This review first ran in the July 21 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.
Marcus Sheridan was on the brink of financial ruin.
The bank was calling. His credit cards were maxed out. His employees were sitting at home wondering if they still had a job.
Sheridan’s company installed fiberglass swimming pools. Finding homeowners willing and able to spend $50,000 on a pool was a tough sell in the aftermath of 2008’s global financial crisis.
Sheridan needed a miracle. “Unless we found a way to garner more leads and sales than we’d ever had, even though there were fewer potential buyers (because of this economy) than ever before, we were going to go out of business within a matter of months.”
The miracle arrived when Sheridan made his company a teacher of fiberglass swimming pools. Sheridan became obsessed with answering questions with fierce honesty. While competitors talked about themselves, Sheridan focused on addressing what prospective buyers were wondering, worrying and asking about.
They ask, we answer became Sheridan’s business philosophy and it saved his company.
He started publishing articles and posting videos every week to his company’s website.
“How much does a fiberglass pool cost?” was one of the first articles to go up on the website. Pricing and cost were not something that pool builders posted on their websites. “The fact that no one had addressed this question meant a blue ocean of opportunity for the business,” says Sheridan. “The marketplace was dying for someone to be open and honest enough to address this question and so that’s exactly what we did.”
Sheridan also posted articles where he acknowledged that fiberglass swimming pools weren’t for every customer and even made referrals to other local installers.
Sheridan tracked what prospective customers did after reading and watching the content he posted online. The more content they consumed, the more likely they were to become customers.
His article on the cost of fiberglass pools would generate $3 million in new sales.
“Without exaggeration, this single article saved my business. It saved my home. It saved the homes of my two business partners. It also saved the jobs of all our employees.”
In 2007, Sheridan’s company sold 75 pools after meeting with 250 prospective customers for a closing ratio of 30 per cent.
By 2013 and with a website full of content, that closing ratio jumped to 79 per cent as appointments with 120 homeowners resulted in 95 sales. Sheridan’s team met with far fewer prospects yet sold more pools.
On average, the 95 customers who bought pools had reviewed 105 pages of content posted to the company website. They were well-informed and ready to buy when they met with Sheridan and his team.
Sheridan also discovered that the overwhelming majority of prospects who looked at less than 30 pages of content prior to an appointment never made a purchase. Care and attention could then be redirected to providing even better service to customers.
Whatever product or service you sell and whether you’re in the private, public or non-profit sectors, Sheridan says you are first and foremost a media company. To earn our trust and our money, you first need to show us your story, your company culture in action and the people who work for you. Customers are vetting businesses more deeply than ever before and we want to know what you believe and why you believe it.
Get everyone involved in drawing up a list of all the questions and concerns that you’ve heard from customers. Sheridan recommends hiring someone with journalism training who knows how to create clear and compelling content and work to deadline.
“As consumers, we expect to be fed great information,” says Sheridan. “Are you willing to meet their expectations? Or would you prefer that the competition be the one who answers the question for them? Remember, they’re going to get their answers from someone, so wouldn’t you prefer they get their answers from you?”
Sheridan is now the founder and president of a coaching and consulting firm that helps other companies create customer-focused content that drives sales.
His book gives you permission to do what you’ve always known your business should be doing to win customers. Quit talking about yourself. Instead, be the best teacher within your industry. Obsess over your customers’ questions and concerns. And win their trust and their business by answering with fierce honesty.
@jayrobb serves as director of communications for Mohawk College, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.