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Alex Winter

By Alex Winter

May 1, 2024

Topics:

Sales Enablement Advanced They Ask, You Answer Assignment Selling Sales Professionals Endless Customers Podcast
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Sales Enablement  |   Advanced They Ask, You Answer  |   Assignment Selling  |   Sales Professionals  |   Endless Customers Podcast

Sell Better: How to Close Deals Efficiently and Effectively [Endless Customers Podcast S.1 Ep.28]

Alex Winter

By Alex Winter

May 1, 2024

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Marcus

I have never seen a situation where assignment selling did not improve closing rates. So it's like, why in the world would you not want to improve closing rates if you could? That's a great question. It doesn't make any sense.


Alex

You're listening to the Endless Customers Podcast, where we help you earn trust and win customers in the age of AI. Welcome back to the show. My name is Alex Winter. This is Endless Customers and today we are joined by the one and only Marcus Sheridan, speaker, author, partner here at IMPACT. What's up buddy,


Alex

how are you? Here we go again. Here we go again. So today we're talking about something that I think is really cool. It's something that we know really well here at Impact and if you know about the Ask, You Answer, you're familiar with it. It's called assignment selling. But I don't know if everyone out there knows what that means and might be confused with assignment selling. What is that? How does that work with sales teams?


Alex

What is this thing? So I think a good place to start is let's talk about what it is and then two, how sales teams can implement it and use it to their advantage.


Marcus

Yeah.


Marcus

So assignment selling started with my swimming pool company, River Pools, and what was happening is I was looking at my HubSpot analytics and comparing those that had bought a pool versus those that had not bought a pool and trying to just understand the difference in their behavior. And I compared two groups of people, both had fill out a form, said, I want to get a quote.


Marcus

One group bought, one group didn't buy. So I said to myself, what is the difference? If I'm looking at these analytics, what's the difference between the ones that, you know, took the leap and actually engaged us as a company? And what I noticed is that the number 30 kept popping out.


Marcus

And that number 30 represented the total pages viewed by the prospect. In other words, if somebody read 30 or more pages of the website before the initial sales appointment, they would buy roughly 80% of the time. Now, if they didn't hit that magical number,


Marcus

closing rates were around 25%, which is industry average. One in four homes you go to to sell a pool, they buy. Okay, so I said, Oh, my goodness. So you're telling me if somebody consumes 30 pieces of our content, they're going to buy four out of five times. Oh, my goodness, that's a game changer was a total game changer. Wow. And so I said, I need to find a way to be very intentional in terms of how we integrate content into the sales process. Yeah.


Marcus

And that's where assignment selling was born. It's a very intentional, key phrase, intentional usage of effective content in the sales process. That's where it began.


Alex

Wow. That's fascinating. And it sounds like the close rates, if people are consuming this content, went through the roof.


Marcus

Oh yeah.


Alex

And also, just a quick thing for people listening, the first part of that story that you said, which is the most important part, is that you were leveraging your CRM. You were looking at data.


Marcus

Oh yeah. Oh yeah. You know, it's amazing the patterns that you'll see if you just take the time to look.


Alex

Yeah.


Marcus

Right? And a lot of folks, you know, they don't even look at their HubSpot. Maybe they're using a HubSpot agency and the agency is the one that is, like you should learn how to use HubSpot yourself. I'm not a super technical guy.


Marcus

This is true. Anybody that knows me will verify this fact. But I took the time to learn HubSpot enough to where I could see, okay, here are the patterns that I need to know. And so once I understood that, man, we started to really integrate it. And the thing about assignment selling is to do it the right way, it's got three main


Marcus

parts to it. All right, it's got three main parts. And I'll explain what each one of those are. So the first thing is, the person needs to understand definitively what the assignment is. Got to be really explicit about that.


Marcus

Number two, you got to explain why it matters that they do the assignment. And then number three, they got to know when the assignment is due by. Now this might sound almost too classroom-ish for some of those that are listening.


Alex

Sounds like homework. Yeah, we have to do homework.


Marcus

But it is. It is homework. But it's all about how you do it and how you present it. So I'm going to show everyone how to do this, how you would present this to the prospect here. Okay, cool.


Marcus

And this is something I've taught to a whole bunch of sales teams. It doesn't change. This method that I'm showing you, this what, and this why, and this when, that does not change. So I want you all, as we're doing this, to really pay attention to how I'm saying this, because I'll meet with sales organizations, some of which are saying that they're doing or have read They Ask, You Answer, and therefore they're doing assignment selling, and I'll say, okay, well, show me your assignment selling and then as soon as I see them actually doing it, I'm like you are not doing it.


Marcus

Because when you go to someone and say, hey, I've got a couple of videos, it would be great if you could give them a look. That's not assignment selling. So let's look at what it is. Okay, so you can be the prospect, Alex. It's pretty simple.


