Becoming a Pathfinder with Marcus Sheridan

Transformational Marketing with Marcus Sheridan

Episode 12, Tales of Misadventure with Nicole Donnelly Podcast

Prepare for an enlightening episode featuring the renowned Marcus Sheridan, a trailblazer in content marketing and the brilliant mind behind "They Ask, You Answer." We're delighted to host Marcus, and this episode promises a wealth of valuable insights on the power of transformative communication, sparking those "aha" moments, navigating the pricing discussion in client meetings, and gaining Marcus' unique perspective on AI.

Marcus Sheridan, a successful entrepreneur, influential speaker, and bestselling author, gained prominence for revitalizing his business, River Pools and Spas, through an innovative Inbound Marketing strategy. His transformative approach, outlined in his book "They Ask, You Answer," has empowered businesses globally to embrace content marketing, fostering customer-centric growth and revenue.


  • 5:28 Discovering the power of public speaking 
  • 7:15 Success vs. fulfillment
  • 10:27 Are you asking the right questions? Marcus’ next big project.
  • 23:10 Reflecting on profound questions and crafting a framework
  • 26:29 To list or not to list pricing on your website and learning to “vanguard”
  • 37:18 How do you know you’re asking the right questions?
  • 40:44 Vanguarding examples
  • 49:24 Should marketers utilize AI and missing the TikTok train
  • 1:03:43 Lightning Round


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Today, I have the incredible honor and privilege of hosting Marcus Sheridan. Marcus is a highly accomplished husband, father, entrepreneur, influential speaker and bestselling author. Oh my gosh, look at all this. In, in the realm of sales and digital marketing, Marcus gained widespread recognition for his remarkable journey as a business owner of River Pools and Spas, where he defied the odds and turned his struggling business around using a simple, yet powerful, methodology he developed based on inbound marketing.

With his groundbreaking book, They Ask, You Answer, Marcus has inspired numerous businesses to harness the power of content marketing and embrace a customer first approach. They Ask, You Answer strategies have been shown time and time again to drive revenue growth for companies around the world. My goodness.

Marcus Sheridan, my fellow Virginian, my fellow marketer, my fellow Christian. This is such an incredible honor. I am so happy to have you here. How are you doing today? I am thrilled to be here as well, Nicole. So I, I mean, you clearly have a low bar of excitement and so I'm, I'm, I'm really, really happy to talk.

You've got such a good vibe and such a good energy about you that it's an honor to be here on your show with you.

Thank you. Well, before I kick off the show, I just have to thank you because I'll never forget the first time I heard you speak, it was years ago. And I think it was at Inbound and, and I was a marketing manager at the time for an industrial manufacturing company.

And I remember coming to you to your, your session and the session was just, there was so many, I'd never heard of you before. There was just, it was full house. And I'll never forget the words you said on stage. You with that, you're just such a great speaker. You said transparency builds trust. And I remember it just resonated so much with me.

And I took a lot of the principles I heard from that talk and from your book to the company that I was working for. And it was just amazing. Amazing the, the transformation that business had. We saw fourfold increase in profit.

Wow. And I was so inspired by the results that we got that inspired me to start my own agency.

And man, if you would've told me five years ago, I would be sitting having this conversation with you, I think I might've pooped my pants. I don't think I would've believed that it would happen. So this is like, I can't, I just, you know, so grateful. Like I have a part of this amazing team now who is just so committed to helping our clients be successful and just so grateful for you and what you've done and for you using your God-given talents.

It's just really just been such a blessing to me personally and professionally, and I. So thank you. Thank you so much.

Well, I appreciate that. You know, there's something about, there's something about Inbound. It's funny how many people have said to me, I saw you at Inbound, and it changed my, like, path.

My, you know, my, my journey, my career and some of those people work for me today. You know, I mean, if, you know, and, and it's just been like this really, I think there's, I think because, you know, HubSpot and not as much anymore, but they, they've always had an electricity to their events. And I, I feel like that's the place where marketers especially go and they just let loose and they just say, you know what?

I'm gonna feel the feels. And so for me as a speaker, I get to just send it fully and, you know, not have, not have to like hedge at all. Right. And the audience and those moments, at that event, I always know they want me to win. Right? They're looking for me to have like provide them with a great experience.

They're not looking to, to doubt or to naysay and, you know, that makes a huge difference. It really does. You can give the, what's the crazy thing about, you know, speaking for the last 12 years around the world is you can literally give the exact same talk to, you know, 10 different groups and have 10 very, very different responses.

It's just very fascinating how that works. Right. And it's so much as about the energy of the room before you get there and the culture of the group before you get there and you know, and then there's all these just nuances and, wow. Anyway, I digress, but I'm happy to be here.

I'm so happy to have you. This is, man, that is so cool. You're such a great speaker. But I could see that like, you, you really do, I would imagine, I, I have very little experience. My, my experience with public speaking is this, and then church talks, right? Yeah. So like, I can only imagine how

Well, I, I actually had a huge fear of, of speaking when I was younger and when when I was 17, that's really when I got involved in my church, I wasn't, I I, I actually, like, I, I grew up in a, you know, a different church and when I was 17 I, I became LDS and what was interesting is in, in the LDS church, there's, there's not, set clergy. And so the members, right, they give, they give talks.

And one time I was sitting there, this is shortly after I joined the church, and I was like, I was, it was the day it was called Testimony where all the members can get up and they just share their thoughts, you know, about, about life and God and stuff like that. And I remember sitting there thinking, I wanna get up and say something.

I was like, no, you can't do that, Marcus, you're afraid. You're afraid of public speaking. This is not who you are. And then like, before I knew it, I was like literally walking up to the front of, of the audience and I, and I spoke.

Wow. And, and, and it was in that moment, Like when I was done, I was like, wow, that, that really, that wasn't so bad.

And then I was a missionary in Chile for a couple years, and by the time I was done with that, like by the end I'm like, I'm supposed to speak. This is what I'm supposed to do with my life. And but I needed a story, right? I didn't know I needed a story, but that's really how it works. And so I became a pool guy by accident, right?

