Imagine this: You’re a salesperson getting ready for a call with a prospect. You’re anticipating any and all possible questions that might arise, ready to provide answers, case studies, details, and expertise that can assuage any buyer concerns that come up.
Then, in the call itself, just when you’re preparing to answer those same old questions, something magical happens:
There are no questions. The prospect already has the answers. Every one.
Your prospect already has all the information they need. They already trust your business — and they're eager to move forward into the next stages of the sales process.
This is assignment selling in action — a powerful technique we train our clients to implement to improve their sales processes.
Simply put, assignment selling is the process of using educational content about your products and services with prospective buyers. This content helps answer questions before they come up, making sales calls more productive and efficient.
However, it's easy to get assignment selling wrong. You might "assign" too much content, or the wrong content at the wrong time, and you might end up doing more harm than good.
Below, I'm going to cover:
The benefits of assignment selling.
The 4 most common mistakes we see clients make with assignment selling.
How to avoid these common errors with your team.
Ready to up your assignment selling game? Let's dive in.
Marcus Sheridan coined the term assignment selling in his book They Ask, You Answer. The theory behind it is simple: An educated prospect is more likely to become a customer.
In practice, assignment selling begins before a sales call, when a salesperson sends several pieces of content to the prospect and asks them to read or view each piece before the call takes place.
The content is designed to answer the most pressing questions that buyers have at that stage in the sales process. Once a prospect has gone through the material, they'll be better educated and more prepared to make a purchase.
Or, on the flip side, bad-fit prospects will opt out of the sales process (or not complete the assignment at all), which will save your sales team headaches in the long run.
Marcus developed this practice when he was a salesperson and co-owner of a pool installation company. He found that assignment selling yielded huge gains in his closing rate. Prior to developing and perfecting assignment selling, he and his sales team operated with a close rate of about 30%.
However, after implementing assignment selling, his close rate more than doubled.
What’s important to note is that Marcus wasn’t suddenly selling way more pools. While the number of sales certainly increased, the biggest change was that more of his sales meetings were with much more educated and qualified prospects.
3 benefits of assignment selling
There are important ways that assignment selling can benefit your sales process immediately:
1. Prospects self-educate
We believe that the most common buyer questions should be answered on the company website. There, prospects can educate themselves on-demand and at their own pace, not having to worry about missing a detail during a call.
But that's not all. We believe your entire sales process should be designed around educating and teaching.
When prospects are more educated in the sales process, sales conversations are shortened and more focused on the elements that close business. More sales opportunities are won — and won faster.
2. Better quality leads = better use of sales reps’ time
Assignment selling helps to qualify leads beyond the standard inputs you’ll get from a prospect after they fill out a form on your website. Assignment selling qualifies a buyer’s level of commitment for going through with the purchase.
A committed buyer understands expectations around budget, timing, how things work, and the different options they have. Those are the prospects sales reps should be spending their time with.
Testing a prospect’s commitment, of course, comes from requiring them to consume specific content before or after calls. Whether they do or don’t is a clear trigger for reps on who to spend their time with.
It might seem counterintuitive, but should a prospect not complete their homework prior to a call, assignment selling empowers that rep to say, “We’re not yet ready to have this call,” and redirect their precious hours toward more committed prospects.
While this might seem discourteous, it’s actually of benefit to the prospect as well. After all, only the most educated buyer can make the best decisions for themselves or their organization.
3. You establish a shared doctrine
Third, when sales reps begin to use content, the sales process becomes more standardized across the team. All sales are approached with the same voice, language, and messaging.
From the prospect’s side of things, it means they’ll have a consistent experience with your organization. From the company’s perspective, it means that the value of your product or service will never be missed or misconstrued through your reps.
Marcus calls this a “shared doctrine.”
Overall, assignment selling can be a sales reps’ greatest tool, but it’s all in how it’s used.
Just like anything else, assignment selling can be done wrong, turning a process designed to facilitate sales into a stumbling block.
Avoiding 4 common assignment selling mistakes
You’re ready to start educating your buyers throughout the sales process, but you want to make sure you don’t make too many mistakes. We get it. we’ve had these conversations with dozens of sales leaders just like you, hoping to avoid the potholes and roadblocks that sneak up on us as we get started with assignment selling.
