two biggest reasons.
Inbound Success Podcast listeners can save 10% off the price of tickets to IMPACT Live using the code "SUCCESS"
We really believe you should come with your group of people from your company and experience something together so that you leave and you're charged up and you're excited and you're all on the same page.
Marcus: Do you know how many times I have talked to a salesperson at an event and they will say things like, "I finally get it. I finally understand"?
It's so sad. Think about how many frustrated marketers are listening to this right now, Kathleen.
I would say there's a third reason, too, of this buy-in issue. It goes back to education. As I've stated before at times in different places, the number one email that I've gotten over the course of these almost 10 years is ... it's not from business owners saying, "We need more traffic, leads, and sales." It's number two.
The number one, "Marcus, I'm a marketer. I'm frustrated. I'm sick and tired of feeling like I'm alone, of having to scratch and claw for anything to get approved. I'm almost ready to leave my company."
I've seen so many leave, Kathleen.
Now, part of this, and this is the third part, is that when we start these digital campaigns, what does the start look like?
In other words, let's say you've been doing inbound for a while and I went to your sales team right now and I said to them, "How come we're producing all this content?" More often than not, they wouldn't know. They wouldn't have an answer.
That's the problem. That denotes that there is a serious issue. We got to fix that. I've taught so many workshops. The marketers are the ones that call me initially and I say, "Look. You don't need to be at the workshop. I don't care if you're there, 'cause you're already all in. Your sales team has to be there. If they're not there, I'm not going to show up, because everything starts and stops with them anyway."
Kathleen: You're really good, I will say, at holding people's feet to the fire about that kind of thing.
Marcus: Because I'm willing to go through the pain on the front end so that we can have the pleasure on the rear. The issue is we're too afraid, often times, to address this ugly reality on the front end. Then we wonder, "Why didn't the campaign work? Why did we get the pushback? Why so many obstacles? Why so much red tape?"
I just had a company a few days ago call me. Hundreds of employees. They're a pharma company. They're like, "Marcus, regulation is making this impossible."
I said, "Well, okay. Regulation is potentially a problem in healthcare. But the fact is, do you have somebody in leadership that is an advocate and that can go to that department and can talk with them about what is and is not kosher and can ensure that those that are dealing with the regs, that they catch the vision that is digital sales and marketing for your organization?" "No we don't have that person yet." Of course then you're getting pushback.
All they're hearing is somebody in marketing tell them, "Hey, we need this approved." Leadership's not saying, "We need this approved."
That's why it happens. We have to do the hard stuff on the front end to experience the pleasure later.
Kathleen: One issue is absolutely buy-in and getting buy-in from the top to the bottom, from the left to the right, all through the organization. Let's say the organization has buy-in and they agree they want to move forward, they want to produce their content, they're going to embrace this approach.
You wrote They Ask You Answer, which is very much a blueprint for how you should tackle content creation. Is it still applicable today? I mean, are we in a world where everybody's already doing They Ask You Answer, or is there still room?
Marcus: Often times people say, "My industry, Marcus, is so saturated. How could we ever find success with so much saturation?" That's because, again, they're looking at it as a marketing play.
Let's turn this around for a second, Kathleen. Let's say that you produced a video that's specific to addressing some of the major questions your sales team's getting all the time and dealing with all the time. Let's say that video never ever gets watched on YouTube, ever.
At the same time, let's say that the sales team gets it and they immediately integrate it in the sales process. They use it to send to the client before they have the first sales call. Because the client often times does watch it, now they spend less time on the first sales time, because they're way more educated, they've heard the company doctrine on these major questions that are asked, and now the conversation is less teaching, more selling.
The sales team loves it. Was it a successful video?
Another scenario. Let's say that you have this whole plethora of questions, fears, worries, concerns, et cetera addressed on your website. Let's say none of these articles or videos have ever produced a single organic lead from search. But let's say, because of that, now when anybody comes to the site from pay per click, their user experience is so much better that your conversion rates go up there.
Let's say now whenever anybody comes to your site from social, all of which that content you were using on social in the first place, when they come as a referral from social, now the user experience is so much better they say, "These guys are different. I trust them. I'm going to contact them."