And and then, you know, today, you know, people around the world will come up to me and say, you're like, you're that pool guy, right? Which is pretty cool because I remember, Nicole, that when I was when I had just joined my, my two business partners at River Pools, which was 2001, right out of college.

I was at some event or whatever, and a family family member came up to me and said, Hey Marcus, I heard you're gonna be a pool guy. And I said, yeah. And they said, what a waste. And I thought to myself, you like, you have no idea what's what. And, and it was just like, I was so bothered by that. Right.

Yeah. And because their definition of, of success was so worldly and just clearly you know, off, off, you know, I, I've realized, and sorry to digress, Nicole.

No, it's great.

You know, that's just kind of. I've realized. That there's such a big difference between success and fulfillment. Right. You know, success is, is generally defined by the world and others.

They say, oh, he's successful. They don't really know she's so successful. You don't know if they're really happy, fulfilled. Yeah.

Like living their best life. But fulfillment is something that very internal. It's not externally driven. It's like, it's what we are able to, you know, receive. And, and the, the, the profession itself, I believe, or the industry is very, very overrated to our happiness, right?

I didn't grow up saying I wanna be a pool guy. I ended up becoming one. But ultimately what I am is, is a person that loves to, you know, to, to teach and to grow things. And I was able to do that with my swing pool company and I've been able to do that with other companies since that time. And I think we have to have that.

It's important to understand and, and, and teach, especially our youth that. It don't focus so much on, Hey, I'm gonna be a doctor. I wanna be a, you know, a scientist, or I'm gonna be a this or that. It's like really learning how to be in love with your, your, the, you know, the action that you take each day.

And, and going beyond the title of the job or the title of the industry and, you know, saying, really, what am I doing here? Right. And so, you know, that was, that was something I'll never, you know, I'll never forget.

I love that. It reminds me of my favorite word right now, which is eudemonia. Have you heard this word? Eudemonia? No, that's a Google right there.

Oh, it's a beautiful word. So it's, it's, it's it, it basically means it's, it's ancient comes from Greek times and Aristotle and Plato and Socrates used to, they would wax poetic about what is eudemonia, right. And translated, it's, it's a state of wellbeing and fulfillment that arises from living a virtuous and meaningful life.

Oh wow.

And I think everything you just said, I think. That sums it up. Exactly that, you know, like it's not about the destination, it's about enjoying the process of being, but that process of being is about more than seeking pleasure. It's about, you know, really striving to live that virtuous life. And I think that's one of the things I've really admired about you.

I see that like you are, you are like truly looking to serve in the best capacity that you can and, and do that. So that's pretty cool. Eudemonia.

Yeah, well I do. Yeah. I love that. And you know, you know, speaking of, you know, we, I think we all serve and give back and in different ways. And I've got a book coming out next year and it's on very different topic than They Ask, You Answer actually, which is on how to have transformative conversations and ask life-changing questions specifically in the workplace. And something I'm really passionate about. Passionate about, you know, communication and, and teaching all things, you know, communication. I have a coaching company. My, my agency's really is a coaching company.

And you know, I'm always working with all of our coaches to be the best communicators they can be, because really, I, I want them to, you know, to change lives with the words. And if we say things the right way, we can do that. I mean, we really can. It's, it's, it's sad that we don't work on that as much as we could, you know?

It just, you know, take for example, most sales teams if you ask them, are you good at asking questions? They say, yeah, I'm pretty good at asking questions. And then if you test them on their ability to ask questions, they fall very, very short most of the time. Right? If you talk to most managers and you say to them, have you ever had really intensive training on how to give a world class one-on-one with a team member?

Over 90% will say, actually, I've never had really any training specific on that. Think about it. And it all goes back to the way, the way we say things, the way we communicate, the way we ask questions. And can we learn to ask the perfect question every single time to have a breakthrough with that person in that moment?

I think we can. And I think, I think there's, you know, patterns that, that can be followed and we can all become truly great with that. So yeah, I'm, I'm in, I'm on that journey right now. It's actually going to be a business fable book, kinda like Five Dysfunctions of a Team.

Yes, I was just going to say Pat Lencioni. Yeah. That's a great book. Love it.

Yeah. Yeah. So I'm pretty, I'm pretty excited about that. Nicole, we're gonna say it's a big challenge to write a hybrid fictional nonfiction book.

Yeah. Well, you can do it because you're quite the storyteller. I mean, and They Ask, You Answer. They Ask, You Answer, you're so great at just really hooking people right away. So I have no, I I'm sure it's going to be great. Do you have the title of it yet?

Yeah. Well, it's, well, I have the, the, the, the two premises. Okay. Yeah.

So the title is, it's probably gonna be called The Pathfinder. Very nice.

Now, what is a pathfinder. A pathfinder, originally, historically, were the individuals that went ahead of the major explorations. So as to find alternative routes that these explorers could use so as to find new frontiers, right? And so when, if, if you're a pathfinder or, or pathfinder leadership, if you're, if you're trying to become a pathfinder, as a leader, as a manager, as a parent, you understand that it's not your job to, in most cases, let's say, give the answer or tell your team, or tell your child or tell your loved one what to do.

Rather, it's our job to help them discover the answer for themselves but to do that, you've got to fire up new pathways in terms of the way they think. And then they can see it, they can find it, they can discover it, and, and it becomes very, very exciting. And it becomes quite life-changing. Can I give you an example of a story that's,

Yeah, please.

That's, that's, that really crystallizes this, and this is the, this actually the, the beginning of the book. But I think you'll appreciate this and this will, this will test your skills. Okay, Nicole, so we're going to put you on a test right now.

Oh, know. And if, and if you're listening to this audience, if you're listening to this, you can also you can, I want you to approach this, like, what would I have done? So I want you to imagine this.

I, I've just given a talk, a keynote at an event in Texas. And I've been speaking about marketing and whatnot and I was, I was near the stage. I was packing up because I had to hurry up and get to a flight because I was running behind and I almost had, had no time. So I really had to go and I had an Uber waiting for me outside.

So I was getting ready to run to this Uber, and I see this gentleman walking up to me and he has a look of concern on his face, and I can, I can tell that he's afraid, he's scared. And he comes up to me and he says, Marcus, can I ask you a question? And I could tell he was very earnest in his intentions right now.

