Marcus Sheridan is a highly sought-after international keynote speaker and the best-selling author of They Ask, You Answer. He was dubbed a “Web Marketing Guru” by the New York Times and listed in Forbes’ top 20 “Speakers You Don’t Want to Miss.”

Marcus shared some fascinating and insightful business advice on my Now to Next podcast, where he joined me to discuss his book. We dive into the blurred lines between sales and marketing in businesses today, the five fundamental subjects people research before they engage with a company, and how content consumption affects sales.

The Power of One Well-Applied Idea

Marcus was newly graduated from college and married with a baby when two friends invited him to join them in their in-ground fiberglass pool company. They wanted him to run the store while they were out in the field installing pools. Initially, he joined until he could figure out what he wanted to do with his life, but they made him the third partner in their growing business within six months.

About the time the market crashed in the 2000s, Marcus had discovered the internet as a marketing tool and was learning everything he could about it. He adopted a content strategy dedicated to answering all the questions pool customers could have. That strategy, which saved his business from being a victim of the recession, led to the creation of “Wikipedia for Pools,” with almost a million website visitors a month.

Obsess Over Customer’s Questions

People are afraid of contingencies and “what ifs.” Gone are the days when consumers believed a marketing pitch without digging for additional information. The success of Marcus’ marketing efforts came from his willingness to obsess over customers’ questions.

There are five things consumers review in today’s marketplace before engaging a company:

  •     Cost
  •     Problems
  •     Comparisons
  •     Product reviews
  •     The best in category

In addition to seeing the cost, potential problems, and comparisons to similar products, shoppers like to read reviews from other buyers. They may search “reviews of X” to find feedback from current product users.

Shoppers also like to know which product is considered the best in a category. They may not choose to buy that product, but they want to know how their ultimate choice lines up with the competition.

By addressing these areas thoroughly, you become the go-to resource in your area or industry.

The subject of “cost” could include blogs covering:

  •     What drives costs up
  •     What keeps costs down
  •     Why some companies are expensive
  •     Why some companies are so cheap

People don’t always choose the least expensive or best-rated item, but they like to know where each choice falls.

Blurring the Lines Between Marketing and Sales

In today’s world of savvy-shoppers, 70 to 80 percent of a buying decision is made before a shopper talks with a salesperson or even walks into the store. 

Marketing and sales used to function in tandem but also independently. Marketing brought customers in, and sales educated them, overcame objections, and closed the deal. That is not the order things are happening anymore.

When buyers are vetting your company and comparing products or services online, the marketing department created what the buyers read. However, that content is now responsible for 70 to 80 percent of the sales process.

Gartner’s Future of Sales research shows that 33 percent of all buyers desire a seller-free sales experience. That preference climbs to 44 percent for millennials.

A seller-free sales experience means being willing to give the customer more and sell to them differently. You enable them to make buying decisions without forcing them to call you. You create a memorable and personal human touch through your website and video strategy.

If you show up with written and video content regularly and consistently, and that features your personality, they get to know you even though you’ve never met. It’s a seller-free sales experience that includes a developing customer relationship with your business.

Exponential Benefits Can Come from Answering Tough Questions

Back when Marcus was still actively selling pools, he was asked a tough question one day on a sales call. The customer wanted to know, “If you weren’t in business, who would you recommend for pools in the area?”

On the long drive back to the office, he thought about it. Marcus was dedicated to answering his customer’s questions, so he created a blog where he reviewed the other five best pool builders in Richmond, Virginia — and he did not put his company on the list.

Instead, Marcus wrote from a position of authority on the subject. He shared the five companies they competed with most often. He let customers know these were competitors with a solid history that he knew well.

Several things happened as a result of the post. Marcus built trust with customers and readers by presenting an unbiased and honest appraisal of the competition.

As his page started ranking for SEO, pool shoppers would type in one of the competitors he reviewed, and his page would appear. It became a game-changer. That single article pulled in over $1,000,000 in revenue for the company. The company still gets leads from people who are searching for reviews on its competitors.

If customers are going to learn about your competitors, they might as well learn about them on your website, where you control the conversation.

Integrate the Sales Process

In 2013, Marcus got curious about the difference between leads from his company’s website, specifically who did or did not buy after getting a quote.

The industry average closing rate is 25 percent. Marcus realized that when a prospect had consumed 30 pieces of content, be it text or video, that close rate jumped to 80 percent.

The team started giving their prospects assignments before the sales meeting. Before they would go out to the house, they required the customers to read and watch organized content. What happened was they met with better prospects, and their closing rate skyrocketed.

To integrate the sales process into marketing, salespeople need to share the questions they repeatedly hear and the best ways to answer them. Now, it gets exciting because instead of sales and marketing, you have an integrated revenue team.

A value-conscious content strategy helps consumers make informed decisions. When you provide real value, you earn the right to ask customers to do things your peers cannot ask them to do, like read or watch a few short clips before you meet.

What happens is they move along in the sales funnel because they’re learning about your service or product, and it’s all coming from you. You have become the authority, and the customer has become more invested in you. They have sunk costs in terms of time and attention into the relationship.

Every Company is a Media Company

I often say your brand is your story, and it’s media that allows you to share your story. Video is an increasingly important medium for your brand.

Eighty-five percent of internet users watch videos. Marcus has multiple organizations, but in his mind, he’s got a media company that happens to:

  •     Manufacture and sell pools
  •     Provide digital sales and marketing
  •     Provide public speaking

The media company comes first because that’s what drives success. Marcus has at least a full-time videographer for each of his companies. One of the three employees in his public speaking company makes videos full time. Many companies feel like making a video is this impossible feat that you have to hire an agency to do for you. You may want to outsource some of it, but the future of content production online includes a big chunk of video. 

Marcus’ data says that when a company produces a hundred educational videos a year or more, it experiences hockey stick-like growth.  An in-house videographer can train your people to be better on video and work and practice with them to put everyone in the best light. 

Don’t worry about the length of your videos. Generally, social media is for short content, and YouTube can host longer content. Provide value and engage your audience.

“Content can never be too long, just too boring.” – Dan Kennedy

They Ask, You Answer

The real secret to success is to answer any question you can imagine your customer asking. Listen to the buyers and the marketplace. Stop wasting your time repeating the same responses over and over and use your content to create a win-win sales experience.

The name of the game is to OWN the conversation.

Our interview just scratched the surface of this fantastic resource. I recommend you buy the book They Ask, You Answer, and you can follow Marcus on LinkedIn. Or, to catch the full interview I had with Marcus Sheridan on “Now to Next” you can watch it on YouTube or listen in on your favorite podcast platform. And of course, you can always reach out to me directly with any questions you might have!