I’ve read They Ask, You Answer, why do I need your help to build my strategy? [Interview]
By Gemi Hartojo
Marcus Sheridan’s They Ask, You Answer has become a modern business classic — and a must-read for any business doing inbound marketing.
In it, Marcus tells the story of saving his local pool business during the Great Recession by answering every customer question he could think of on the company website.
Marcus’ tale of personal resolve and transparency offers insightful advice for businesses of all kinds and sizes.
Today, IMPACT offers coaching and tactical instruction in the They Ask, You Answer philosophy for businesses looking to grow their web traffic, capture more leads, and improve their sales.
However, some business leaders read the book and try to implement the tactics on their own. While that’s certainly possible, IMPACT Digital Sales and Marketing Coach Gemi Hartojo explains why it’s not the way to see the best results.
Doing They Ask, You Answer on your own
John: The great thing about Marcus’ book is that it feels so tactical. Can companies get started on their own after reading it?
Gemi: I'm going to say, yes, they can, but there's a caveat in that they may skip over important elements of the book which will fundamentally make their method unsuccessful.
There is a misunderstanding that a process itself can make a company successful. I’d also say that there are certain conditions of success that need to be met throughout the They Ask, You Answer journey.
John: What do you mean?
Gemi: Setting the conditions of success means ensuring that the people within the organization are ready and willing to accept the change. Without this buy-in, success is only on paper.
The biggest shift is putting the customer first.
Companies traditionally market by showing the world what they can do, not what they can do for their customers.
This shift needs to start from within the company. The attitude of sales teams needs to be a listening one — listening to the customer. They then need to share this learning with marketing and other teams to ensure customer needs, concerns, worries are being addressed.
This approach is often painful and teams do not want to immediately adopt this new process — this is where the coach comes in.
We commonly find that the sales and marketing teams are not aligned. The sales team isn’t collecting the questions the customers ask and isn’t creating content to answer those questions.
There is an expectation that marketing teams should come up with materials to support campaigns based on no feedback from the sales team. However, the successful companies make it a company-wide policy that everyone contributes to creating content.
To bring sales and marketing together, let alone the entire company, can be a daunting task. Working with an outside coach can get you there faster, but it starts with a mindset shift.
Having the right mindset
John: Describe that proper mindset.
Gemi: In order for businesses to change, they need to adapt their mindset. A CEO can’t just say, "Hey guys, I have a new methodology and you all need to adopt it too."
The CEO needs to have empathy for their team in that no solution. No piece of technology is a guarantee for success; Change takes time. Change disrupts the way people habitually work. Understanding those habits creates empathy, and open discussions create the change needed to adopt the They Ask, You Answer methodology.
Based on my own experience, clients are often not aware that a mindset shift is necessary. They think they can just suddenly reorient themselves to be customer-centered or to adopt a new methodology, solution, or technology.
And it's not only the mindset of the sales person; it's also the mindset of a sales director of the sales leader. They have to move past the aggressive mindset of pushing their products on people who don’t want to buy and rather, focus on educating the customer about what they solve — allowing the customer to take control of the purchasing process.
In these ways, the book is not just a simple medicine you can take to solve your business problems. It’s more involved than that.
They Ask, You Answer is a marathon, not a sprint
John: I would guess people might read the book and want to start right away, which could mean going from 0 to 60 without a strategy, and without proper internal alignment.
Gemi: The analogy that I like to use is going on a diet. You read the latest book and want to start immediately, but it’s not a magic pill. You can’t be successful unless you also change your habits and commit to a new lifestyle. Otherwise you’ll just fall off the wagon after a short time.
It takes time to change habits. If a person is trying to lose weight, they have to remember that they didn’t gain weight quickly, so they’re not going to lose it quickly either.
John: How does IMPACT help clients build a strategy to move forward?
Gemi: I think the best thing about working with a coach from IMPACT is that we work with many different kinds of companies and see similar issues when making an effort to go on the They Ask, You Answer journey.
Having an outsider helps you see the blind spots and opportunities that might otherwise have been swept to the side.
We can take a look at the current state of your organization and determine where you should start.
Not all businesses are the same. Some businesses already have conditions that are extremely favorable, where everybody's bought in to the culture of the organization itself is ready to begin They Ask, You Answer. And there are organizations that have very seasoned salespeople who are resistant to moving in a new direction.
John: Are businesses actually different, or are they just at different points along the They Ask, You Answer journey?
Gemi: I would say it's both, but it mostly comes down to whether or not they have the right conditions in place. They Ask, You Answer can apply to all types of businesses. It’s really agnostic. What's really different is where each business is in terms of culture, mindset, and readiness to receive something new.
Strategic coaching at IMPACT
John: What does the process of strategic coaching look like?
Gemi: Let me describe my process, which I’ve found to be very helpful for my clients.
I start by sitting down with them to evaluate their current state using typical strategic, benchmark metrics. I look at revenue, I look at product offerings and different departments, and then we have a conversation. At the end of the conversation, I ask, okay, so where do you guys want to go? What are you trying to achieve?
Next, I want to learn about your organization, the dynamics of the different departments and teams. Also, learn more about your customer and what problems your company solves for them. I also like to know what challenges do you and your team face currently.
Throughout the process we will chart your company’s progress on our scorecard, while also gauging the learning and adoption of They Ask, You Answer in the company.
We will review the sales process, which is typically when Pandora’s box gets opened. We often realize that the sales process that’s documented doesn’t actually get implemented by the sales team, and that each salesperson has a different way of selling — and they might not all keep records in the CRM.
The next thing I often find is that marketing is seen as secondary to sales. Marketing is creating content that the sales team might not use — and sometimes sales creates its own content without telling marketing.
When we come in, this is where we’re going to uncover those blind spots and gaps — and also opportunities. Then we can go back to the strategy and say let’s do this, let’s avoid doing that.
It is not a linear process. It is not just from point A to point B to point C. No, it goes back and forth. It's really a back and forth motion between strategy and process.
It’s important to look at working with a coach as a large and continuous conversation and that each step has a purpose.
Common mistakes with They Ask, You Answer
John: What would be a common The Ask, You Answer misstep if a company were to try to self-implement the philosophy?
Gemi: The most common misstep is that they just don't see the opportunity for growth. And they don’t realize that their sales and marketing teams are not aligned.
Sales do sales, and marketing teams create brochures and other marketing materials that look pretty but are not really that helpful when showcasing the company’s products or services. This type of misalignment is very common.
Sales drives the They Ask, You Answer method. The lines between sales and marketing teams should start to blur.
Many company’s feel that their way is the better way, without taking the time to analyze why it is better. It takes fresh eyes sometimes to see the opportunity that could scale up their business in a big way
Getting ready to implement They Ask, You Answer
John: If a business leader discovers They Ask, You Answer and wants to move forward, what are some things they can do on their own before they start working with IMPACT?
Gemi: They should read all the content they can on our website. Or at a minimum watch the videos in our video library. And they should form a They Ask, You Answer book club with their colleagues. The book club is extremely powerful when it comes to building consensus and alignment. And you don’t have to eat the whole elephant. Read it slowly, a few chapters at a time.
When you read the book, the They Ask, You Answer mindset starts to seep in. Your culture will start to change.
I’ve done this with clients and they love it. We read a few chapters and I ask them the same prompts:
- What did you learn?
- How does it apply to your position?
This really starts to shift the mind. If you start there, you’re going to be in good shape.
Wondering where to begin?