By: Josie Heskje on April 21st, 2020
Why Now is the Best Time to Invest in Sales and Marketing Content for Your Customers & Prospects; The Marcus Sheridan Story
7,882. Do you remember this number? Or this date – October 10, 2008?
Within the first few minutes of trading on Wall Street, the Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged 697 points, falling to its lowest level since March 17, 2003. America’s economic system crashed. Lehman Brothers had declared bankruptcy (the largest in U.S. history at the time) just less than three weeks prior; the fear in the air was palpable. Eventually, the US government bailed out many big banks and provided aid to the auto industry in an attempt to facilitate an economic recovery.
At the time, our friend, and author of They Ask You Answer, Marcus Sheridan, owned a pool company in Virginia. Within 48 hours of the Dow’s crash, he had five customers who had already made deposits, contact him to say they no longer could move forward with their pool installation plans. By December 2008, he had to tell his employees to stay home. There simply was no work to be done. As a small business owner with employees, a mortgage and a family, this was terrifying. He needed to pivot his sales and marketing strategies.
Despite the extreme stress of the situation, Marcus reflected on the state of business and how times had changed. There was a dramatic shift in how buyers became informed, shopped and interacted with businesses. He thought about his own consumer habits and realized he could turn to Google in order to find an expert in nearly anything. The amount of information, reviews, and tips available on the internet allowed buyers to virtually bypass many of the traditional sales and marketing processes. They no longer had to wait for a sales person to contact them and tell them what they needed to know. Buyers now had the power to inform themselves.
Marcus realized if River Pools and Spas was going to survive, he needed to get his arms around this whole “internet thing.” His story has a happy ending, resulting in his business thriving and Marcus writing a book about his experience and new sales philosophy, They Ask, You Answer.
The Idea of the 70%
A fundamental component to understanding the They Ask, You Answer philosophy, is understanding the shift in buyer behavior. In the last decade, buyers (both consumer and B2B) have experienced a monumental change in their buying patterns.
Big brands have shifted to accommodate today’s buyer; Zappos will ship shoes back at no cost to the consumer, Amazon provides 2-day, 1-day, or even same-day shipping, reviews and suggests like products, Netflix went from rental-by-mail to streaming and 1-800-FLOWERS officially changed to 1-800-FLOWERS.com. Consider your habits when you have a problem. Whether at home or work, where do you go to find the answer? You don’t pick up the Yellow Pages anymore. It’s more likely you type your question or topic into Google or YouTube.
Studies show that a majority of the buying decision occurs before a buyer even connects with a sales rep at your company. In fact, according to They Ask, You Answer, “…on average, 70 percent of the buying decision is made before a prospect talks to the company.” This is the moment of truth.
It’s important to take action in ensuring that you are a part of the buyer’s process prior to that zero moment of truth. Will the information and content you produce on your website get buyers to you? Will you create content that helps them along in their decision making process, building trust along the way?
How Marcus Turned the Internet and Changing Buyer Behavior into His Company’s Differentiator
As Marcus examined his pool company’s predicament, as well as the opportunities the internet could provide him, his research led him to believe that if he could just answer people’s questions, he could save his company.
He began by brainstorming every question every prospect and customer had ever asked. He then started writing honest and transparent answers and posting them on his company’s website. Over the course of a few months, this created trust, web traffic, and leads. Ultimately this approach led to new revenue. People were more educated when they reached out to him and his sales cycle was compressed. After six months, he paused to examine the data. He found that the topics that were responsible for the greatest amount of traffic, conversations, leads and revenue could be lumped into five categories. They would become “The Big Five” and a significant component of They Ask, You Answer.
How Shifting to a They Ask, You Answer Approach is Different than Standard SEO and Inbound Marketing
Many technology solution providers have invested more in marketing in the past few years than ever before. You may have a new website and even a blog. Over 75% of internet users say they read blogs regularly. (Quoracreative, 2019) Blogs are clearly a foundational element of an effective inbound strategy. But the They Ask, You Answer approach takes these efforts to a whole new level. It’s not just about getting blogs and content updated and ‘search engine optimized’ anymore. SEO remains important, but what’s more important is actually understanding the questions your prospects and customers care about and writing to truly answer those, establishing trust in the process.
So, what ARE the topics your prospects and customers care about most? Start by brainstorming all the questions you and your team get asked by prospects and customers. What are their top fears and concerns? This list of questions becomes the foundation of your content strategy. Then research “The Big Five” and compare to the questions on your list. Address and prioritize questions that match up to The Big Five first.
As part of a marketing team that has been adhering to this philosophy for some time now, I can tell you that as you begin down the path of They Ask, You Answer, you will struggle to write the answers to some of these questions. Writing about things like pricing, problems, and your competition are something businesses have traditionally avoided. Those are topics typically saved for in-person conversations. But, if buyers are 70% through the sales process by the time you even get the opportunity to speak with them, addressing their most pressing questions up front will:
- Help gain their trust.
- Allow you to become a part of their online research.
- Help ensure you are included in their consideration.
The Importance of Video in Your Sales & Marketing Approach
Just as the internet was a catalyst for change in buyer habits, allowing them to search and read up on any topic they had questions about, so too has it enabled an explosion in video. YouTube is now the second most popular search engine. That’s right, second only to Google. And according to HubSpot, it is also the #1 form of media used in content strategy, overtaking blogs, and infographics.
It used to be that a company having a video meant they had the “About Us” video posted on the Home Page or About Us section of their site. Today, using video is much different. From personalized video and bio videos, to videos that allow you to answer those common questions your customers and prospects ask, video should be an important component of your sales and marketing plan. It is a great medium for establishing trust and humanizing your brand. In today’s environment of social distancing, it may well be the most important component of your sales and marketing evolution yet.
Where Will You Take Your Sales and Marketing Approach in 2020?
There are parallels between today’s situation and the Great Recession. The COVID-19 pandemic has quickly wreaked havoc on our economy as business has slowed drastically for many due to social distancing requirements.
How will you react? Will you focus your marketing and sales efforts in a way that will build a long-term inbound strategy? Can you invest time answering the questions your prospects and customers have, much like Marcus Sheridan did back in the Great Recession of 2008? I challenge you to spend the next few weeks creating content that helps answer your customer’s questions honestly.
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Josie Heskje is Director, Strategic Marketing for the Office Equipment Group at GreatAmerica Financial Services. Using over 20 years of marketing experience, she helps guide the strategic marketing direction of the Office Equipment Group, and is responsible for the marketing and public relations planning and execution for the business unit. She is the current Marketing & Communications Chair of the Managed Print Services Association (MPSA) and was awarded a 2018 Global MPSA MPS Leadership Award for "Outstanding MPS Contribution" for an individual. She was also named an industry "Difference Maker" in ENX Magazine in both 2015 and 2017.