Introduction to “They Ask, You Answer” by Marcus Sheridan. Polish edition

Marcus Sheridan is an unquestionable, global personality in the area of content marketing. He is one of those unique people with charisma and an ability to attract and engage audiences. Both as a speaker and as an author. Forbes named him one of 20 “speakers you don’t want to miss” in 2017.

Marcus Sheridan is an unquestionable, global personality in the area of content marketing. He is one of those unique people with charisma and an ability to attract and engage audiences. Both as a speaker and as an author. Forbes named him one of 20 “speakers you don’t want to miss” in 2017.

The author starts his book with a story of his own failure. For the Polish reader it is always rather new and surprising. The Polish entrepreneur has been conditioned to worship the god of success. What’s more, the god is still present in business books transplanted from the American market. Yet, Marcus is not afraid to write about it. He reminisces how one late night in January 2009 he wept in his car after having realized that he was bankrupt. He’s remembered that dark and difficult period, for who wouldn’t. Yet, his story and many others like this remind me of one famous thing which Sylvester Stallone said as Rocky: “You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t how hard you hit; it’s about how hard you can get hit, and keep moving forward.” And that’s what Marcus Sheridan teaches the readers in his book.

For business people operating in the times of a pandemic humanistic values gain tremendous importance. What defines Marketing 5.0 and Brand 5.0 is a combination of an Engineer and a Humanist. Someone like Leonardo da Vinci. Today’s customers live in the world offering access to a flood of information which they would like to analyse before taking a buying decision. But due to its volume, variety, credibility, it’s not always possible. What’s more, our behaviours are often governed by System 1, as defined by the Noble Prize laureate Daniel Kahneman. And thus, Marcus refers to the rule of authority – you need to become an authority for your customers and answer every question they might ask. Even if the answer is “it depends”. In my opinion, this answer is the commonest in the business sector, especially when referring to price. Obviously, just after the question about a discount (Polish: rabat). Rabat – as commonly known – is the capital of Morocco.

Marcus Sheridan touches the essence of inbound marketing – becoming a teacher, a guide, a lighthouse for your customers. Owing to this approach marketing can create and deliver value which can be ethically monetized. This makes everyone happy: shareholders, customers, employees and suppliers. The core of Marcus’s thought is providing answers to customers’ questions and concerns. It is not an easy task, especially in Poland. As commonly known, where there are three Poles, there are four opinions. In our culture there is an old adage that goes more or less like this: “There’s yet to be born someone who can please everyone.” While Polish customers are among the most demanding ones, they’ve also been accustomed to looking for bargains or discounts. It’s serious a challenge for any brand in terms of defining or proving the offered value.

Marcus Sheridan’s book focuses on some fundamental, yet often overlooked features. Like me, the author sees marketing as a market game the outcome of which are the financial results. Marketers are not macro- or microeconomists – they are essentially ‘market economists’ as Philip Kotler likes to define them. A market economist can create a market and manage it in a way that generates profits. There is no one, predetermined way. A marketer today is like a conductor who simultaneously conducts two orchestras: the digital one and the analogue one.

The first book written by Marcus became a huge success which led to the development and growth of sales teams in many industries. This edition contains a number of tools used in content marketing which in 2021 has been announced king among the global marketing trends. The book also offers an in-depth insight of the digital marketing in terms of technologies and buyers’ behaviours. I, on the other hand, would like to stress and remind the Polish reader of the need to verify the specifics of our domestic market.

The author keeps emphasising that there’s a teacher in everyone. It’s hard to disagree with him in this respect. The beauty of teaching and growth lies in the fact that there are virtually no boundaries. Entrepreneurs first listen to stories of successes and failures, then learn the theory, after that they analyse case studies and finally learn through decision games. None of these lessons entail the risk of bankruptcy. It is more like learning to sail. However, there comes a time when one must set off on a voyage on dark, choppy waters and try not to sink. Some choose the red oceans, while others prefer the blue ones.

Marcus wrote this book with a vision of teaching and helping leaders and teams in the realm of marketing and sales. He wants to help them understand the world around them, how to deal with the reality and why certain processes take place. In the first part of his book you’ll see how asking and answering questions relates to the area of digital marketing. In the second part Marcus focuses on typical questions asked by customers, on the way they ask them, what they’re trying to convey and how your answers influence sales. The author promotes ethical sales and you’ll barely find any persuasion techniques here. The third part is a description of his methodology which allows for implementation of his ideas based on “Who? What? Where? Why? When? How?” in a business. The fourth part is about creating video content which is considered one of the most important sales tools. The fifth part contains solutions useful for designing websites according the They Ask, You Answer formula. The final, sixth, part focuses on answering questions which Marcus is asked in relation to his approach to running a business.

