When Marcus Sheridan graduated university in 2001, he joined two of his friends who were starting a swimming pool company.
For the next seven years, business was good. With real estate prices rising to historic levels, anybody could get a loan for a swimming pool. Many did.
As you might have predicted, the wheels started to fall off in 2008 when the economy crashed.
Pushed to the brink of bankruptcy, Sheridan was forced to find a way out, and he found it in a simple but powerful content marketing strategy he calls They Ask, You Answer.
He used it to save the company, ultimately generating millions of dollars in new sales directly attributable to the methodology you are about to learn.
Join me for the next 10 minutes as we explore how you can do the same for your business, no matter the size of your company or the industry you compete in.
A Massive Buying Shift and the Blur between Sales and Marketing
Before we move on to the principles of Sheridan’s system, we need to cover a couple of important points.
First, consumer buying patterns have gone through a monumental shift over the past decade. As Sheridan points out, multiple studies show that the vast majority (Sheridan tells us that it’s 70%) of the buying decision is made before a prospect talks to a company. This is consistent no matter what market you are in. Large, small, B2B or B2C.
Second, you might be inclined to think that the lessons you are about to learn don’t apply to your specific business or industry niche. Everybody believes that their business is the one exception to the rule – that the people in your industry don’t buy the way this system suggests they do. Ultimately that’s up for you to decide, but there’s only one way to find out for sure and that’s to try it.
“They Ask, You Answer” Defined
At the core of They Ask, You Answer is an obsession with what your customer is thinking, searching, asking, feeling and fearing.
As Sheridan was pondering how to save his company, he sat down at his kitchen table late one night and brainstormed all the questions he had received about fiberglass swimming pools over the previous nine years.
When he was finished he had more than a hundred questions listed on the piece of paper.
Then, as you might have guessed, he and his business partners set off to answer each one of them in a blog post or video. Most of the articles were published to their website as blog posts, with the title of the question becoming the title of the post.
These weren’t one or two sentence answers – these were real answers with deep explanations and they weren’t glorified sales pitches – they approached each answer with a “teacher’s” mentality – answering without bias and only trying to educate the readers.
As Sheridan points out, every single industry has hundreds of buyer-based questions. So it’s ironic that most company websites don’t even address more than a few of them.
If you find yourself thinking “there’s no way our buyers have that many questions,” this means you’ve lost touch with your customers and you need to start learning what your ideal customer wants to know.
After a few months of doing this with his pool company, Sheridan started to look at the web analytics on their website to determine what was working and which content was generating the most traction.
He found that there were five types of content that seemed to generate the most interest and buying behaviours:
- Pricing and Costs
- Versus and Comparisons
- Best in Class
Why were those the ones that moved the needle the most? Because those are the issues that we (and all consumers) obsess over when considering a purchase. Most businesses hide from those questions or only deal with them when face-to-face with a customer, but not Sheridan and from this day forward, not you.
Let’s cover each of them in turn.
Content Subject #1: Pricing and Costs
If you’ve ever gone on a website to research a product and couldn’t find pricing information, you’ve likely felt what Sheridan calls the “F-word of the Internet”: frustration.
Most companies resist putting pricing information in their website because of one of three reasons.
Every solution is different
Yes, it’s true that your pricing might vary from customer to customer depending on their needs, but no matter what business you are in, it’s possible to give your prospects a range of probable prices. At the very least, you’ll what to give your customers a sense of how pricing works in your industry.
Your competitors will find out what you charge
It’s unlikely that your competitors have no clue what you charge.
You’ll scare your customers away
Sheridan makes two great points here. First, if your customer can’t afford your product, there’s little to no chance that you’ll convince them on a sales call. Second, talking about price is not about affordability, it’s about psychology. You are more likely to trust a business that’s upfront about their pricing.
So instead of hiding behind one of those excuses, be willing to specifically address the main pricing questions you get.
Create a list of all the major products and/or services you sell. For the ones that generate the most revenue for you, produce at least one blog post or video explaining the factors that dictate the cost, what the prospect can expect to see in the industry, and where your company lands.
An article that Sheridan posted titled “How Much Does a Fibreglass Pool Cost?” has generated $3 million in additional sales, directly attributable to the article.
In fact, that single post single handedly saved his business, his home, the homes of his business partners and the jobs of all of their employees.
