Content Marketing Trainer, 5+ Years of Project Management and Digital Marketing Experience
November 14th, 2019
At IMPACT, we’re all about and educating and showing our clients how to answer their prospects’ questions for their specific industry.
However, we wouldn’t be very good models of this if we left questions that our clients and prospects ask us go unanswered.
With that said, a number of our clients have recently taken it upon themselves to bring the They Ask, You Answer business philosophy even deeper within their companies, and have been looking for some guidance for how to do so through facilitating a book club at their company.
Today, I will be sharing facilitation tips and talking points for you to consider when starting a They Ask, You Answer book club.
While there isn’t one right way to run a book club, I will go over critical best practices to keep in mind, as well as important discussion points you should cover so your team gets the most out of reading the book together.
We will also review into next steps you can take after the book club is finished so you can keep the fire alive at your company.
Finally, just in case the prospect of running a book club is something you’re not familiar with already, scroll to the bottom of this article for a section about general book club best practices and things that are needed to make your book club one that people want to be a part of.
Questions and discussion prompts for each section of They Ask, You Answer
There is no single right way to break down the chapters for your book club. However, here is a suggested framework that can be helpful as you’re looking to break out the reading into manageable chunks for your team.
Included in each meeting detailed below is a rundown of questions and discussion prompts for each section.
Again, you may opt to break these up differently, but this will still give you base of things to discuss for each segment. You may want to ask them all, or you may want to skip around.
Note: If you read the first edition of They Ask, You Answer, we strongly recommend everyone on your team read the second edition of the book together, since there are about 100 pages of new information, and it’ll allow your team to all be on the same “page” in terms of homework, etc. (Pun intended.😉)
At the end of the day, a successful book club is one in which you’re facilitating engaging, open conversations that your team may not be used to having. So go with the flow, you’re going to do great!
The important part to also mention during this discussion is how attributed revenue is also increased from these efforts — we’re not just talking about “marketing metrics” but new leads and, ultimately, sales.
Whether you have this kick-off meeting or not, in advance of the first official meeting, you’ll want to set the expectation that people should read chapters one through nine of the book.
Discussion prompts for chapters 1 to 9
What is the story of River Pools?
What surprised you most about this story?
If you weren't surprised, why not?
In the section about questions you’re repeatedly being asked, what are the questions you’re always asked over and over again? Are there similarities among team members?
If no, what’s keeping us from doing that?
If yes, is it easy to find those answers on our site?
How many of those questions are we already answering on our website?
What is the Ostrich Marketing Strategy?
Is our business doing business this way? How? Why?
What would it look like if we took a new approach to be more honest and open on the website?
How to keep the They Ask, You Answer fire alive post-book club 🔥
If you’ve just wrapped up your book club, first off, congratulations!
Whether you were the facilitator or a participant that helped it get off the ground, there’s a lot that goes into having a book club and we hope you learned new things and had a great experience.
By the end of your book club, you’ve likely had numerous dynamic, engaging conversations with members of your team, and your team may be fired up and excited about moving this content and They Ask, You Answer ball even further down the field.
The question for you to consider now is how can you help keep that fire alive so it’s not just a “fun thing your team did once but nothing really came of it”?
If you or someone else took notes during the book club, circle back to them and see what new actions everyone agreed to take and hold people accountable to doing them. Consider doing regular group check ins to make sure the things you talked about stay as priorities instead of succumbing to the excuse of everyone “got busy.”
Have a plan in place for what you can do to hold individuals and the company accountable to the company-wide culture shift. Outline the steps you’ll need to take to get the results you’re looking for (ex. New positions needed, culture of content, who will be responsible, how will the team work together, etc.)
If there are additional resources you need to make these things happen, go back to the resources listed in each of these suggestions for guidance (for example: If the hang-up in hiring a content manager is not having a job description, or not knowing whether you should find someone in your own industry, we have the resources linked above to help you through those decisions).
Additional They Ask, You Answer team activities
If your team had some lively conversations during your book club, you may consider regularly doing other growth-minded activities together.Here are some other ideas/suggestions to help you keep fanning the fire:
Have the rest of your company watch this keynote video of Marcus Sheridan explaining what They Ask, You Answer is all about (since this is an hour video, I normally suggest doing this as a lunch and learn with your team).
Join IMPACT Elite for a community of marketers for help on tactical best practices.
A successful book club doesn’t just happen: it takes a good measure of thought, preparation, and planning. There are a number of things you’re going to want to think about before you even start the book club at your organization.
What’s your goal?
It may be worth taking the time to think through why you want to start this book club. If you’re like most companies we work with, chances are that you’ve read the book yourself and you want to share that philosophy with the rest of your team so you can all be on the same page and have unilateral buy-in.