Or, let's say that it's a referral. Still to this day, even if it's a word of mouth referral, they're still going to vet you first on the site probably before they call.
When they come to the site, are they going to feel different? Are they going to be satiated?
You see, we overestimate the quality of the content in the messaging of our competitors. Everybody does this bad. There's still a bunch of blue oceans. Even if the textual content is saturated in your space --and I still believe that we should produce that, because it's rare that that's the case --the video content in most industries is still wide stinking open.
There's the final element to this, Kathleen. Let's say your marketing team never benefits from it, your sales team never benefits from it from a straight sales standpoint. Is it worth it?
There's this thing that happens when you produce content that nobody seems to talk about. You know this as a writer, as a content producer. You start to figure out what you're trying to say and you figure out what your opinion, what your doctrine, what your philosophy is on that subject.
When you do this as a company, it forces you to take a stand. When you do this now, this will become the training manual for any new employee that ever comes on, any sales person that ever comes on and says, "How do we approach this question? How do we feel about this?"
The answers are already there. That's why this is so relevant. I think that's going to maintain itself for quite a while, regardless of how much saturation is out there.
Now, there is a level up, though, Kathleen. It used to be that we might just say, "What is the best swimming pool?" That might have been the question before, but now we're getting more specific, like, "What is the best type of swimming pool for me?" This is why one of the big focus areas that I think we should all have that is just rife with opportunity, I mean, just so heavy of opportunity right now in 2019 and beyond is the trend of self-selection and self-configuration.
In other words, let's say you came to the River Pools website right now. Let's say you didn't have any idea what type of pool you want. "Do I want an in-ground pool? Do I want an above ground pool? If I do want an in-ground pool, should it be concrete, should it be vinyl-lined, or should it be fiberglass?"
Is there an unbiased tool that you could walk through that would ask you a series of questions and be interactive that would essentially give you some type of output in the end that would say, "Okay, Kathleen. Based on what you just said, it sounds like a concrete pool or a fiberglass pool or an above ground pool is the right choice for you."
These interactive styles of self-selection and self-configuration, they are so monumental. So few companies are doing them at all right now, Kathleen. This is the level up of what you and I might call traditional content marketing.
Kathleen: It's interesting. I've had some experiences with those kinds of tools. Now as I tell this story, I'm totally going to out myself and my age range. My experience with self-configuration tools was when I first noticed I was getting some little gray hairs on my head.
Marcus: That happens to all of us at that 40-ish age.
Kathleen: I was like, "Okay, got to cover those up." I don't know. I'm not somebody who spends a lot of money on salons and things.
Funny enough, I heard about this hair color company through the TechCrunch blog. This is how much of a geek I am. They were talking about how this company was really upending the model of hair color. It's called Madison Reed.
I was like, "If TechCrunch thinks this company is cool, I'm going to check them out instead of going to CVS and trying to find a box of hair color on the shelf."
I got to the website and it's exactly what you described. It was like, "What is your natural hair color?" I said brown. "Is it more reddish brown, blondish brown?" Blondish brown. "Has it been colored before? How much gray do you have? How long is it? How curly is it?"
All these questions and then it basically said, "Here is the perfect color for you. By the way, if this doesn't look perfect, here are the next three if you want to see what those look like."
I became a customer. Not only did I become a customer, but they're so smart, they have a subscription plan. Now it's on a "set it and forget it" thing where it comes to my house every few weeks.
That's amazing. I don't even have to think about it any more, and they've got a customer for life.
Marcus: You've got to send me that link, by the way. I want to see that. I'd like to do that myself.
Kathleen: You've got some grays you want to cover?
Marcus: I'm so fascinated with self-configuration right now. We've been working with it at River Pools.
To give people an idea, we've got one at River Pools we're developing that is, what is the best shape and size for me for my swimming pool? The other one is, what is the best type of swimming pool for me?
The best type of swimming pool for me is the most top of the funnel. What is the right shape and size for me is lower in the funnel. How much is my fiberglass swimming pool going to cost, that's even lower in the funnel.
