How can They Ask, You Answer still fail when you have all the right pieces?
How do companies fail with They Ask, You Answer, when they are seemingly doing all of the right things, with the right people in the right seats? And, most importantly, how can you avoid such a fate with They Ask, You Answer at your own company?
He’s the protagonist, the named character. Throughout the film we’ve been treated to training montages of Rocky putting in the work, scenes that make most of us sweat just watching by watching them.
He’s done everything he could have possibly done.
He was supposed to win.
But, Rocky still lost…
It just goes to show that sometimes you can put your heart and soul into something, do everything you were supposed to and it still doesn’t work out. Most of us aren’t world class boxers. But it’s not just (fictional) sportsmen and women that fall victim of this.
It can be a professional pitfall, too.
Even when everything is right, it all goes wrong
Sometimes even when it seems like we are doing all the right things in our professional lives, we don’t get the outcome we want.
At IMPACT, one of the ways we see this manifest is in They Ask, You Answer. We often see organizations implement it for three to six months.
It can be super frustrating for us, and, of course, them. Especially when you are putting in the hard work, and taking the necessary steps to achieve success. So, how does this happen? How do companies fail with They Ask, You Answer, when they are seemingly doing all of the right things, with the right people in the right seats?
And, most importantly, how can you avoid such a fate with They Ask, You Answer at your own company?
Why does They Ask, You Answer fail when you're already all-in?
Before we dive in, let's be clear.
In this case, we're not talking to folks who are still circling the wagons around They Ask, You Answer as a way of doing business. Rather we’re talking to organizations who are already throwing everything into They Ask, You Answer. Your team is already on the journey and putting in the work.
You have all the pieces in place:
Company-wide buy-in (at least it seems that way)
Hired an in-house content manager
Hired an in-house videographer
Implemented assignment selling in the sales team
But you are still not seeing the expected results. Your traffic is increasing, but qualified leads aren't converting. Or maybe, your sales team has integrated the content into their process through assignment selling, but deals aren’t closing any faster than before.
If this doesn’t sound like your organization then you might want to try a couple of other things before reading this article.
If it seems like you are doing everything you are supposed to, but it’s still not working then there might be a few reasons They Ask,You Answer is still not working:
They Ask, You Answer is not a company-wide priority
They Ask, You Answer buy-in is surface-level
You are not showcasing They Ask, You Answer ROI
You are not treating They Ask, You Answer as a long-term investment
1. They Ask, You Answer is not a priority at your company or business
"...when people truly share a vision they are connected, bound together by a common aspiration."
Peter Senge, The Fifth Discipline
Can you truly say that your entire organization — from sales to services — is educated and invested in the philosophy of They Ask, You Answer, and the impact that it has on your companies current and future growth?
If the answer to this question is no, then we might have discovered your first problem.
“You NEED to get buy-in. One person cannot carry the torch for the whole company. It really is a team effort.”
It’s not uncommon for organizations to adopt the principles of They Ask, You Answer, without really embedding it with the core values of the company.
This means that when push comes to shove, it’s not the priority. It will get pushed down the list of things to do, which will reflect in the vision and consistency of content created and will ultimately lead to a failure of They Ask, You Answer, even if you are doing everything else right.
In order for They Ask, You Answer to be truly successful, it can’t just be owned by one person or department. The enrollment needs to be company-wide, and embedded into the philosophy at every level.
Take IMPACT client Applied Educational Systems (AES), as an example. They develop digital curriculums to help teachers do what they love, while stressing a little less. They also have a very clear vision:
"To be a world class They Ask, You Answer company."
This statement is on all their documentation, it’s explicit in their targets, and it’s part of their vision statement. Everyone from sales, to marketing to leadership, to services and product development teams understand how they get their customers, how content is integrated into that journey and how valuable content is in leading to the growth of the company.
The whole company knows that They Ask, You Answer is a big component for their success today and going forward.
AES is an amazing example of making They Ask, You Answer a priority within your company, and what can be achieved when you do.
If you haven’t really made They Ask, You Answer a company wide priority, then you’ll struggle to make it as a world class digital marketing organization. And this lackluster effort may lead to reduced, and surface level buy-in and enrollment in the philosophy.
2. They Ask, You Answer enrollment is surface-level (at best)
I know what you are thinking!
“Chris, I already have buy-in!”
Lack of enrollment is the number one reason that companies fail with They Ask, You Answer. If the entire organization is not fully committed and on-board, it results in frustration within the marketing team, a lack of progression and ultimately a failure of They Ask, You Answer.
But you already knew that! That’s why you dove in at the deep end, held an inbound culture workshop and went all in on hiring the right people for the job. On first look it might seem like you have all the pieces in place. But, it’s possible that the dots aren’t quite connecting company wide, and this can reflect in the revenue.
If your answer to the first section was no, if you aren’t making They Ask, You Answer a company wide priority, then it’s likely that you don’t have company-wide buy-in, at least not at a meaningful level.
Let me explain...
Many companies view enrollment in They Ask, You Answer as a binary process - you either have it or you don’t. But that’s simply not true. It’s useful to look at it like Diffusion of Innovations to help us understand how this plays out.
Under this model, there are early adopters and there are laggards.
I like to think of myself as an early adopter in my professional and personal life, which is one of the reasons I was one of the first marketers in the United Kingdom to really embrace and teach the idea of content marketing and They Ask, You Answer.
When we apply this to They Ask, You Answer, it means that people within an organization will enroll into the idea at different times and to varying levels. Some will be all in, and some will be less so. And you can only move at the speed of your slowest employee.
And, even when you have buy-in, or think you do, it’s not a static process. Even if you do achieve buy-in, at some point this will reach an apex. From there it will naturally degrade over time, if it’s not maintained.