This is something he'd been thinking about. And I said, sure. Now what I'm about to say may sound at first almost like I'm being funny, but this is actually a very serious thing that he said. So it's not meant to, to be funny when you hear it said.

Is this a true story? This is a true story. Hundred percent, this is a true story. Okay.

So he says to me he says, Marcus, I'm not really sure how to say this, but my wife, she bites her nails incessantly and it's driving me crazy. I don't want it to drive me crazy. We've talked about it. She knows that it bothers me, but it's just getting worse. I'm at wit's end. I don't know what to do.

What should I do? Okay, so this is what he says to me, and he's, he's literally like, you could tell he's just, he's so overwhelmed with this problem.

Yeah. Now we literally have to leave in less than 60 seconds. At the same time, the dilemma is, can we potentially help this man? Can we maybe save his marriage?

Now when I've presented that scenario, and I'm going to finish a story here in a second, Nicole. Yeah.

When I've presented that scenario to even like coaches before that are supposed to be great at asking questions, oftentimes when I say, what do you do? They'll say, tell them that you don't tell the man that you can't get into it right now, but that you can discuss it at another time.

That's the number one response in terms of like when I talk to coaches. Hmm. Now my response to that is always the same, but if you could change their life in 60 seconds, would you wanna know how to do it? And of course the answer is, well, yeah, I'd wanna know. I'd wanna be able to do that, but I just don't know if it's possible right now to fix this guy's problem in 60 seconds.

And so, but if we could, what do we want to? Yes, we we'd want to. Okay. So let's see if we can, let's see if we can do that. So now, You've got one question here, Nicole, that you can ask one question. You might have time for two. What question would you ask this man, knowing what he's already said? Oof, man. What question would I ask?

And by the way, this is very like nobody has ever really gotten the answer to this. Yeah. What question has somebody will eventually, all right. But you could be the first person. Yeah. I don't know. So there's no pressure at all? Yeah, yeah. I mean, I would probably, I would probably ask him, well, you know, what's going on in her life that's causing her to wanna bite her nails?

Okay. Alright. So that's not a bad question 'cause it's gonna help him reflect a little bit. Yeah. All right. Now what he's gonna answer though, he's gonna say, ah, I mean, I don't know. We talked about it and, and she just says, I just, you know, I just can't help myself. So that question, although is, could be somewhat reflective because of the state that he's in.

Yeah. He's immediately gonna gonna get worked up. Like, Hey, we've talked about that. We've talked about that. Yep. Yep. . The other question people oftentimes will say that you should probably ask is, well, do you love your wife? Now? Let's think about that. Would he have come up to me?

Yeah. In the way that he did if he didn't truly love his wife? Yep. Exactly. Yeah.

We know he loves his wife and so if we ask him, do you love your wife? What is he gonna feel? Frustration. Yeah.

That's it. Frustration, the key to asking questions. . In a way that people engage, and I'm talking about when you're, you know, not necessarily in a podcast per se, right?

'Cause you don't need help with that. I'm talking about just in life in general, but especially as a leader, as a manager. Is, you got to feel two things as the receiver. You got to feel there's a purpose to the question. You gotta feel like you're making progress. Purpose, and progress, the two piece, all right?

If you feel that as the receiver, you don't get frustrated with the one that's asking, 'cause sometimes when people are being taught to ask questions, they're like, Hey, think they're going to, they're going to get frustrated with that. They're going to get frustrated with a bad question. Because they're not going to feel progress or purpose.

Yeah. Okay. So what was the question that I asked this fellow? The question that I asked this fellow, and usually, by the way, I'll, I'll ask this to a group people and I'll hear 15 different questions and most of the questions would've led to the gentleman getting frustrated and not essentially living in the solution.

Okay? The question I asked him was, has there ever been a time, in your marriage when your wife wasn't biting her nails? Now, as soon as I ask that, you can start to see why we ask that question, right, Nicole? Because it forces a clarity of, yeah. Answer, right? And this is what he said, he looked up and he said, come to think of it, now, by the way, that what I just described looked up says, come to think of it, or anything like that, that's what you call a light bulb moment. The great leaders, great communicators, they induce light bulb moments with those that they communicate with, right? Their audience, the, their friends, their peers, their families, their coworkers, et cetera. So he says, now you mention it, we actually were separated for a period of time.

We got back together. And for the first six months of getting back together, I don't think she was biting her nails. Fascinating. Wow. Now we're cooking with gas. Yeah.

Now I've gotta leave in 20 seconds. Yeah. Okay. I've gotta leave in 20 seconds. So we've got time for one more question, 'cause we've asked one.

All right. It was the right one. So now we've got one more question to ask now. What would you follow up with? Now you're starting to see the path, right, Nicole? Like there's the path there, right? And so he's just said, come to think of it after we are separated, for the first six months, she wasn't biting her nails.

Okay. So he's having that light bulb moment. He's discovering new paths. And my job is to ask another question, not to tell him what he needs to do, but it's to ask another question. And so what would you ask now? Oh man. I think I, I probably ask what, what changed? Good. So the question that I asked,

I got it. Yes, yes, yes. The question I asked was, what were you doing then that you're not doing today? And he looked to me, tears rolled down his cheeks. He nodded, and he walked away.

Wow. My gosh. That's amazing.And I ran to the, you know, what's great about that is that it was his responsibility. Like it was he, that, you know, you challenged him to take responsibility.

That's the power of self-discovery. If I tell him, especially from the beginning, eh, you're clearly doing something wrong with the marriage. And that's why she's biting right now. Yeah.

You know, it's just so fascinating though, because the way that most people approach that, they'll say things like, well, have you looked at alternatives? Have you tried any therapies? Have you, you know, it's like they say all these things and all they're gonna do is get the person flustered. They're not really thinking in a, in a, in, in the, in the solution, right?

And so we asked two questions. He has this unbelievable moment of self-discovery, of realization. I run to the Uber and I make my flight. But as I was driving away in that moment, what I was thinking was a couple things, okay? And this is me just being a very self-aware person. First question I asked myself was, why did he ask you that?

