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Why the They Ask, You Answer philosophy needs to be a full company initiative

Why the They Ask, You Answer philosophy needs to be a full company initiative Blog Feature

July 3rd, 2020 min read

It was my first week on the job. I was so excited because I knew my experience in marketing technology and revenue-generating lead gen would help my new company make a more significant impact. 

Like any new job, I went to work meeting the team. Since one of my responsibilities was to start generating revenue through leads, I wanted to get to know the sales team quickly. They were my connection to making sure the leads I generated turned into sales. But first I needed to meet my marketing colleague.

She was already seated in the conference room as I came rushing in, coffee and computer in hand. I sat down opposite her and started with some niceties, then asked excitedly, “What content are we creating to support the sales team?”

What happened next blew my mind.

She gave me a look of disbelief and a smirk, “What do you mean? Generating revenue isn't our job. It isn't marketing's job to generate sales or revenue for this organization. That's the job of the sales team. You should know that because you are a marketer.”


The world I came from recognized that marketing and sales played a key role in generating revenue. With my coffee cup in mid-air, mouth gaping wide, a slew of questions left my lips.

What? How does that work? Marketing teams are revenue drivers. If we aren’t generating revenue, how do we even justify being here? 

All of my previous jobs, regardless of the title or department, had a revenue component. Walls up, my colleague left the conference room, shaking her head in disbelief. 

Later that day, my marketing “friend” and I went to leadership to get their take. Imagine a scene from The Office where Jim and Dwight go to Micheal. Okay, it wasn't exactly like that, but… 

The reaction I got? Leadership nodded and went about their business. And their business was apparently to work against each other.

Each leader wanted to do work that brought themselves to the forefront. Each department worked hard to outdo the other, not in terms of generating revenue but to hit the vanity metric that had no revenue tied to it at all.

So what exactly were they looking at? Vanity metrics are metrics that make you look good to others but don’t help you understand your own performance in a way that informs future strategies. Although, according to Tableau, all metrics can be vanity metrics. 

Some telltale signs that the metric is a vanity metric. If you answer "no" when thinking about your stat or metric, it's probably vanity:

  • Can this metric lead to a course of action to increase the bottom line?
  • Can we intentionally reproduce a result of that metric?
  • Does the metric tell us more about the buyer's behavior than it does about our own behavior?

Vanity metrics aren't necessarily all bad, but they can't be the only data driving your company's strategy. And that was the problem with the leadership at my old company. Each department was touting numbers that made them look good and not numbers that were indicators of revenue generating activities. 

Metrics like the number of Facebook ad views, the number of people who attended a sponsored event, or the volume of website traffic may have indicated exposure, but they didn't show how interested these people actually were in buying our product. In reality, there were hardly any sales generated from these exposures.

A lack of collaboration, alignment, and understanding of what the metrics mean and how it impacts your business put the company in a precarious financial position.

The implications of companies working in silos can be devastating

Corporate silos paired with metrics based on ego can destroy an organization. When each department doesn't know what the other is doing — or worse, when they do know and actively work against each other — projects stall, time is wasted, morale slumps, and sales flatline. All this breaks teams apart even more and can take down the company. 

And there are more reasons why silos can be financially devastating:

Siloed work provides a choppy customer experience

When internal teams don't communicate, customers receive inconsistent service. This unpredictable experience will drive them away. In a world of instant gratification, there's a level of expectation that customers expect — and they won't wait for you to solve your internal differences.

Customers also expect the same level of service at all times. Misaligned internal teams don't have their focus on customer needs and lose sales in the process of working against one another.

Let's take a look at how this manifested at my old employer.

At one point, my boss and the entire marketing team sponsored a large booth at SXSW but didn't include the sales team. And the sales team didn’t mind — they didn't want to have anything to do with that event. 

Lack of collaboration meant the leads coming out of this event weren't going to be followed up by the sales team. So imagine this, the exhibition cost the organization over $100K that generated $0 in sales. 

When the board requested accountability for the expense, both sides spent hours, and I mean hours, creating presentations to justify their actions. 

Marketing leveraged branding and awareness, and sales said that they didn't know where the leads were. I had captured the leads and ensured that the tracking and lead-capture process was in place before the show.

But the sales team didn't follow up because they didn’t want to be involved at all, while leadership deemed they needed to be involved so follow up was mandatory.  This led to a realization the sales team didn’t know how to use the company’s CRM.  On top of that, they viewed the customers that the marketing team brought in as “their” leads not the company’s. And La Résistance continued…

Siloed organizations are toxic

Let's recap here: leadership took on projects that put their egos on a pedestal, zero revenue came out of those efforts, and they had a CRM that no one in the organization knew how to use. They had a website that did not generate revenue because the content was showcasing all the cool stuff they did while not meeting their customers where they were.

Can you see where this cautionary tale is headed?

Ten months later, as I was on my way out, they announced that they were $4.5 million dollars in the hole. Heads were about to roll. And they did.  