However, the goal should be to learn what this will look like in your organization, together. Not to place blame or put all the responsibility on one department’s shoulders. This isn’t about convincing sales how out of touch they are with today’s buyer.
It’s about learning from each other to make your business successful.
If this is going to be a team effort, you’re going to want to go into it with that perspective from the beginning: it’ll infiltrate everything else you do.
Who should attend?
The last thing you want to do is brand this book club as a “marketing” book club or “marketing” discussion that everyone is invited to.
The heart of They Ask, You answer begins with sales and leadership, so it’s vital that members of those departments are involved if you’re really looking for meaningful change to come about in your organization after reading.
Depending on whether leadership buy-in for content and inbound already exists at your company, you may want to have a leadership/sales-only book club group to start. They are the ones that the buy-in really needs to happen with, and having a smaller group for just them could be helpful.
If you’re not going with a smaller group, though, you’ll want to invite other members of your company. In reality, anyone at your organization can benefit from being on the same page with this new path your company is embarking upon.
Anyone who is client-facing in one way or another – whether a receptionist, an engineer, or a sales rep – can get lots of takeaways and contribute meaningful insights in your discussions.
Have a designated facilitator
It’s a good idea to have a point person or a facilitator of the group. This is someone who will make sure things are set up for the book club meetings, people are reminded, food is taken care of, and guides the discussion.
This person will be the one who makes sure they keep track of time and makes sure the group doesn’t get lost on a tangent, off-topic conversation that isn’t related or beneficial from the reading (someone to reign everyone back in!).
By guiding the discussion, they’ll ask questions and prompt discussions to occur within the group (note: if this feels like a lot of pressure, we’ve got your back with prompts for each section later in this article).
The role of a facilitator is a crucial one, and one that can ultimately determine the entire energy of the book club. Whether that’s you or someone else at your organization, we suggest that it’s someone who has already read the book and who can answer questions of what’s to come. You should also have a strong personality to be able to direct the course of the meetings by asking questions and changing topics when needed.
The level of structure and formality that’s needed is up to your particular group. If a more casual, informal conversation seems to be what works, go with it! Power to you!
If you need some more structure for who is talking and how to bring along the conversation within the timeframe you have, that’s fine too. The point is to be flexible with what your group needs.
There are a few other responsibilities the facilitator should be aware of:
It’s your job to create a safe space for open discussion.
For this book club to be effective, you’re going to need to create an open, safe environment for these discussions so that people can freely discuss what’s working and what’s not working in your business, and what you might be able to do to positively affect that change.
People can ask questions, but make sure no one feels stupid or put down for asking them. If everyone is concerned about looking good and having all the answers, chances are it’ll be a quiet book club.
Encourage open participation from everyone
Also, make sure everyone participates. This means that the receptionist should be given equal chance and opportunity to speak as the veteran sales rep or even the CEO. Encourage people to offer ideas for things you’re discussing.
Sometimes this might mean specifically asking people what they thought about something, not just phrasing questions to the group. Or you may want to have a round robin format if it’s a small group.
How can you make sure everyone’s voice is heard?
Some people will naturally talk more than others, but it doesn't mean the more quiet people don’t have great insights to share.
Consider a “round robin” format for questions/answers so everyone gets a chance to speak. If you have too many people, this might not be feasible, but see the energy/specific dynamic of your group to see if this kind of structure is needed.
As you’re thinking through who will be attending, it’s also worth considering timelines and when you’re going to want to start this book club. If it’s the busiest season of the year, or if multiple key players are going to be out for business trips or personal vacations, maybe it’s not the best time just yet.
There’s no use in making it through the first one or two meetings, but then needing to “raincheck” because more pressing work came up or timelines don’t allow for them to participate.
Be realistic about when a good time for this would be so you can plan for people to actually be able to do the homework/readings, and be present and engage in discussions.
Chapters are also broken up into small chunks so mentally you’re not feeling like you’re dragging through.
However, there’s no one right way to break up the book and set up the book club meetings. Here are some ways you might decide to break it down:
Read it all at once and then discuss
Like I mentioned above, this is a quick read, so it may be feasible to get everyone to read the entire book and then come together to discuss it.
This method can be useful in terms of total time commitment for everyone to get to read the book. They won’t need to read AND set aside a period of time to meet to discuss each section as a group, so the overall time commitment is less.
This may sound like the ideal plan, however, it’s one of those things that if you give a due date for a project to be done, you might have lots of people push it off until the very end, if they prioritize doing it at all.