Why? You're talking about a subject has nothing to do with marriage. Yeah.

Why did he ask you that? So that was the first thing. And then I, the second thing I thought to myself was, how did you know to ask that question? Especially in that short timeframe.

Right, right, right. How did you know? While you're rushing. How did you know? And when I have those conversations with myself, that's when I know that I need to teach that thing to the world. Right. That's,


That's, I know. So that's when, you know, that's what you need to teach, learn, whatever. Yeah. Very cool. A hundred percent. And, and so, you know, I said, okay, there's, there's got to be a framework to this.

So just like They Ask, You Answer was a framework, but you know, They Ask, You Answer started from me where I was just sitting there saying, okay, I'm reading all this stuff about inbound marketing and, and people are asking what, what all they're essentially saying these technical words is, you just need to obsessively listen to your potential customers and address their questions, worries, fears, issues, concerns.

I said, well, shoot, I can do that. And I didn't overthink it. Right. And then I started to produce the content and then I started to see the patterns. Yep.

And from that, you know, you really, from the patterns, you, now you have the frameworks, right? You have the frameworks like you find in the book of the Big Five and Assignment Selling and all these other, other things that, you know, in the moment I didn't really, I was just doing them intuitively. And so it's been really an amazing journey, but if you look at the, the commonality, it's really communication, it's like at the core, of, of like who I am.

And so I ultimately help people to transform the way they communicate and to be a transformative communicate tour. Right. Sometimes that's called marketing. Sometimes that's called sales training. Sometimes that's called leadership development. Yeah.

It's, it's, it's all the same. It's all the same thing though, but I didn't know that like even five years ago. Yeah. It's like you live the thing and then you look back and suddenly you're like, oh, there's a pattern there. Like that's, that's, you know, that's really what's going on here. It's, you know, that whole build it and they will come. It's like you can't see where the trail is headed until you start walking the trail and then you're like, oh, that's really where this is all, but that's why we've got to be in motion and that's why we've got to create art.

Yes. And whatever that art is for each one of us, and then we start to figure out, oh, that's actually what I believe. That's what I'm doing. That's how that works. I love that. It's, I've seen this pattern with you that I think is really cool from the time you first started at River Pools, you, you, you talk about how you just learned.

So when you first started working there, as, you were the manager of the store, and I remember in your book you said, I did what I always did, I learned, and you learned everything you could about the product, and you were quizzing and testing the other the owners at the time. And then within six months, they asked you to be a business partner, which as a business owner, to ask someone you've known for six months to have equity in your company, that is a massive decision, like. Yeah. You really proved yourself and then you learned and then you did, you did the same thing when you came up with the framework for They Ask, You Answer.

You just did. You just went all in and you just learned, and then you identified the patterns. And then I think with this new communication, I, I feel like you've probably through all of the work you've done with clients.


You've had to ask a lot of questions. Yeah. And I've been there, like, I've been there in meetings with clients where you're trying to explain to them why they need to, you know, why they need to have pricing on their website, and it's a battle, you know? And figuring out how to get them to change the mind shift is one of my biggest challenges.

And I'm sure you, I mean, man, you've figured that out. So this, this, this, this questioning that you, you're learn, you've had so much experience doing. It's like it's kind of coming for full circle. You've been having to learn to ask your clients, your employees, all these questions and now it's like you, you've had the experience that you're, you're, you're there now.

Well, it's funny you mentioned the pricing thing, right? I, I think if I could attribute in many ways my, my speaking career to one element of my let's talk it, say keynote or a bit that I have, it's this, it's this subject of, of pricing, you know? . If people have brought, you know, companies or have brought me in all over the world just to teach them how to talk about pricing or help their dealers overcome this pricing issue, and it takes me 12 minutes to teach a company how to talk about costs and price on their website.

I've tried to do it in less than 12 minutes. It doesn't really work. And it is, it is done through a series of questions that takes an audience on a journey. Where they are Reflecting. Reflecting. Yeah. Reflecting the whole time. They're like, son of a gun, son of a gun, son of a gun.

So just to break down the psychology of this, because this is, this is like a, a marketing thing and this is a, this, it'll be fun for a second 'cause let's break this down just like this.

The whole science of how this works, Nicole. So if I wanna, wanna help an audience understand the importance of talking about cost and price on the website, what I'm not going to do is I'm not gonna say, Hey everybody, we really should be talking about cost and price on the website. I'm going to do that. So I have to, I have to create new paths for them, right?

Yep. So the way that I'm going to do that is, and I'm just going to give you a, like a really rapid fire here, of like what the bit sounds like. And I know you've seen it before, but here's the psychology I'm gonna say, so by a show of hands, how many of you have researched how much something cost over the last year, and everybody's going to raise their hand.

And I'm gonna say, and so when you're on a website and you're looking for cost and price and you cannot find it, what's the emotion you experienced? It's a very intentional question, by the way. And they're all going to say frustration. I'm gonna say that's right, frustration. I'm gonna point to someone and say, what gives you the right in that moment they feel frustrated and they're going to say, well, I'm the buyer. I'm the customer. I'm like, yeah.

And in that moment of frustration, do you, as the buyer, do you say to yourself, well, it's gotta be on this website somewhere. I'm just gonna keep on looking until I find it and they laugh and they say, no, I'm not going to, I'm not gonna do that.

I'm like, yeah, you're not going to do that. And then I'm gonna say, okay. So in that moment of frustration, do you, as the buyer, do you as a searcher, do you say to yourself, well, of course I'm not talking about cost and price they're a value-based service business. I'm going to call them on the phone instead, and they're gonna laugh, they're gonna say no, and I'm going to say, so instead of calling them on the phone, or instead of digging further, you as the buyer, you as the searcher, you keep doing what?

And they're going to say, I keep searching. And I'm going to say, you search until what happens? And they're gonna say, I search until I find what I'm looking for. And I'm going to say, and generally speaking, whoever gives you what you're currently you're looking for they're going to get what? And they're gonna say, my business.

Now, that's the first like few minutes.

Well done. And we did that really, really fast. Right. Did you notice how many questions are in there though? Oh, so funny. It's not done in an, in like, in a, I'm not interrogating. No. Yeah. We're just having this really like, fun conversation about our own behavior as humans.

