A brilliantly simple approach to content marketing
Marcus Sheridan’s new book, They Ask You Answer, answers the crucial questions about marketing with a simple, straightforward business philosophy.
I highly recommend this book to people in small and midsize businesses who want to beat competitors with content.
“Become the most trusted voice in your industry,” Sheridan writes. “Listen, teach and problem-solve to earn buyers’ trust.”
Here’s a one-page summary of They Ask You Answer on a Message Map.
Job #1 for marketers is not to build the brand, but to educate customers.
Become world-class listeners and teachers. Marketers need to:
- Earn trust through teaching.
- Use great information to help others solve their problems.
- Listen to customers’ questions and provide honest answers.
It’s all about radically honest teaching.
Answer every customer question with content online, even the Big 5 questions companies try to avoid, such as:
- What’s the price and cost?
- What are the problems and what could go wrong?
- How does your product compare with competitors?
- What do customers think about your work?
- Who are your best competitors?
Typically, companies avoid answering certain questions for invalid reasons:
- They worry about what competitors might do with the information. But your competitors already know about you.
- They worry about scaring off customers with too high a price. But if your price scares off a buyer, that buyer’s a bad fit for your business anyway.
To make your content successful and your business happy, ignore the bad fits and competitors.
Obsess about what customers are thinking.
Focus on their fears about what might go wrong with a purchase – the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Disarm customers by talking about the elephants in the room. Admit up front, “We might not be the right fit for you.”
Why does radically honest teaching work?
In the eyes of customers, teachers have greater rights than salespeople. Customers buy more often if they feel in control of the buying process, as they are with a teacher.
Too often marketers create content that exists to prove that they’re smart, rather than assure the customer that he or she is in control. That’s a mistake.
With content, “It’s dumb not to dumb it down.”
Don’t underestimate your customers’ willingness to consume content.
Encourage customers to consume content and get educated before you schedule a sales call or try to close a sale.
- Before a site visit, River Pools’ buyers are prompted to read a 35-page e-book and watch a video.
- Before scheduling a phone call with Sheridan, his Sales Lion prospects are asked to read 200 pages.
By the time any buyer consumes that much content, they either love you or hate you, Sheridan says.
If they hate you, they’re a bad fit for your business. If they love you, they’re much likelier to buy from you. How likely?
When customers don’t read River Pools’ content, sales close rates fall below 5%. When customers read 30 pages of content or more, close rates soar to 80%.
With those close rates, why call on customers who won’t consume content, educate themselves, and get ready to buy?
To put this approach to work in your business, create a content culture where everyone’s a teacher and everyone’s voice matters.
To create a content culture, take 4 steps:
- Gain buy-in from top to bottom in your company.
- Insource content by involving everybody in content creation.
- Hire a content manager with strong journalism skills.
- Use the right tools to measure success and prove ROI.
They Ask You Answer on one page
Brainstorm every question customers ever asked.
Then address each question, one blog or video at a time. That’s how Sheridan saved River Pools & Spas during the 2008 financial crisis, which crushed the swimming pool market and nearly put him out of business.
What he learned from that experience is crucial: Have a healthy relationship with fear. Be willing to change the whole business based on what you learn from customers.
One company that transformed its industry by listening to customers is CarMax. CarMax admitted the used-car industry had a problem, asked what it would take to earn customers’ trust back, and eliminated what buyers hate most about buying used cars.
It pioneered no-haggle pricing, flat-rate commissions, and a 5-day money-back guarantee to reduce buyers’ fear and friction in the used car buying process. As a result CarMax became #1 in its industry.
A swimming pool salesman turned marketer, Sheridan brings a unique vantage point.
His approach builds bridges to buyers through radically honest teaching. It’s proven in small and midsize businesses such as River Pools, Yale Furniture, and Block Imaging.
If you have the guts to practice radically honest teaching, it can work wonders for you.
Most companies who have learned Sheridan’s approach fear to use it. Your competitors are probably too afraid to even try. That leaves the field wide open for you!
As a marketing change agent, I consult with clients, lead content marketing workshops for the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), and write the weekly Simplify Marketing blog.
With experience from Fortune 500 companies such as AT&T, RR Donnelley and Tellabs, I've been named:
- Content Marketer of the Year by the Content Marketing Institute.
- Best Marketer by BtoB magazine.
- A B-to-B CMO to watch by Fierce CMO.