Newton's second law of thermodynamics teaches us that if something is left alone in an isolated state, it will slowly fall apart over time. So, if you aren't continually performing activities that at least maintain enrollment in They Ask, You Answer, the level to which people believe in what we are trying to achieve will diminish and degrade over time.
Not only do you need to ensure that buy-in is inclusive of the entire organization, you need to keep on top and continually work on enrollment throughout the company. One of the ways you can do this, is to integrate the philosophy of They Ask, You Answer into who you are as an organization.
Some of the ways you can do this are:
Create a vision statement for the whole organization (just like AES did)
Share weekly updates on the new content and what is working to the entire company
Showcase ROI to the entire company — show how a client went from a first blog, to a lead to a closed deal, and then their lifetime value to the company.
Continue learning and development for the team
Attend live events
Integrating buy-in on a deeper level will embed it into the core value of a company. But sometimes there are other issues that stop you from gaining full-buy in...
3. You are not showcasing They Ask, You Answer content ROI
Not showcasing the ROI of They Ask, You Answer can have a massive knock-on effect on enrollment.
If the impact on revenue of They Ask, You Answer is not understood and valued company-wide, then it can be difficult to gain momentum and maintain ongoing buy-in — meaning buy-in will remain surface level, and it will not be a company priority.
In short, people need to know it’s working to really believe in it.
“It's great if you can attribute a dollar value to your content, but it’s dramatically more effective to pick a deal we’ve closed recently and look at their journey through the content and buying journey.”
It’s great if you can showcase the monetary value. But stories are just as, if not more, powerful in helping garner buy-in and showcase ROI. And I’m confident that every single one of my clients has multiple stories to tell.
In fact, they are so powerful that AES President Jim Schultz, is curating individual client stories four or five times a quarter, and is so committed to this that he has included it in the company's KPIs.
He knows that in order to make They Ask, You Answer a company priority, and increase and maintain buy-in, they need to continually showcase how it is affecting the buyer journey and ultimately the bottom line.
I don't understand how writing a blog could possibly grow our business.
Why do I have to write content?
I'm too busy to write content.
This is not my job.
Isn't one article a month enough?
Why do the sales team have to do this? Isn't this a marketing job?
What's the point of sending my clients articles we've written?
What do they even do in the marketing department?
Oh, we're hiring another writer but we can't get another sales person?
We're making cuts and the first to go is the marketing department.
Overall, it will allow the entire team to see the value of They Ask, You Answer, which will allow it to become a company priority, increase enrollment and avoid future resistance and push back on new ideas.
4. You are not treating They Ask, You Answer as a long-term investment
Great! You’ve mastered They Ask, You Answer.
For more than seven years AES have been prolific content creators, writing one article a week, creating downloadable guides and other content to attract and convert new leads and subscribers – and it’s paid off.
To outsiders it might seem like they, and other IMPACT clients have made it. They’ve successfully utilized They Ask, You Answer and now it’s time to move onto something new.
As a marketer “shiny object syndrome” might resonate with you — you might even feel a little attacked. It’s so easy to get distracted by the next big thing that will drive leads and revenue.
But, this mindset is going to be a problem, and can lead to failure with They Ask, You Answer, even if you seem to be doing everything else you are supposed to. With They Ask, You Answer you are never done. And if you think you are then you will already be slowing down without realizing it.
If this sounds like you then you probably don’t feel like you’ve failed. In fact, you’ve probably had relative success.
But is that enough?
If you want to be a world class digital sales and inbound marketing case study you need to go further than your average organization. This means a minimum commitment of twelves months, and an acceptance that They Ask, You Answer will be part of your business for the foreseeable future.
Those that are really successful know that They Ask, You Answer is an ongoing process.
Take IMPACT clients, Office Interiors for example. They have been working with IMPACT for two years, publishing a minimum of 10, high-quality blogs and videos per month, and they are showing no sign of slowing down.
As a result they continue to see their website traffic, leads, and sales increase. They are averaging 14,000 website visitors and 150 marketing qualified leads each year. And they generated over $1 million in revenue in 2019.
They, like AES and other IMPACT clients understand that They Ask, You Answer is a process. Increased traffic and some SEO wins in the first six months are great. And they should be celebrated. But it’s just the beginning.
Even the founding father of They Ask, You Answer, Marcus Sheridan, is still developing and improving after 10+ years. If even he views it as a continual process, then surely everyone else should be too.
In short, you always need to review where you are, how you can improve and how you can continue to develop. But ultimately, this involved embedding They Ask, You Answer into company culture.
How to guarantee your company's success with They Ask, You Answer
There are a few reasons that you might be failing with They Ask, You Answer even if you seemingly have all the pieces in place. Ultimately, if your organization fails to see They Ask, You Answer as an ongoing, dynamic process, then it is likely that it will fail.
They Ask, You Answer is not a “set it and forget it” marketing initiative. In fact, it’s not really even a marketing initiative at all. It’s a company-wide philosophy that needs to be made a priority and embraced from the top down with deep, meaningful, and ongoing buy-in.
Moreover, it won’t bring you overnight success. It takes commitment, dedication and years of hard work. In fact, if you are doing it right it will become a part of your business philosophy and success going forward.
If you aren’t giving it the respect and attention it deserves, then it is likely that you will not see the kind of results you had hoped for, and that many of our IMPACT clients have managed to achieve.
To truly succeed with They Ask, You Answer you need to foster a culture of personal mastery. Your organization and the people within it need to continue, not only to learn and how to learn better, but to figure out how to better themselves individually and as an organization as a whole.
After all, if Marcus Sheridan is still developing They Ask, You Answer, then shouldn’t we all be?