Exactly. So, but as we're doing that, they're, what I'm setting up is they will argue with me, but they're not gonna argue with themselves. And so if they say, I don't do that, I don't do that, I don't do that, I am literally setting the audience up so later on they can't argue and say, well, our customers are value-based because they've already said, that's not the, what they say.

That's not what they do. So if somebody will say this on a, on a personal level, well now you would have got in front of that doubt or that concern. Now in the, in this new book, we call that Vanguarding, and this is, oh, the process of knowing what could go wrong.

Yeah. What are the mental exit doors in someone's mind?

Identifying them before they even know what they are, and then finding ways to eliminate those mental exit doors of the mind. So a vanguard, actually, historically, it was the, the front of the Roman army that went into battle first. And when they went into battle, they formed a V. And so they were the vanguard, but they went in to solve the problem first, essentially.

So I called this Vanguarding and because there wasn't a better, like the only phrase in society is get in front of the issue. Right? Get in front of it. Well, you know, it's really fun once somebody really learns vanguarding and has that shared language, like at my company and at the companies that I work with and teach, we're constantly talking about, okay, so what was the vanguard that was missed?

Because every breakdown in communication starts with a missed vanguard. Whether it's sales, whether it's an important one-on-one, whether it's a meeting, you're always missing a vanguard or more than one Vanguard. Every bad client relationship generally starts with, you missed some Vanguards. The reason why you have disclaimers in your contract, right?

Those are Vanguards, right. So that we don't, we don't want that problem to manifest itself. So we're trying to get in front of it. Yeah. Ultimately, the greatest way in life to resolve a concern is to address it before it becomes a concern. And so that's why Vanguarding is such a big, such a big deal. And let me just give you one other example of, of just Vanguarding and, and general, and this has to do with asking questions because if you just go into someone asking questions, you're probably going to be off, off track, right?

So let, let me do this on a spousal level or a partner level for a second. Okay? Yeah.

So, you know your loved one comes to you. They've had a bad day. Well, they need to unload. Now, oftentimes, if you ask someone, so they come into you, they have a problem, they need to unload, they'll say, okay, well what I would do in that case, and they, you know, a lot of people believe this right answer is I'm going to say to them, would you just like me to listen right now?

Or would you like me to offer you some, some, some solutions? That's actually the wrong question because at first everybody just wants you to listen. So you don't need to ask that question. Just shut up and listen and really, really lean in to what they're saying. Like, give your energy to them right now.

Give your full self, full focus to them. And so once they feel completely heard, then they're gonna say, what do you think? What do you think? Yep. Now here's the vanguard. Here's a vanguard, and this vanguard is something that you might use anytime.

Let's say a team member comes to you with an issue. Because oftentimes when a team member comes to you with an issue, especially as a leader, as a manager, you've heard that problem many times before. You know the answer. And inherently, most leaders, most managers, immediately give the answer because they feel in their mind it's efficient. And the other reason subconsciously is we want to be the hero of the moment.

Yes. We do this with our kids too. Our kids ask us question and we quickly answer because we want to be the hero to our kids. We don't even realize this, but this is, but what do we create in that moment? We create dependency. We create this idea that they need us, their hero, and many of us want to feel very, very needed.

Yes. But those that are the Pathfinders, the transformative communicators, they want their audience to always be the hero. Always. Yeah. And so let's say the partner comes and unloads and they say, what do you think? I'm gonna say, I don't know, but I think we can, I think we can probably figure this out. Can I ask you some questions?

And we lean into it together. And now the person will have to say something like, yeah, yeah, I wanna know. I wanna know. Let's figure this out. They've now given you permission to lead to ask questions. . Unless you've been given permission to ask those questions, you're gonna be, in most cases, met with resistance.

So let's say your team member comes to you with an issue. And so, and you've solved that problem a million times, but again, you don't want to just give the answer because you know that doesn't develop them whatsoever. They come to you and they say, what do you think I should do? Alright, let's talk about that.

I think I could probably help you, but I, in order to help you here, in order for us to figure out this answer, I'm gonna need to ask you some questions. And you really need to lean in and, and really give yourself to the answers. Person says, yeah, I can do that. And now you start asking the right questions, and then suddenly you're inducing light bulb moments.

And then if you're really great, by the end they say, I've got it. I know exactly what I should do, Nicole. And you say, what do you think you should do, Marcus? And Marcus gives the answer, and then Nicole, who's the manager, who's the leader, who's the parent, whatever says, I think you're exactly right. You see almost every conversation like this where there's conflict or problem ends with the phrase, you're right.

The question is, who's the one saying it? Oh, that's so good. That's the difference between. Yes. The transformative communicators. Yes. Right, because so true. If I am doing my job as a leader, I have gotten to the end and I'm saying to that team member, you're right. Yes. That's exactly what you need to do.

That's what I would've suggested. Okay, so here's my question for you. How do you get better at asking the right questions? Because I've been in situations like this as a leader, where I will, you know, they'll come to me and say, Hey Nicole, you know, I got this client and geez, you know, I just, I'm not sure how to respond in this situation.

And I'll say, well, what do you think you should do? You know what you know, and I don't think, I'm not asking good enough question. I'm not asking the right question back to them because I know I'm not. Because they come back and they say, I just don't know. I don't know what to do. Okay. I'm so glad you said that one.

Let me give you the question that will completely change your entire life. Yes. And if you're listening to this right now, and let's say you, you haven't, you haven't you haven't gotten any value from this conversation so far, but for some reason you've hung in there with me and listen to my story.

If you haven't, you're crazy, right? So here is the question. If you learn to do this, it will so change your life. And that is this, once you become aware to ask questions, oftentimes the better you get at questions naturally, the person will initially say, I don't know. I, I, geez, I have no idea.

I am like, I expect that answer. I expect it, and I come right back with the same question every time, which sounds something like this, but if you had to say what you would do, oh, what would it be? If you had to make a choice, what would it be? I love that. If you had to make a suggestion, what would it be?