I'm trying to develop a perfect pricing tool. It's never been developed in our industry before. I want people to be able to get close numbers even before they talk to a sales person.
Again, a lot of people think that's crazy. If you've read They Ask You Answer, you know how this works, you know how applicable it is, whether it's B2B or B2C. Those two examples we just used now were both B2C, but this is relevant in the B2B space as anything.
Everybody should be thinking about self-configuration right now. I think that's a major that we all need to be upping our game with as we go forward.
Kathleen: It'll be fun to see what you come up with there, 'cause there are a couple of examples that I can think of of companies that have done the pricing part really well with complex things.
For example, there's window treatment companies where you put in the exact size of your window and the fabric you want and this and that. It's complex, but I'll tell you, I only order from companies like that, 'cause I don't want to go into the store. It works.
Marcus: How would I set this up? If somebody contacts you right now, a legitimate prospect, what are all the questions that sales consultant is already asking?
If you talk to a sales consultant about your hair, every single one of those that you mentioned, that's what they would have said.
The beauty behind this, it's dramatically more efficient and it induces a friction-free buying experience.
If our guide, as we go forward 2019 and beyond, is we say, "Is there anything I can do that lessens the friction?" There's a very good chance that that means your leader of your space, because antiquated, traditional thinking generally is very friction-based. It's the opposite of today's buyer.
Most swimming pool companies would say, "We could never give pricing, period. We can't talk about pricing."
Everybody knows for years I've been talking about pricing. I've been giving ranges of pricing. I've been talking about all the factors of pricing, but now I'm trying to give actual prices as close as possible.
We've already got a little bit of this developed on the site. It's a lead generating machine already. I mean, it's really, really beautiful, this pricing tool that we have.
Anybody can set this up, regardless of what you are. B2B, B2C, service product, big, small, local, national. This is the mindset that we have to have.
Let's make it easier on the buyer. Let's see if we can mimic or replicate the in-real-life sales experience. Can we replicate that online through the digital experience?
If you can do the self-configuration combined with beautiful video explanations of that thing ... one of the issues, Kathleen, is whenever you do these types of self-configuration tools, inevitably, again, because the curse of knowledge, the company will ask you a question that you don't know.
For example, if I'm a pool guy and I say, "Do you think you want a heat pump or a gas heater with your swimming pool?" most people have no idea. You don't know that.
Kathleen: No. I would have no idea.
Marcus: If I can have an explanation, especially if it's a video explanation, now that you can just quickly click and say, "Here's where you would want to fall. Here's the pros and cons of each one. Hopefully that helps you decide which is the best for you." That allows you say, "Okay, perfect."
If you're a consultant, this is the same thing. Every consultant in the B2B space asks a series of questions to their prospects. Can we handle that on the front end?
One of the things that we're trying to develop at IMPACT right now that Bob and I are talking a lot about is we constantly assess these companies and we let them know where are they from a digital perspective, what's their impediments and all these things. Can we replicate that on the front end?
The most forward-thinking on this was Dharmesh with Website Grader in 2007-8 time period. When he came out with that, that was so stupidly ahead of his time. It was genius.
That was the catalyst for me. That was the great motivator for me. The first time I took that, which is essentially ... it was a self-assessment tool. That's all that was. I got a 37 out of 100, and I said, "Bull. That's not me. I'm not a 37 out of 100. I'm going to show you wrong, Website Grader." Then I went on this glorious journey. Of course-
Kathleen: Boy, did you show it wrong.
Marcus: It's what propelled me. It gave me that drive. I could keep going back and saying, "Okay, now it's at a 42. Now it's at a 49. Now it's at a 75."
Kathleen: In my mind, when I hear you talking about all this, I feel like how I know this is possible is that if there was ever an industry that was unnecessarily overcomplicated in terms of the research and the purchasing process, it was cars.
I've heard you talk a lot about CarMax. To me, there's even a leader further ahead of CarMax now, which is Carvana. You can buy your stinking car out of the vending machine with Carvana. They literally have car vending machines.
Marcus: That's correct. Usually, the leader of the previous generation is slowest to adopt the next one.
