Marcus Sheridan has a simple formula for Internet marketing and small business success: answer your customers’ questions.
In 2001, Sheridan was invited by two friends to work for their business River Pools and Spas. He was working there when the financial crisis of 2008 hit – and River Pools and Spas was caught up in the financial turmoil.
With the business close to failing, Sheridan began exploring how he could turn around the company’s fortunes. While the business press was full of concepts like “content marketing” and “inbound marketing”, Sheridan realized that most pool companies didn’t even have websites.
He made the decision to develop the small business’s online presence. His earlier experiences working as a Mormon missionary in Chile as a two-year secondment between his college years, helped to shape his approach.
He later told Forbes magazine that leading a discussion with locals when a scheduled baptism was delayed was a pivotal moment for him: “That’s when I realized the greatest way to teach is to ask the right questions because I can’t get people to own anything unless they own it for themselves. If I asked the right questions, not in a manipulative way, but truly asked the right questions that lead to self-discovery, well, they just might own that thing.”
Bringing this approach to the small pool business meant “obsessing” about its customers questions about purchasing and owning a pool and striving to answer them as honestly and fully as possible. Each question would be answered as a blog post on the company’s website.
The strategy worked – and began the turnaround of the SME to a profitable and successful business.
This experience led Sheridan to espouse the philosophy and share his successes online, eventually encapsulating the story and approach in his book “They Ask, You Answer”. In 2017, Forbes rated this book as one of the “11 Marketing Books Every CMO Should Read”.
One of the reasons his approach has resonated, besides its success, is its replicability. All SMEs could deploy the content marketing strategy that helped to save River Pools from bankruptcy.
Sheridan and his partner were not writers and could not afford to employ a content writer, so they tool on the task of answering their questions and uploading these answers onto the company blog themselves.
Sheridan maintains that even now – when Internet real estate comes at a far higher premium, any SME can succeed by focusing on producing blog content which specifically answers their customers’ questions and deploying a content marketing approach.