Marcus

Do a little role play here? Yeah, it's not, you don't have a big role, but just look handsome, you're good at that, definitely. Thank you. All right, and so you know, if you want to say something you can but I'm not there's not much to say Okay, so, you know it used to be before Simon selling that you would call me up and say hey Marcus


Marcus

I'm checking out your website Could you come out to my house this Friday and give me a quote for swimming pool and I would say after a couple questions Yeah, sure. Let's come out But once we understood the power of those 30 pages for us then we completely like


Marcus

revolutionized our initial conversations, our methodology. And so now it might sound like this. You call me up and you say, Marcus, I'm checking out your website, could you come up to my house and give me a quote for a pool this Friday? And I say, sure, Alex, I'd love to come out to your house and give you a quote for a swimming pool, but you're getting ready to spend a lot of money.


Marcus

And if you're going to spend a lot of money, I know you don't want to make any mistakes. And so as to make sure you don't make any mistakes, here's what's going to happen. As we're talking on the phone right now, I'm going to send you a few things that you're going to love.


Marcus

Now, the first thing I'm going to send you is a video that shows you the entire process of a fiberglass swing pool being installed. So in other words, you're going to see what it looks like when it comes up to the yard and on a tractor trailer,


Marcus

the excavation of the hole, going in the ground, the patio going around it, the cleanup, the whole nine. This way, when I come out to your house on Friday, you're not going to say to me, Marcus, so what does this process look like? Now, a quick timeout, that just saved me 20 to 30 minutes on the sales appointment so far. So assignment selling, in many ways, is about efficiency and getting past redundant questions. Okay, let's get back to the role play. Now, the second thing


Marcus

I'm going to send you that you're really going to love, Alex, is a guide. This guide's great because it's going to answer all these questions about fiberglass swimming pools that you should have that you might not have thought about. By the way, that was a quick tease because I'm getting you thinking about, huh, what should I know? What haven't I thought about? Yeah, exactly. So for example, it's going to address questions like, should I get a heater


Marcus

with my pool? What's the best type of heater? Should it be gas? Should it be electric? Should it heat and cool my water? Should I get a cover? What's the best type of cover? Should it be mesh?


Marcus

Should it be solid? Should it be automatic? Should it be solar? Now, this guide, it's a little bit long, Alex. It's about 30 pages, but I promise it'll be well worth your time.


Marcus

So Alex, will you take the time to review these things before our appointment on Friday?


Alex

Yes, Marcus, that sounds great.


Marcus

There you go. And great job, by the way, on your role. And that is assignment selling. So let's break out though, what we just heard. Yeah, let's break it down. Yeah. So first thing we said is, what is the assignment? What assignment is?


Alex

The assignment to start was... I've asked you to do two things. Yeah, I'm skipping to the second one already about reading the 30 page guide.


Marcus

Right, so you've got a video. The video, that's right.


Alex

Right, and you've got a guide.


Marcus

Yeah. Now, that was the assignment itself. Now, notice I elaborated on those things, on what was in there, because I wanted you thinking to yourself, I don't know that. I need to know that. I need to know that.


Marcus

I need to know that. So this is where the why it matters.


Alex

Yeah, you're creating demand though because otherwise if you're like, I'm just going to send you a video to check out. Correct. It leaves it so open-ended that there's no buy-in for me to be like, why do I need to watch this video?


Marcus

Yeah, and I can elaborate even further. If I wanted to at near the end there, I could have said, now by you doing this, it'll prevent you from making any mistakes that you should not have made simply by learning the answer to all these really important questions that you should have. Right. Right.


Marcus

So it's like you can add anything, but the why came in the tease. The tease of here's what it's going to discuss. These are things that you don't currently know. You should know these things. They'll prevent you from making mistakes.


Marcus

Okay.


Marcus

So that was the why.


Marcus

That's part of it.


Alex

And that tease to just throw this in here, because this resonated with me was you address the price right up front. You were like, hey, listen, you're spending, you're going to be investing a lot of money, a lot of money in a pool. So let's make sure you get this right. You don't waste money. You know, that's right.


Marcus

You don't want to make any mistakes, right? Like we right out. Boom. You don't want to make any mistakes. I'm planning these little seats. Yeah, I am listening.


Marcus

A lot of money.


Alex

Right.


Marcus

I don't want to make any mistakes. Yep. And then all of a sudden I'm talking about heaters and you're like, heaters can cool the water. Would I need to cool my water? Is that really something I would eat? Right now? Maybe we're Alex lives in Connecticut. No, but in Virginia,


Marcus

a whole lot of people have heat pumps that also can cool the water. And there's probably a few weeks out of the year where they really, really enjoy that. Right. I guess I don't know that.


Alex

I guess the wheel spinning. Yeah. Same thing with the covers. I didn't know that you could have solar automatic at all times. Yeah. Right.