No matter the size and makeup of the sales team, assignment selling mistakes are bound to happen as you first get started. Just like anything else in life, you have to fall down a few times before you can dust yourself off and learn from your missteps.
These are the most common mistakes that happen when companies are first getting started with assignment selling.
Here arefour common errors to avoidwhen getting started with assignment selling at your organization:
Assigning too much or too little content
Moving forward even if the prospect blatantly ignores the assignment
Using only text-based content
Not selecting unique content for each prospect or situation
Let's dive into each and see how you can avoid it.
1. Assigning too much or too little content
How much is too much content? Imagine you're a prospect. If you received an email with 15 different links you were supposed to read before your call, would you do it?
You want to give each prospect enough information to have a better sales conversation. You don't need to assign them the entire encyclopedia.
How to fix it:
I recommend two or three pieces of content ahead of each call. Any more than that and you're pushing it.
However, you can provide more content as long as you don't assign it. Something like a buyer's guide might be lengthy, but prospects can use it as a reference material they can thumb through, reading what they'd like.
Also, explain what each piece of content is and why it's relevant (if that's not obvious from the title).
Your email might look like this:
Hi [prospect name],
I'm looking forward to connecting with you. To be sure we use our time effectively, here are a few resources that will help you become more familiar with our agency and our approach so you can determine if we're the right fit for your organization.
Please take the time to review these before our call.
Here is a link to my calendar. Please book a time that is convenient for you.
2. Moving forward even if the prospect doesn't complete the assignment
But what if a prospect doesn't complete the assignment? If this happens (assuming you've assigned the right amount of content), there are two reasons why. One is that they're not that serious about buying. The other is that they're too busy or they forgot.
So, respond accordingly.
How to fix it:
Respond with a short but sincere email that stresses the importance of the material.
Something like this:
Hi [prospect name],
Confirming our 2:45pm EST call today.
This is a reminder to make sure you have had time to read the resources below before we speak. If not, it may make sense to reschedule. I want to ensure we make the best use of our time together.
If you haven't had time to look at the above material, here is my calendar to book another time.
Keep me posted!
If you need to reschedule the call, so be it. If the prospect didn't complete the assignments because they are not serious, you've saved yourself the time that would have been wasted on an unqualified prospect.
If they didn't get to it, pushing back the meeting makes sense — and it stresses the importance of the materials.
Humans are visual creatures, and we want to “get it all and get it fast.” Video often proves to be the most useful tool in educating quickly and thoroughly.
Keep in mind that your prospects might prefer to consume information in different ways, so articles, videos, podcasts, and infographics are all valuable pieces of content to have in your library.
How to fix it:
Meet with your marketing team to talk about other content mediums. Can they help you by producing video content? Are there other types of content they can make?
Be clear with them: sales enablement materials should take different forms to suit all buyers.
4. Not selecting unique content for each prospect or situation
A prospect just getting to know your company is not in the same position as a final-stage buyer deciding between two options. Both need information from you, but their needs are vastly different.
If you blast out the same content email to every prospect, you're going to come off as generic and insincere.
How to fix it:
Build up a library of sales enablement materials that answer as many buyer questions as possible. Keep these resources organized.
Perform regular audits to make sure everything is up to date. Don't be afraid to ask your marketing team for specific materials that apply to each stage and situation.
The right path forward
If your sales reps' time is being exhausted repeating the same information to multiple prospects — or worse, speaking with prospects who aren't yet ready to commit to the buying process, you're leaving money on the table.
Your website and digital content is the best sales tool your reps will ever have.
Delivering that content to prospects in the form of assignment selling allows your sales teams to spend their time in the right places — closing deals, not "working" deals.
Assignment selling is the key to better qualifying a prospect's commitment to the sales process, creating differentiation through education, shortening the sales cycle, and giving valuable time back to your sales reps, all resulting in dramatically improved close rates.
Avoiding the common mistakes outlined above will help you use this process in the most effective way possible. Keep tweaking and evaluating as you go, sharpening your skills and improving your technique.
Lastly, remember that assignment selling cannot take place without alignment between sales and marketing. Make sure you have common brainstorm time to plan content needs.