When I was first developing the strategy that would become They Ask, You Answer, my pool company was in dire straits. With the widening financial crises driving our business to the brink of ruin in 2008, I started putting inbound marketing principles into practice by answering customer questions directly on our website.
I did this each night sitting at our kitchen table. I gave up TV and I slept less.
As they say, desperate times call for desperate measures.
What I learned from this experience is that They Ask, You Answer can be undertaken by an army of one, and it can be done on a minimal budget, but it requires an investment of time.
If you’re a solopreneur who can commit to regularly publishing content that answers your customers’ questions, then you can certainly get started without much of a formal budget — just expect a lot of late nights.
If you’re a growing company looking to lay the foundation of a They Ask, You Answer culture, you’re in a great position to get started, but you’ll need to commit the necessary resources to make it happen.
They Ask, You Answer on a budget
First off, any discussion of budget needs to be accompanied by a discussion of priorities. I talk to companies who say they cannot afford to hire a content manager, but they are bringing on a few new sales reps at the same time, or they’re paying a fortune for pay-per-click ads.
Budgets are always about priorities. Like anything else, They Ask, You Answer requires an investment of resources. Otherwise, it will not be successful.
For They Ask, You Answer to work, we suggest hiring a content manager and a videographer to produce the content you need to drive traffic and answer customer questions. While this can seem like a sizable upfront investment, we’ve seen it pay handsome dividends time and again.
Many times we’ve helped a company get started with They Ask, You Answer who have zero people in their marketing department. Two or three years later, their marketing department is five or six, and their annual revenue has tripled.
A content manager will document and organize the questions sales reps get asked, and write the content that answers them, with the help of subject matter experts. In turn, this content can be used directly in the sales cycle to help educate buyers and make sales conversations more effective.
Additionally, your content manager will focus on publishing optimized content at a strategic cadence to boost your traffic and establish site authority — two distinctive features of They Ask, You Answer.
A videographer will do the same thing with video. As consumers become increasingly accustomed to seeing video content on websites and in search engines, it’s important for your company to produce content for the way people expect to consume it.
If you are legitimately too small to hire a content manager, find someone on your team to oversee content production — but you’ll need to remove other responsibilities from them in that case. If content is “one more thing” on their plate, it never gets done.
Simply put, content needs to be a top priority. They Ask, You Answer hinges on the content you produce.
Unfortunately, handing content responsibilities to an internal employee can sometimes lead to the production of fluffy, self-serving content. Be sure you’re clear on strategy. Your content must be informed by the They Ask, You Answer principles that are the product of data and research.
Another option is to take on content production yourself as a business leader, much as I did in 2008. If that’s the boat you’re in, put time in your schedule to make sure you’re turning out the right content at a regular pace.
Again, in order for They Ask, You Answer to work, content needs to be a top priority.
How do you answer customer questions if you haven’t had any customers yet?
The central tenet of They Ask, You Answer is, of course, answering customer questions.
If you’re a start-up or a solopreneur just getting off the ground, how can you know what your future customers will ask before they ask it?
It’s not as hard as you think.
Start with the Big 5
After writing content and doing research for years, I developed what I call “the Big 5”. These are the five most important topics you need to cover because they directly align with what people want to know when they’re getting ready to make a purchase. You should make sure to write about these:
Cost: Everyone wants to know what they should expect to spend
“Best of” lists: What are the best (or worst) options out there for customers?
Problems: Shoppers want to know they’re buying something that’s reliable
Comparisons: What differentiates one product from another?
What are they asking about your competitors?
Even if your product or service hasn’t launched yet, it’s likely that other companies are already operating in the same industry. What are their customers asking? What pain points are (or are not) being solved? What are the limitations of the solutions being offered?
Looking at online reviews for your competitors will give you a good idea how to get started.
Use research tools
Google is not just a research tool for searchers, but for businesses as well. Start typing keywords related to your business. What questions are coming up?
Search for the types of questions you think your customers would ask, and look at the results. Are the results in line with what you plan to produce? Are the results from your competitors? You should plan to produce content that is superior to what you see.
Are there questions that are not answered fully? Are there concerns that go unaddressed? Think about the intent behind each search query. What is that searcher really asking for? Use data and insight to plan a path forward.
Tools like Answer The Public can also help you learn more about what searches are happening now.
Starting with the Big 5 and using the trove of free tools at your disposal should certainly give you plenty to start writing about, even if you haven’t had a single customer yet.
Scaling up They Ask, You Answer
I have a small business to support my speaking career. We have only three employees, but one of them is a full-time videographer.
For any business out there, regardless of size, producing content is essential. If you are a small start-up who wants to be successful with They Ask, You Answer, get that content manager on staff as soon as possible.
If that person has a hunger to learn marketing and an impressive set of writing skills, they could become your CMO as your business grows.
If you’re doing over $1 million in revenue, there’s no reason not to have a content manager on your team. It’s a small investment that will pay a hefty reward.
If you’re doing over $5 million in revenue, you should have a videographer on staff as well.
If you’re reading this and saying there’s no way you can find the budget to hire for your marketing team, take a closer look at your budget. If you are absolutely unable to budget the money, you should be able to reserve time for you or another employee to get aligned and make content a priority.
If you can’t do this now, then now is not the time to get started with They Ask, You Answer.
They Ask, You Answer is inherently about reimagining your company’s priorities to focus on answering customer questions with thoroughness and honesty. In order to fully get on board, you’ll need to take a close look at those priorities.
They Ask, You Answer started at a kitchen table, but it blossomed into a movement because I, and countless others after me, truly obsessed over our customers’ questions and gave them the time they deserved. You can find the same success if you’re willing to devote your efforts to produce the right content that will drive traffic and sales.
Your customers are asking questions. You can be the one who answers them.