The more transparent you are with customers the more likely they are to do business with you. 

Should you tell customers about the price of your products on your website? Should you tell them about your competitors? Should you make it really easy for your customers to install your product even if that is a core service you offer, and where you make most of your profit from?

When the 2007 financial crisis arrived, the demand for home swimming pools plummeted. In Northern Virginia, River Pools and Spas was hit hard. By early 2009, orders were down from an average of six a month to less than two. And lots of people who had made orders were cancelling.

The company slashed its US$ 250,000 advertising budget by 90% and focused their energies on their website with a radical strategy: telling customers exactly what they wanted to hear.

“As a result,” according to a New York Times article, “River Pools has recovered to exceed its peak pre-2007 revenue.” “How did you save your company?” the Times asked co-owner, Marcus Sheridan.

I just started thinking more about the way I use the Internet. Most of the time when I type in a search, I’m looking for an answer to a specific question. The problem in my industry, and a lot of industries, is you don’t get a lot of great search results because most businesses don’t want to give answers; they want to talk about their company. So I realized that if I was willing to answer all these questions that people have about fiberglass pools, we might have a chance to pull this out.”

This is a new form of marketing. Its role is to keep attention, rather than to get attention. It is reverse marketing. The customer is the marketer and the advertiser. Through search they are advertising their need for a fiberglass pool. The very fact that they arrive at your website indicates a level of interest and intent. It’s reverse communications. They are communicating at you: “What are your prices?” It’s your job as a communications and marketing professional to answer their questions. If you don’t, they’ll leave (or never arrive in the first place).

This new form of marketing and communications is very hard for traditional organizations to adapt to. Why? “We hate talking about how much a pool costs until we have you in person because there are so many options and accessories we want to sell you,” Sheridan explains. There’s a feeling that if you let the customer answer all their questions you won’t maximize sales.

Customers also wanted to know about problems and issues with fiberglass pools. They got a detailed answer. Customers wanted to know who the top competitors of River Pools were. They got a comprehensive list.

“In most industries, Sheridan explains, “there comes a time in the sale process where the customer turns to you and says, “O.K., I like you, but who are some of the other good companies that do this?” Half the time it’s a test, because people know who our competitors are because they can find them in .5 seconds online. Most contractors avoid the question. They say, “Oh, we don’t really have competition.” But because I was asked that question so often, I decided to answer it.”

Answer the customer's questions; a radical but effective strategy.