A recent survey of directors, CEOs, and senior executives found that digital transformation (DT) risk was their No. 1 concern in 2019. Yet 70% of all DT initiatives don't reach their goals. Of the $1.3 trillion that was spent on DT last year, it was estimated that $900 billion went to waste. 

Why do some digital transformation efforts succeed and others fail? According to Harvard Business Review, it’s because most digital technologies provide possibilities for efficiency gains and customer intimacy. But if people lack the right mindset to change and the current organizational practices are flawed, DT will simply magnify those flaws. 

Everything I had experienced in those 10 months highlighted why so many digital transformation plans fall short. This real case scenario was not just about ego but also about not having buy-in and shared vision, systems, and processes between all teams in the company.

Mindset, alignment, customer focus all go hand in hand.

How teams can work together to put the customer first

The essence of the They Ask, You Answer philosophy is putting the customers front and center. It's not about what the company wants; it's about the company meeting the customer where they are in their journey to purchase your product or service. Long gone are the days of shouting and shoving products and services in the face of the buyer.

Successful companies typically have a shared culture that resonates with your customers. A good friend told me you attract who you are. So if you are a company that is competing on price, then you will attract customers who make decisions solely on price. The same is true when your emphasis is on quality service, having a helpful attitude, and educating your customers. The customers you attract come to you because they trust you and will pay accordingly.

Leadership drives the tone and the culture of a company.

According to a recent survey by the National Bureau of Economic Research, 85% of CEOs and CFOs believe an unhealthy culture leads to unethical behavior. What’s more, that same survey found that nine out of 10 CFOs believe improving company culture would increase their company’s business value and performance.

Although leaders admit that unhealthy company culture can impact engagement, a disconnect remains. Leaders may believe they’re putting in the work to build and improve, but the reality is that employees don’t agree. Nearly half of employees (45%) say leadership is minimally or not committed to improving culture

Leadership drives the mindset that the customers' experience is shared and owned by everyone in the organization. In my case, customers were left hanging, and they took their donation dollars elsewhere.

Teams need to create an infrastructure that allows them to work harmoniously

Besides leadership and culture, it's essential to create an operational infrastructure that is cohesive, manageable, and quickly adopted by sales, marketing, customer service, and finance.

As I look back at my former company, there was no ownership nor a centralized system or reporting dashboard to see contacts, returning contacts, trends, leaderboard, the average time to respond, and so many more meaningful metrics.

Company leadership that sets priorities with a shared vision of putting the customer front and center will drive everyone in the organization to share in serving the customer. It is then tied together by using shared reporting and metrics that everyone agrees on.

Businesses need to think about sales like this: salespeople are your primary subject matter experts. They know your products or services inside and out. They are the main talent appearing on camera. Marketing’s job is that of communications. Marketers do not need to be the subject matter experts – they need to make the subject matter experts look their best.

The sales process should be visible by marketing and customer service teams. It is achievable using systems accessible by all groups across the organization — not just sales and marketing. Cohesive operations are critical. And it is recommended to harness technology that best fits the needs of your organization. 

Here at IMPACT, our tool of choice is Hubspot because it tracks all of our revenue-generating activities in one place. The sales team can use its CRM module, the marketing team can track content performance, and our service team can easily follow up and ensure the customer is satisfied with service. 

How to turn They Ask, You Answer into a full company initiative

Who, in your industry, is the most trusted voice? These days that is a rare commodity, yet buyers are hungry and always searching the internet for answers. The reality is 70% of a buying decision is already made before a prospect even talks to a company. That percentage will more than likely increase as technology continues to advance.

Companies can no longer do business "the way it's always been done," with sales and marketing teams operating in silos, and where sales are the driver of business and marketing is the expense. The company that fulfills that desire and need for trust is the long-time winner. 

Ask yourself when the last time you bought anything that you didn't do your research online? And did you purchase that product or service that had a one-star review? 

They Ask, You Answer method is a philosophy and a mindset that builds trust within the company and radiates to its customers. Getting there starts with leadership catching a clear and deep understanding of the book They Ask, You Answer.

You don't need to do this alone; you can inspire your teams to join the journey. Not only will it make your customers happy, but your teams will also work cohesively together and focus on a mission to ensure the customer experience throughout the organization is universal.  

Don't have time yet to read the book? 

Teams pressed for time might want to consider watching Marcus Sheridan present the core They Ask, You Answer principles

Want to get everyone catching the vision fast? Consider taking IMPACT's transformative inbound culture workshop. It is designed to establish alignment and excitement across all of your teams for the direction you need to take with your digital sales and marketing.

If you are reading this and aren't in a position to decide, you might want to create a proposal that consists of a presentation deck with a recorded video of yourself (our choice is Vidyard), it sounds simple, but it is effective.

Taking these steps, although seemingly simple, is a hard thing to do. We get it, that’s why we have a team of coaches who help those in leadership be that guide, and mentor to get you and your team where you want to be.

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