The downfalls with this approach can be that reading the book may not be top of mind for people, so it's easier to push off, and the discussion at the end can be a little less inspired for each section since they may not remember parts that stood out to them/etc.
So while you can ask that everyone finish the book by a specific date, you might want to break it up for your team and provide a little more accountability.
Read it in chunks and then discuss
The good part about breaking up chapters to read together and then meet to discuss them throughout is that it can keep motivation and excitement up.
It breaks things up into more manageable sections to read so it’s more attainable for someone than just leaving it to them to determine how they’ll read 300+ pages before the next time you meet.
It also provides a good framework for being able to bring questions and different perspectives as you’re reading through. You’ll be able to make sure everyone has a solid understanding as you’re going through so something someone is confused about in the beginning doesn’t sit unresolved and unanswered until weeks later.
If you’ll be breaking it down into chunks, you’ll want to decide how long you want the book club to last, and how often you’ll want to meet.
Depending on the number of attendees you’re expecting, and the engagement level, and timelines mentioned above, it may be reasonable to meet anywhere from a weekly or biweekly basis for anywhere from 30-90 minutes.
My general suggestion is to start somewhere around 30 minutes, once a week. At this pace, with the sample breakdown we provide below, you’ll finish in 7 weeks and get to meet every week to discuss the new reading. You can of course increase the homework reading per session and make that less time – the key is to find something that you believe will work with your organization
While you might be able to read it all at once and come together once to discuss it, there may be additional value you get out of getting everyone together on a regular basis to talk about what’s working and not working in your company.
Remember, this is about getting everyone on the same page, not about checking off a to-do checkmark.
Time and place
Find out when and where you’ll be meeting.
Find a time that works for everyone (Google Calendar Suggest Times can be great for this to find common open times in everyone’s schedule).
Lunchtime may might be easier to get everyone together, especially leadership and other departments. Normally lunchtime can also make it feel less formal and encourage more lively discussion.
A happy hour can also be an option if people’s schedules align outside of work hours.
Also, we suggest finding a room where people can face each other, either around a table or with chairs in a circle. Remember, this is about having meaningful conversations about the book and your business, it’s not a lecture from one person who has read the book!
Someone to take notes
You may want someone to take notes during your book club discussions.
This can be helpful in case people miss the meeting, but at the same time, you don’t want to give an easy out for people to skip the meeting because they can review the notes. You want them to be an active part of the conversation.
After all you’re not just talking about a book, but a potentially business philosophy you’ll want to adopt as a team at your company.
Without getting into a deep sociological discussion about what it’s like for people to gather around food together, there’s plenty of benefit from having some kind of food or snacks at your book club.
If you hold the book club at lunch, consider having food made or catered in. Otherwise, make it clear that people should bring their lunches with them.
If you’re doing a happy hour, have some little bites to eat and maybe beverages (alcoholic or not, we’ll leave that to you to decide 😉).
By having food, it creates an informal environment where people will generally be more apt to talk about things they’ve read and go off of other people’s comments in a discussion.
After all, as many wise folks have said before, “a meeting without food should be an email.”
An online group/channel component
Whether your team communicates in a private Facebook group, or if you make a specific channel for members in Slack or Microsoft teams, or whatever you use to keep people engaged and reminded about things throughout the week.
This can be where you post updates and homework for the next meeting, as well as reminders about the next time you’ll be getting together. It also gives people an opportunity to chat about things as they’re reading that either stand out to them or if they have any questions.
For example, many IMPACT members are currently reading Scaling Up by Verne Harnish, and there’s a Slack channel we made to encourage discussions (even though there’s not an official book club).
Announce the book club and invite people to it!
Whether it’s announcing it at a team meeting, sending out an email, or plastering your office with flyers, get people excited about joining the book club, and start to get a sign up of who will be joining.
You may also want to make it clear what the goal of the book club is, like we mentioned above. It’s not just about something fun to do to check off your list. You’re looking to embarking on a new way of doing business that can have substantial results for your company! And you want to get the whole team fired up about it.
In addition to having a group/public invite, consider following up with specific people, especially leadership and sales to offer personal invitations. This is going one step further from, “Will you be a part of this?” to “The company really needs you to be a part of this.”
You’re on your way to a more unified, rockstar team!
We hope that with these tips, you’ll be able to create the kind of book club that people get excited about and look forward to being a part of.
With that, you’ll be on your way towards making your company that’s in the business of building trust with your prospects so you can be the thought leader and go-to resource in your space.
And if you’ve had a They Ask, You Answer book club at your company, we’d love to hear about it! Leave a comment in IMPACT Elite and let us know what worked and what didn’t, and what the results of your book club were at your company.