Marcus Sheridan believes that the world has changed and people buy differently, they no longer behave like they used to. All he had to do was simply to ask the right questions. However, knowledge coming from the internet is often risky. The key is the ability to use credible information. To paraphrase a well-known anecdote, when you ask Doctor Google what your light headache might mean, ultimately the answer will always be: brain cancer.

I really liked the story about pools. The author had to read, learn and dive deep into the sources in order to look like a fool in front of his customers. When a customer is more knowledgeable than a salesperson, it can be a problem. It’s not so bad when he just happens to be a brand evangelist and knows all your catalogues by heart. It’s worse when he relies on fake news and stereotypes relating to our brand. How can we explain him that he’s wrong? Diplomacy is the second skin of any salesperson.

The boundaries between sales and marketing have almost been blurred. It’s difficult to question that even if it’s more relevant to small and medium-sized businesses. It’s also important to take into consideration the organisational aspects, namely brand management, where the team is led by a brand manager. According to Marcus 70% of buying decisions in B2B today are made even before the first meeting with the salesperson. This trend also exists in B2C: according to research carried out by POPAI The Global Association for Marketing-at-Retail over 70% of buying decisions are made at the point of sale. Thus, the author asks which area has more influence on your actual sales. Sales or marketing? And answers; yes, it’s marketing.

Yet, when a company’s in financial trouble, which budgets are cut first? Which people are laid off first? Yes, the marketers. And when a business wants to grow in a crisis, what does it do? It sets higher sales targets, freezes commissions and…hires new salespeople. Why is it so? Well, business has been operating like this for a century. Sales have been seen as a revenue driver, and marketing as a cost. But it’s changed. Brands can’t act as they have until recently. They’ll fall behind those which are better at playing the market game.

Marcus emphasises the role of trust – the currency of the 21st century. Everyone who buys anything must trust the product or the brand. Otherwise they are just not willing to spend their money. Even the cheapest products evoke trust. When we buy a disposable camera for taking underwater pictures at a hotel shop and its’ capacity is 20 pictures it should not break down after taking just five. Just because it was the cheapest one. We paid for a promise of a certain value. Trust is a business in which all of us are present and it’s not going to change.

Where to start then? Marcus recommends brainstorming – remember every question that you were asked by your customers. Focus on their anxieties, desires, fears and concerns. “They Ask, You Answer” is first and foremost a business philosophy. It’s an approach to communication strategy based on openness, arguments and transparency. Yes, it’s a risky strategy. All sorts of con artists are among the first to offer guarantees and make promises. Why would people believe your brand? “I can’t promise I’ll help you, but I’ll do my best to help you” – as one psychic promised in his late night show. Nobody can give a 100% guarantee for anything. As the saying goes if you want to make fate laugh, tell it of your plans.

Don’t be an ostrich in business. Don’t bury your head in the sand and don’t run away from problems. They won’t go away. Marcus calls it an “ostrich marketing”. I’d also add “playing hot potato” which means refusing to deal with a problem and ‘delegating’ it to other people in the company. We could also mention „playing possum” or just plain „playing silly buggers” which means pretending that everything is all right and the customer’s in the wrong. There was a story about a miserable owner of a brand new convertible. The car importer for a few month tried to prove that the leaking roof is completely normal in this car and the customer just has to get used to it.

Today trust or value must be shown. Just saying “we have great customer care” means nothing. E-commerce is full of seller verification systems, buyers’ reviews, stars and recommendations. In other words, the buyer won’t even ask you – he’ll just go to a website or enter a phrase [company reviews] into a search engine. Sadly, we run the risk of astroturfing also here.

Marcus Sheridan’s book is mostly about trust in business. If a customer doesn’t trust the brand, he mostly buys because…he has no other option. However, trust towards an insurance company is not a result of a low price, but the effectiveness of paying damages. Trust towards a used car salesman is a result of the first days of driving the newly acquired car. Therefore, CarMax has a money back guarantee up to 5 days after purchase.

Can we run a quick trust test? Yes, it’s very simple. Do you trust your dentist? If you always look forward to meeting him talk to him about the method he uses to reduce fear in his patients.

It’s worth reading Marcus. Enjoy the read!

Jacek Kotarbiński

Economist, marketer, engineer, marketing expert, MBA

They Ask, You Answer: A Revolutionary Approach to Inbound Sales, Content Marketing, and Today’s Digital Consumer

MT Biznes

Publisher of the Polish edition

The revolutionary guide that challenged businesses around the world to stop selling to their buyers and start answering their questions to get results; revised and updated to address new technology, trends, the continuous evolution of the digital consumer, and much more.

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