What happened was most of the successful used car dealers said things like, "There's no way we could ever offer a five-day money-back guarantee. There's no way that we could have this intensive inspection process, which would essentially eliminate the possibility of selling any lemons to the marketplace. There's no way we could do all these things to eliminate the fears of buying a used car."
CarMax came in, turned the industry on its head, and did that.
But CarMax is going to get replaced by the Carvanas, the TrueCars of the world, because they're making it even more friction free.
If we're not looking to replace ourselves and our business model and the way that we do it, then there's a good chance we're off.
When I started They Ask You Answer, Kathleen, I really thought it was a blogging strategy. This is why when you talk about something, you learn what you're trying to say. You just discover it over time. It's a fluid experience.
They Ask You Answer became that, but it became an obsession with the way buyers think and the willingness to evolve with said buyer. If a company's embracing They Ask You Answer, they don't make statements like, "I don't watch videos, so why in the heck would we create them for our customers?"
It's like, our opinions don't matter. They don't mean jack squat. The only thing that matters is, what does the marketplace want?
They Ask You Answer is basically saying, "People would like to buy it like this. I know it's never been sold like that in our industry before. Let's just strip out all the rules, all the regs. Is it possible that it was sold that way?" That's when you have entire industries flipped on their head.
We're seeing it over and over again. It's such a fun time to be alive if you're the type of person that likes to fill in outside of the circle, because that means you're willing to break the rules. You just don't have these confines, these parameters that everybody else has. You say, "Why not? I mean, of course we could do that."
Kathleen: So many interesting things here. We've got self-configuration tools. We've got creating your own content. We've got taking They Ask You Answer approach. We've got using video to show and not just tell.
For the companies that you have worked with on this and the companies that are doing it right ... I know that you work with a wide range of companies. They're not always the sexy disrupters of their industry like a Carvana. Some of them are a plumber-
Marcus: I love unsexy, nerdy, just stuff that you would traditionally think, "They couldn't do this," and they end up killing it.
What Does Inbound Success Look Like in 2019?
Kathleen: That's what I was going to say. In today's world, when you say killing it ... if somebody's listening and they're thinking, "Alright. I could maybe try this approach," what kinds of results should they expect and what does killing it mean these days?
Is it a nice 5% increase every month over time? Can you still hockey stick? What does success look like?
Marcus: We see lots of hockey stick growth when it comes to traffic, leads and sales.
When I really started teaching They Ask You Answer, I didn't necessarily know what were the major bullet points of success in all of these most successful organizations, 'cause I didn't have enough case studies yet. I had River. That's all I really had.
Came to realize there is a few essentials that you got to do, that you've got to have. If you have these essentials, there's a good chance you're going to see that growth.
First essential is you've got to have buy-in from top to bottom. It's just absolute.
Number two, you have to look at this as a long-term play, which mean there's continual updates, education, and awareness about how the program's working, what's happening, everybody knows. Again, it's not a program; it's culture.
Number three, that you have owners, specifically of textual content, of video content. Everything has an owner. Unless there's an owner that's not wearing a thousand other hats, generally it's not going to fly.
Number four, that it's accepted that everybody has to participate. It's almost like part of the job description. They don't say, "Well, it would be nice." They just do it. It's just what they do. Again, not utopia always. It's just something that we do, we know it's part of the deal. You do certain things with your job you don't love, Kathleen, but you do it because it's just part of the deal. You don't miss it. You don't stop it. It's just who you are.
Then the fifth one is they measure everything that they possibly can. That way, they're not having conversations like, "Did this really work?" They're saying, "We spent this much money on a content manager, on a videographer in-house, but we can definitively track that we have generated this much more traffic, this many more leads, and this much more revenue in this process."
There's others we could add in there, one of which would be clearly that the sales team obsessively integrates content into the sales process as much as possible. That they're always looking for ways to do this.
Somebody might listen to this and say, "Well, we're e-commerce. We don't have a sales team." Yeah, you do. The page is your sales team. Are you integrating content so well into that page that the person says, "Every single question I had about that particular product has now been resolved. I'm ready to click the buy button"? Are we doing these things?