Content Subject #2: Problems
This content subject is all about turning weaknesses into strengths.
When people buy, their instinct is to worry more about what might go wrong than what might go right. They know that they can go to your website to find out all the great things that will happen if they buy from you – that’s what they get from every website they visit.
For instance, Sheridan tells the story of how somebody might decide between getting a fibreglass pool or a concrete pool. For years his prospects would ask him something along the lines of “what are the problems with a fibreglass swimming pool?” and, you can be fairly certain that whatever questions people ask you in person, they’ll search for online as well.
That’s why they ended up writing a post titled “Top 5 Fibreglass Pool Problems and Solutions.”
Everybody in the pool industry thought they were crazy for writing that post. How many of their competitors had that information on their website? Zero. How many prospects wanted to know the answer to that question? All of them.
When considering whether or not to address the elephant in the room, you need to make a choice. You can allow them to search for and find the answers to those questions themselves, or you can address them directly and allow your customers to determine whether or not it’s an issue for them.
Aside from creating a level of trust your competitors won’t dare match, doing this has two advantages.
First, you get the opportunity to explain why, in spite of the problems, your product/service would be a good fit for the prospect. For instance, one of the drawbacks to a fiberglass pool is that it might not be long, deep or as wide as customer might like, but if lower maintenance and a pool that will last a lifetime are more important to the prospect, it might be worth the tradeoff. This turns your weakness into a strength.
Second, you eliminate people from your sales and marketing funnel that will never become customers in the first place, freeing you to pay closer attention to those that might. If they’ll find out the problems eventually (they will), they might as well find out now.
Content Subject #3: Versus and Comparisons
The third major content subject is something that we, as consumers, are fascinated with: comparisons. This versus that.
Over the years, Sheridan and his colleagues had heard the same question from their prospects for years: what’s the difference between a fibreglass pool and a concrete pool?
So, they wrote a post titled “Fibreglass Pools vs Vinyl Liner Pools vs Concrete Pools: An Honest Comparison.”
Again, the temptation here is to avoid bringing these types of questions up. Why address problems that some of your prospects might not even consider?
Two of the reasons we covered in the previous section – turning weaknesses into strengths and using marketing to eliminate bad leads.
The other two reasons are traffic and trust.
If people are thinking about these questions they are searching for the answers online. Would you rather they come to you for the answer, or some third party site that lets other (sometimes misinformed) consumers answer it for you? To top it off, search engines love this type of content and serve it much higher in the rankings than self-serving sales messaging.
When your prospect sees that you are open and honest, they are more likely to trust you during the rest of the sales process and you are more likely to make a sale.
Here’s what to do next.
Write down every question you’ve ever received from a prospect that asks you to compare two or more things. This includes obvious things like something you sell vs. a competitor’s product and less obvious things like things that you nor your competitors sell.
After you’ve made that list, write your answers and start turning them into blog posts, e-books, webinars and so on.
Content Subjects 4 and 5: Reviews and Best in Class
Let’s start this section by saying that what you are about to hear is going to seem crazy, but, just like the other tactics you’ve learned about so far, they will work if you embrace them.
One of the questions that people always ask is “who is the best _____?” So, in true They Ask, Your Answer form, Sheridan wrote a blog post titled “Who are the Best Pool Builders in Richmond Virginia (Reviews/Ratings).”
He listed the five companies he truly believed were the best and, for good measure, he neglected to include his own company. That’s the part I told you might seem crazy. Why would he do that?
The first reason is as soon as you put yourself on that list, you lose all credibility. It becomes a puff piece and you jeopardise the trust you are trying to build with this strategy.
The second reason is less obvious, but even more important. Where are those prospects when they are reading this post? They are on your website. Not your competitors website, or a third party website. This means that you control the messaging and while you don’t want to include your company in the list, you can position yourself as the expert. Tell them about all of the other great content on your website relating to their questions. You’ve just welcomed them to your front door, don’t be afraid to invite them in for a tour of the house.
Go ahead and Google “best pool builders richmond va” to see how Sheridan expertly crafted that specific post.
Hope you found that useful. Until next time….
P.S. I need a business coach (willing to train [at my expense] the right individual with some get up and go / sales/ marketing prowess) to facilitate demand for my coaching business. If you, or someone you know, is interested, please click http://business-coaching.com/andy/ for more information