Right. So you're talking to your team member, team member says, you know, I got this huge problem. You're like, oh, alright. I, you know, I, I want to help you out. I, I do. My sense is we can figure this out. I need to ask you a few questions. Will you answer them honestly?

Yes. Okay, good. Alright. So if you were the manager right now, I'm just being hypothetical, if you were the manager right now, and you had to say what your first move should be, what would it be?

A person's gonna say, gosh, I, I just don't know. And I, I, I don't even hear that because I know I'm coming right back. I, I know, I know you don't know, and that's okay. But if you had to choose your first move, if you had to choose one, gotta be specific here, what would it be?

Just like if you say to your kids, where do you wanna eat tonight? Oh, I don't know. Wherever. Yeah. But if you had to choose one place to eat, what would it be? Go on a date. Date night. Right. Where do you wanna go tonight? I don't know. But if you had to choose just one place, what would it be?

Gotta choose one. Right. And now all of a sudden you're getting specific answers. Yeah. And so good for them because they, it's again, that's, it goes back to that self discovery. And and that's where, and that is, that's where you get the light bulb. That's where you get the light bulb. Exactly.

Because here's the truth, Nicole, 90% of the time, the person that you are counseling, that you're helping, they actually already know what they should do.

Yep. They just haven't found it yet. Therein lies the pathfinder. The pathfinder helps them discover the pathway to get to the answer because you ask the perfect question or set of questions. Love it.

So what are some examples of common Van? I love this Vanguard con. This is cool. Yes. What are some examples of common vanguards that you see over and over again?

So like it, this would be for any you know, particular, let me give you some marketing ones. Yes. And lemme give you some sales ones. Okay, cool. Yeah. So from a marketing perspective, let's say you are, you are doing a versus a piece of content. Yeah.

Where you're doing comparison maybe of your product versus another product, your brand versus another brand. Your method versus another method, which, by the way, incredibly effective. And they work very, very well. You should read about 'em and They Ask, You Answer.

It's one of the big five versus comparison. So if I'm going to do that first you got to say, okay, what are the mental exit doors in their mind? In other words, what upon reading this or watching this, are they gonna immediately doubt?

So if someone knows that you sell a product and you're comparing your product to another product, they're expecting you to be biased. Yep. So to Vanguard this, I gotta get in front of it. I gotta do it early. Yep. So let's say I was comparing fiberglass and concrete pools. Simplest one out there, right?

Right. Easy one.

So I might say something like this, let's pretend this is a video or an article. It's the same style. Same sound. You know, one of the questions we get here all the time at River Pools is, Marcus, be honest, by the way, just me saying, be honest, that was a vanguard, by the way, Marcus, be honest, why should I choose fiberglass over concrete?

Well, the truth is, you shouldn't always choose fiberglass over concrete. In fact, there are times when concrete is the better option. And so what this video, what this article's gonna do, it's gonna explain to you the pros and the cons of both types of pools. And then hopefully by the end, you'll have a clear sense as to which is the best choice for you.

Now, as soon as somebody reads that, they're like, I love this guy. I love this guy. Because most brands don't speak like that, right? The vanguard was me coming right out. . And saying, you might not actually, maybe you shouldn't get a fiberglass pool.

Right. That started and then I said, there are times when concrete's better. That's another vanguard like, I'm driving home. Yup. This, the, these signals that are saying he's unbiased. Okay. Yeah. I see what you mean. It's taking their objections, Vanguard taking their objections.

So let's do a sales call for a second.

Yeah. Sales call. And anybody that's ever done any Sandler training, they'll know they have like the most, one of the most famous Sandler Vanguards is start at the beginning of the sales call, you say, now, before we get started, can we agree, that if at any point you feel like this isn't a fit that you will let me know, and at the same time if I feel like we can't be a fit for you, I'll let you know also.

So can we agree to that before we get started? So that's your first contract, verbal contract, right? That's a vanguard, that's all it is. Yeah. It's a vanguard and you're getting in front of it. And by doing that, you're releasing the tension in the room.

Yep. You're releasing the tension. So there's all these beautiful, beautiful vanguards that we can use. And you like, once you, once you become very, very aware of these mental exit doors that people have in their mind, you start to see them before they see them. And so then you're always thinking about, okay, what are the vanguards I need to, I need to create in order to make this work to make this effective.

There's other vanguards though that are nonverbal. I gotta, let me just share this with you really quick. So, like, as a speaker, I'm obsessed with environment because I know my environment is going to dramatically affect the the feeling, the energy of the room. And so let's say there's, we're gonna meet as a team in the boardroom, right?

So one potential vanguard is if there's six people that are going to be in this meeting and there's 10 chairs in the room, I'm gonna take four chairs out, right? Because we don't want any space between the people want them tight, right? So this is no difference than another example of it in the sales world is you have a dramatically higher closing rate for those that do in-home sales.

There's a dramatically higher closing rate if you do the presentation in the kitchen than if you do it in the living room. The reason for that is because you're, you're closer in proximity at the kitchen table. Your, your posture is more leaning in versus leaning back. And what that does, it creates an energy and a focus that ends up increasing closing rates.

And so you should never be trying to sell on a couch looking, you know, at the prospect on a couch, closing rates, go down. See, these are just very, very simple, you know, vanguards of the environment. And there's many, many others. I could go, I could talk about vanguards all day. Yeah, man, it's, it's incredible to think about, like, if you really like what, what you're doing is, you're really, it's like true empathy.

You're really putting yourself in the shoes of whoever the buyer is. And really living there, living in that space. What do you think it is that keeps people from knowing or addressing those vanguards, you know what I mean? You know, I don't think really most people are obsessed with the way buyers or customers, or audience members or coworkers or friends think. And that's the difference.

You know, you, you said a good word there empathy. You know, is the ability to put yourself in the shoes of, of your, of the group person, individual you're talking to. And so, you know, we're usually so caught up in, you know, what we're gonna say next.

Yeah. What we need to do. That's why I don't believe, especially with sales teams, I don't believe in scripts at all. I don't, I don't like them. What we teach is very principle centered communication. There's always another scenario that could come your way that you could learn. Yeah. And so there's a million scenarios.