We still consistently see, when they do this right, amazing growth, but you've got to be qualitative and quantitative.
For a long time, there was this dumb debate of, "Should I focus on quality, or should I focus on quantity?" Well, you've got to do both. That's just the truth.
I mean, you can't do one great blog article a month and expect to see hockey stick growth. Generally, that's never going to occur unless you already have some established audience. If Oprah started a blog, she's probably going to get great growth at once a month.
We're not Oprah. We can't do that. We continue to see the pattern of great success when you start something is two to three pieces of content a week on that thing.
In other words, for most companies, if they're producing two to three textual pieces of content a week, they're going to start to see hockey stick growth after the first year. Same thing with video.
What happens is it becomes habit at two to three a week. It just becomes who you are as a company. At two to three a week, you've got to have owners, you see what I mean? Because you have owners, it's like everything is self-fulfilling and self-perpetuating.
This is the pattern that we've seen time and time again. It's fun to watch it. It's really, really neat.
They are obsessed about the continual education and they'll add something each year. Maybe they're crushing it with the textual content, they're crushing it with the video. Now they add chat and they want to become the best at chat.
Don't try to be great at all these things. Most of the companies don't try to be great at all social media platforms. They recognize if you try to be a jack of all social media trades, you're going end up being a master of none. You're way better off just focusing and being a master of one.
This is how it works. You knock out one at a time and you grow that way.
The last thing I'll say about this, every company that's been obsessive about They Ask You Answer since the beginning has done everything that Google says today that they want you to do.
They were never afraid of a single algorithmic change, because this was a long-term solution to a long-term problem, which is search. Search is a long-term problem.
Google's obsession, "Give it to them as quickly as I can. Make it as relevant as possible. Make sure it's the best, most qualitative answer they could possibly get." Anything that doesn't align with that is a short-term solution.
Vanity link building that got many people penalized these last few years, that was doing a deal with the devil, Kathleen. It came back to bite so many people.
Those that were just doing it right and obsessing over the quality and the quantity component, they're the ones now that own the industry. I
MPACT is one of those. 600,000 visitors a month of traffic is a big deal for any agency. The reason why that happens, it's been a long-term play. We ain't out there asking people for their links, though, I'll tell you that.
Kathleen: Definitely not. I'm not sure I would enjoy my job very much if that's what it involved. It's like the cold-calling of marketing.
Well, you just did a great job of bringing us full circle. I started this conversation talking about how I feel like you've always been somebody who's less focused on how to do marketing and more focused on how to make that human-to-human connection.
I think what you closed with, at least the way I heard it was, when you're solving for search engines, the best approach is also to solve for humans, because that's ultimately what the search engines want to solve for.
Marcus: They're completely aligned.
Kathleen: At the end of the day, all the latest, greatest tactics of marketing don't mean anything if they're not solving for people.
Marcus: It's our moral compass. That's always going to bring us back where we need to go. Not to make this about They Ask You Answer, but I'm trying to show the principle here. Whenever we would have a debate about a piece of content, we would say, "Do our customers really want and need to know?" If the answer was yes, we said, "Okay, we're going to talk about it."
Kathleen: I love it.
Marcus: It always worked.
Kathleen: Awesome. Well, I'm going to have extensive show notes on everything that you shared. If somebody was listening and they want to have this, essentially which is a playbook for 2019, they can find it in the show notes.
How to Reach Marcus Sheridan
Kathleen: We need to close, because I could talk to you forever, but you don't have forever to talk to me. If somebody's listening and they want to learn more, they want to contact you, they want to ask you a question, what's the best way for them to find you online?
Kathleen, otherwise, this was a pleasure. Hopefully, we delivered a few nuggets today that are going to help those wonderful listeners of yours tomorrow.
Kathleen: Absolutely. My one ask to anyone listening is if you do any of this and you see success with it, let me know. I would love to share your story. Maybe you could be somebody that I interview in 2019 about your inbound success.
That's it for today. Thank you for listening. Happy New Year. Thank you, Marcus, for joining us and sharing all of your wisdom.
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