Marketing 101: The Question

“He who asks is a fool for five minutes. He who does not ask is a fool forever.” – Chinese Proverb

If you don’t take the time to find out how your customer heard about you every time, you have wasted the full potential of your advertising dollar. Sure, it’s great to make a sale, but once you start spreading your marketing dollars around to different media types, you need to determine where the best sales were derived so you can spend more money there and less money – or no money – in the areas that are working poorly (or not at all).

I have probably asked this question more than any other question in my life. Seriously.

I used to make it mandatory in order for my sales team to collect a commission on a sale to that customer. If they didn’t ask “the” question and put it in the database along with the other customer info, they wouldn’t get the commission associated with that sale.


“You’re pretty harsh” you say. Not at all – it was for their benefit as well. The more they can tell me where to market, the more sales I can get them! It’s a win-win. We had a 97% ask rate – it’s awesome.

When I was a youngster, around 15, we had a Christmas tree farm in Maryland. At Christmas time, we did a bunch of different advertising campaigns to get people to come to the farm and buy a tree. We had road signs, newspaper ads, and we passed out a gazillion flyers all over the place. I remember the cold November mornings hitting church parking lots.

We needed to know how they heard about us so the next year we could do better advertising. Guess what question we asked them while we were making cash change for their tree? Yep. I’ve been asking that question a long time… So start asking the question – to anyone and everyone. Leave no stone unturned. Ask family, friends, and strangers you meet on the street.

The Call

Let’s say a potential customer calls. Have your conversation about what they’re looking for or take their order. At the end of the conversation, pop the question…

YOU: “Michael, thanks so much for the call. I will get the requested information out to you within the next 30 minutes. May I ask how you heard about us?”

MICHAEL: “Sure – it was this ad in Time magazine.” (or…)

MICHAEL: “Sure – I saw your ad on Royce’s blog.” (or…)

MICHAEL: “Absolutely – I clicked a link after a google search.” (or)

MICHAEL: “Sure – Megan told me about you guys.”

For answer #3 above (the google search), I will then ask what was their search term so I can track it back to the original source – Define & Refine. Of course Google Analytics and a number of other trackers can get some of this information, but there’s nothing like getting the answer from the specific customer. You can even go one step further and put a priority code on each piece of advertising like this—A032B—and ask the customer to read it to you from the advertising piece. Then, you have corroborated exact information for your database/spreadsheet. The more types of advertising you do, the more you want an exact method for tracking. You get the idea.


“We have not because we ask not.”

Ask. Ask. ASK!

Every day

Every contact. Every sale. In your sleep… Now you know why I call it Accounting Bookkeeping—you need to keep excellent records of how they heard about you – that’s as important as asking “the” question – write it down!!! Not writing it down is like having knowledge but not applying it (which is the problem most people have). Doesn’t do any good. Or like the old analogy that NOT advertising is like winking in the dark—you know it but nobody else does.

You’ve paid for this information and it will help you do better for less money. Use the information. Please? I really cannot emphasize this enough. This question alone will save you several gazillion dollars. Get great at asking this question. Teach your team to ask it – even your non-marketing folks.

Get this one into muscle memory and you can send your kids to Harvard instead of community college. You can get the Rolls instead of the Mercedes. The steak instead of the hotdog. Apple instead of Windows.

You know what I mean.

This is a Game Changer

Ask it early and often and get the answer into your customer database for all to see and act upon. We have a pull down item in our database that lists all the advertising priority codes. This way, our team can pull down and choose the item exactly or closely related to what the customer says. Keeps it consistent for reports and searches. Simple enough. Or make a spreadsheet and share it with everybody. Use the info. Get it into your intuition, Then, cash in.

Start now. PLEASE don’t say this cannot be that important. If you want to burn $100 bills fine. Do yourself a favor, ask the question. If you send me a penny for every time it helps you, I’ll make a fortune. And you’ll make a killing.

Next up: Design vs. Copy—the age old conflict