You, you're never gonna learn enough scripts. You just have to learn the fundamental principles. And if you learn the principles, it doesn't matter what comes your way, you can handle the moment. Right? . You can always, always handle it. Yeah. And so, you know, we just talked about two of the pillars of this, of this framework.

One being question first, one being vanguards and, and so the book next year, we'll, we'll talk about all four of these, these transformative communication pillars. I think this, this book, Nicole, I think it'll be something I'm speaking about for at least 20 years.

Very cool. I have no doubt. It's it transcends industries. It transcends business. It's relevant in, it's just so relevant in all of our lives. And, and communication is something that no matter where you're at, like you said, with your family, relationships and business, it's, it's the difference between really living that eudemonia, that life of eudemonia versus constantly being in conflict all the time and struggling and all of that.

So I'm excited. Can't wait to read it. It's going to be beautiful. Thanks. Man. Thank you, Marcus sheridan. More wise words. We are like, I can't believe it. I, I feel an hour's almost gone by and I, this has been so great. I sidetracked you.

Sorry, I, you if I did that yet. No, it was, it was a beautiful sidetrack because actually I was coming into this, I was like, I wanna know what's next for Marcus, what's next? And you've totally heard what's next. Yes. And I love it. Yeah. You've, you've definitely heard what's next? I, you know, I wanna produce something that's more than a book.

Yeah. I wanna produce a work.

A work, something that will outlive me that, you know, that people will continue to use for decades. . And not just a decade. I've been really blessed with They Ask, You Answer because it has been the definitive content framework to follow, online, for 10 years. It really has been.

And it's going to continue to be that for a season. I am going to do a third edition of the book because AI is such a big deal that I have to do with They Ask, You Answer. Yep. With an, with a major AI component to it. So that third edition will come out probably sometime, sometime next year as well, so probably two books next year.

But, you know, gosh, I mean, just AI alone is, is, is just, it's a crazy, it is crazy conversation to have and you know, it's, anybody that says it's overhyped is naive, is, is, doesn't, hasn't used it well and, and certainly isn't really paying attention. We could hype it every single minute for the next 10 years, and we're still going to undersell its impact on the world.

Now, I don't know if that impact is going to be a net positive, negative. Oh, yeah. And it's going to be what it is. It's going to be a mix of both. It's like the internet has been a very high mix of, of negative and positive impact on the world. I mean, But these are fascinating times, right? And I think it's important to, in this case, to be in the sandbox.

Yep. Especially as business owners, it's our fiduciary to our customers, to our team to say, are there better ways? Right? Yes. Are there better ways? Absolutely. And one thing I really have learned in business, Nicole, it's like never, never allow personal opinions to get in the way of smart business decisions.

That's wise. Yeah. And it's easy to do. It's like, well, I don't really like Facebook. I don't like video. It's like, yeah, but the marketplace just doesn't care what you like. They don't care. And there's a lot of people who have really held back their success because they're like, that's not my thing. That's, I don't like to do that.

It's like I don't have a face for camera, like for the camera. Like, oh, this, this stuff that we say, I've done it before too. You know, I made a big mistake when I, I could've, I have fallen in love with short style vertical video. So effective. So crazy effective. But, you know, four years ago I could have done that on TikTok and I could have gotten like, crushed it, crushed it, but I'm like, eh, TikTok addictive.

I see it. I don't wanna be on that tool. China don't like it. I'm out. Now, I probably should have danced with the devil a little bit. I mean, just because Oh, interesting. You know, because the reality is it's, oh my gosh, that's funny. It's happening. Yeah, right. It's, it's happening. And, oh, I'm with you on TikTok though.

I just, I can't, yeah. It's, it's, I, oh, it's so hard. I don't, like, my kids aren't on the platform. I don't personally use it. Yeah, but, does it mean that I shoot myself in the foot in terms of an opportunity standpoint? Hmm. At least I could have been one of the ones that are putting positive content on there.

Yes. Right. Okay.

Do you know what I'm saying? Like, bring some light to the darkness, but, but, but you know, I always wonder are they gonna ban it? Like what's going to, you know. I know, I know, I know. Right?

It's, it, these are, these, these are, you know, you, it, it's like you, you want to buy the land before the value explodes.

It's like, it's like They Ask, You Answer. I mean, it worked. It's so great. And now there's just like this proliferation of content. Like. Yeah. It's reality, harder, right? It's, it's hard. It's harder to, especially from an SEO search standpoint. Yeah. And especially now with Google's new SGE experience, pushing down organic search potential, it's just getting more cluttered.

And you know, unfortunately, like we leverage AI in our business every day, all day. You know, I just had a conversation with a Lean OPs guy and I'm like, how can we make our ops more like, what can we do? How can we leverage AI to just increase automation and make things, you know. You have to, but, but man, it's just like finding that balance, right?

That's right. Like, it's just really being able to find that balance. So how are you leveraging AI on your businesses? Like what are you, what are you doing? Well, I, I personally, I love ChatGPT. Yeah. I, I like it for like there's been a few times when I was stuck with saying something and I needed to like it. Yep.

Maybe it was a paragraph that wasn't making sense and I, and I asked for some help and it gave me some prompts. I love it for like suggesting titles, for articles or videos. I'm really big fan for that. But, you know, of course now I'm starting to use it because they opened up their API with, you know, lots of different.

Yeah. It's exciting.

Lots of different tools and it's stunning what it can do. But I'm, I'm consistently using it and I don't create whole swaths of content with it yet. But I'm also not going to be one that says I'm never gonna do that. Right. Because I think everybody's going to do that. Yeah. I think we just have to, it's just a matter of learning you know, proper prompts, you know, and everything is, is prompt engineering when it comes to AI.

And so I'm, I'm using it every single day and loving it. And it really, really helps me with my creativity. Helps me say it better. And that's the most common is I'll take a sentence that I don't like, you know, I don't know how you do this, Nicole, but I'll write something and when I'm done, I'm going to read it.

And if I slow down in a section, like if it just sticks funny, I'm like, eh, doesn't sound right. And so I might play with it and try to fix it. I'm like, that still doesn't sound right. So I'll just go to ChatGPT I'll put the sentence in that I wrote. And I said, can you say this 10 different ways better? I sudden I'm, it's so great.

That's the way it's supposed to look. Love it. So say this better is, is probably my most common prompt, if you will.

I love that too and I love, I do the same thing, like, give me four different versions of this, you know, podcast outro or whatever the case may be. The one place though I struggle with using ChatGPT is on LinkedIn posts.

That's one where I just can't get myself. Like, I have, I feel like I have to write it. Like I just, because there, there's a, there's a thing about writing Marcus. I don't have, I'm, I'm, I'm curious to hear your perspective on this is, the process of writing for me is learning. It's just I love the process of it.

And so there's this part of me that's like, I don't want to give that to a ChatGPT. I want to be able to experience that process because it's how I learn, grow, come up with new insights and all of that. So how do you, how do you balance that aspect of it? Yeah, I, I agree with you. I've not used it to produce a post yet.

Yeah. I've used it for like, I've played with it 'cause I wanted to see what it would do. Yeah. I've also, at times, if I wanted to come up with something that was a list style post, I, I would, I would go to ChatGPT, Yep, and say, Hey, come up with a list for such and such to see if my mind was thinking like what they were thinking.


But to your point, it is a quick way to lose trust if your audience can tell that it was ChatGPT or AI produced. I've got a few people that comment on my stuff. 'cause you know, I get a decent amount of comments on LinkedIn that I know are AI. I don't comment back. I don't like it. I'm just like, how do you know?

How can you tell? Oh you can tell. You can tell. Yeah, you can, you can just tell It's just there's a particular style, like a great post or No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. Not even that. No. With ChatGPT, what it'll do, or with AI, what it'll do, it will in many ways restate what you just said and a less soulful way, but a very thorough way.

Right? And so it's usually like, you know, the longer comments are AI produced comments.

Interesting. I'm going to have to pay attention to that. I don't get as many comments as you. So I don't have as much, much to go on. Yeah, it'll, it'll happen eventually. You'll see, you'll start to see it. That's amazing. Yeah.

No, but it is, it's, it's going to be really interesting to see. I got an AI produced personalized video yesterday. So, So, and it was funny, huh? I'm not going to say any names, but the person that sent it, I could tell it was to a, it was, they sent it out to a list and within the video they, they actually, they, they verbalized to me to Marcus, but I know the person and they wouldn't have said that.

So I think they didn't know I was on their list. Yeah. And so they just created an AI video that goes out to all these people, addresses them by name, and then the person acts like, we have no history and like, we know each other pretty decently. I'm like, ah.

Yeah, that's a bad use of it. Right. Like I think it's great for repurposing existing content. It's great for, like, if I'm plan, I'm planning a trip to Yellowstone and Glacier this year, give me a four day itinerary for a family of four to Glacier National Park. It's beautiful. I get a lot of great ideas, you know, but like it's, yeah, to your point, like that is just taken to the extreme. Hmm. How do you think?

And I know we're like coming up on time, Marcus. Oh man. I can just keep talking to you, but I wanna be very respectful of your time 'cause I know you're very busy. So how about this, I'm going to ask you one more question. Okay. And then we're going to do a lightning round. Is that okay? Do I. That's fine, yeah.

Is that good? Okay.

So my question is, how do you see They Ask, You Answer changing in light of AI going forward? What is your prediction? Well, I I think people are still obsessed with getting the best, most specific, relevant answer to the question as quickly as possible. Yeah. I think there there will be less usage of Google with time, but you have to keep in mind that people are still going to be vetting you on your website.

Yep. So let's say they get their initial info through ChatGPT or AI, let's just call it AI. Then once they let's say say, okay, I wanna make a decision, I need to vet these companies. That's when they're coming to your site. Yeah. And the same psychological principles are gonna be needed at that time.

And so you're going to want to have all their questions, worries, fears, concerns addressed. You're gonna want to allow them to move through the buyer's journey at their speed and their style. Very, you know, choose your own adventure, right? Yeah. That's going to continue to very, very much be the case. The one thing that's very exciting to me though is the companies that have done They Ask, You Answer well, that have really leaned into great content, answering their customer's questions, now, because some of these new tools that you can use, the greatest chatbot experience ever is just awaiting you. Right?

Because you can. Yes. Like say hypothetically, the website, you take a, you put a chat bot now on the River Pool site, it can take all the content that we've ever produced and it can, you know, somebody can ask a question on to the chat bot about pools, it's going to give an answer, but now it's from our content and it's very specific to them.

And so instead of them having to find what page of the site. Yeah. They're able to get our information given to them real time. And I don't have to hire anybody to do that, which is a big deal 'cause I can't keep up with it, 'cause I get a million visitors a month during the summer. Right. Yeah. So that's like, that's an example of what I'm very, very, you know, excited about in terms of those that have been doing They Ask, You Answer, they're going to be crushing it from a chat experience on your website.

You're so right and no matter what. I think marketing just continues to get more complex over time, obviously. And so having that home base, your website is always going to be your home base. It's, you know, you own it. There's always gonna be a need for it.

It's just now there's just so many more channels. It's a lot more, but you're absolutely right, having that home base be solid and strong. And that's super cool that, that AI opportunity to be able to have that built into your website that way. That's massive. I've heard, I, I think there's, there's a lot of companies that have started to, to do that, wasn't it, I think, Bloomberg, is one of them that's doing that, so there's a ton. That's pretty cool, man.

I can't wait to see what happens. I can't wait for your book, Marcus Sheridan. Thank you. It's gonna be amazing. Thank you. Thank you. The nice thing is, is AI is not gonna replace the need for us to have. Yeah. Very important conversations.


Marcus Sheridan is a highly accomplished husband, father, entrepreneur, influential speaker, and best-selling author in the realm of sales and digital marketing.  Marcus gained widespread recognition for his remarkable journey as a business owner of River Pools and Spas, where he defied the odds and turned his struggling business around using a simple yet powerful methodology he developed based on Inbound Marketing.

With his groundbreaking book, They Ask, You Answer Marcus has inspired numerous businesses to harness the power of content marketing and embrace a customer-first approach. TAYA strategies have been shown time and again to drive revenue growth for companies around the world.