Marcus

And so the question is done or the whole bit is done in such a way that it leaves you wanting more. It creates a curiosity gap and you want to fill that gap. The way you do that, of course, is by doing the assignment. Now the when came at the end. I said very specifically, Alex, will you take the time to review these things before our


Marcus

appointment on Friday? And you, of course, said yes. Now here's what I did not say, and this is where a lot of sales teams mess up. What I didn't say was, how's that sound to you? The number one phrase that I hear sales teams make is how's that sound to you?


Marcus

Not allowed folks.


Alex

Don't say that.


Marcus

No, because what's the answer to that? Sounds fine. Have they agreed to anything if they say fine? They've agreed to nothing. And so by you doing this now they have verbally agreed, you have your first contract, literally, with the homeowner.


Marcus

This is your first contract. And creating small contracts in sales are very important because if they can fulfill small contracts at the beginning, they're much more likely to sign large contracts at the end of the sales process. So you're literally training them how to have or form an agreement with you. That's assignment selling.


Marcus

You've got the what, you've got the why, you've got the when. And if you do this and you do it consistently, now what you're going to see is oftentimes an explosion in your closing rates. You're going to have higher closing rates and a shorter sales cycle. Why? Because they're going to be more informed.


Marcus

They're going to be more informed because they're consuming the content and learning things that they should already know, ideally, before you get there. When I talk to salespeople, I love to ask the question, is there ever a question you get from a prospect that when they ask you that question, immediately it's a signal that says, oh gosh, they're not ready to buy. See, I used to get that all the time.


Marcus

So, you know, if somebody asked me back in the day when I went on a sales appointment, all those years ago, if somebody said to me, Marcus, what's the difference between a concrete and a fiberglass pool?


Marcus

Man, I was probably almost never selling that pool because they were still very, very early right and I had loud Allowed that ignorance to exist right there's a knowledge gap there that you need a big knowledge gap So what does that lead to it leads to you spending more time teaching less time selling? The whole purpose of assignment selling it allows you to do what you do best, which is sell more So let the education stuff happen


Marcus

So now you're able to get to the part of selling. I love that.


Alex

And I think most salespeople would love that too


Alex

because if you can have educated buyers that shorten the time you have to spend getting them to make a buying decision, who doesn't want that? You would think.


Marcus

Yet, a lot of organizations,


Alex

Really?


Marcus

They don't do it well. Okay. A lot of salespeople are stuck in their ways. You know, at Impact, we train folks on how to do assignment selling. You got to do a lot of role plays. You got to, first you start with the champions, get the champions doing it, get them to share


Marcus

their stories with the rest of the sales team, and now all of a sudden everybody else gets a little bit jelly and they're like, hey man, I want in on that action. I mean, that's how it works with sales teams, right? But you've got to practice this. They're not going to come out the gate and just understand that what, that why, and that when.


Marcus

I can tell you right now that is not going to happen. They're not going to do it very well. Most of the time, like I said, when you ask someone, are you doing assignment selling? They're like, oh yeah, I do it. And then you watch it. It literally sounds like a very, very passive throw in slash invite slash, you know, it'd


Marcus

be great if you could give this a look, you know, before a meeting. How's that sound to you type of business and that's not selling it's certainly not assignment selling it's not very effective and then folks will have the audacity to say no we just found it wasn't working for us that is complete I have never seen a situation where assignment selling did not improve closing rates so it's like why in the world would you not want to improve


Marcus

closing rates if you could yeah I that's a great question I don't know. It doesn't make any sense.


Alex

So for some of the instances that you're talking about, why wasn't it working? It sounds like it was user error or like they weren't leaning into it enough. Is that right?


Marcus

Does that make sense?


Marcus

This goes back to the thing that you've heard me talk a lot about even on this podcast, which is we have a dearth of sales training in the world today. I believe salespeople today, and this is offensive to some, and that's on them, not on me, salespeople today are less skilled than they've ever been across the board. Doesn't mean there's not great salespeople out there.


Marcus

But as a whole, generally speaking, salespeople today are less skilled than they've ever been. The reason is because we don't do enough trainings, specifically role play trainings. You don't do what we just described, like just boom, you're not suddenly great at it.


Marcus

You have to learn, there's probably multiple different, that one I just gave, that was for the person looking at a fiberglass sway pool. Folks, if you sell 10 different services or products, you're gonna have multiple different assignments that you're gonna delve out.


Marcus

It's gonna be a different style with those a different, you know, you know, why what when different questions, right assignments. Yeah. And so it should be extremely comfortable and it should be fluid and you should ask in such a way. Notice I didn't say to you, I didn't say well, I'm gonna ask you do me a favor. No, I said, so


Marcus

here's what we're going to do next. I'm going to send you these two things. Here's the reason why I'm sending you these two things. Will you take the time to review these two things? It wasn't really an option for you. That's a professional. A professional says, is leading the sales process,


Marcus

here's how this is gonna go. But because we live in a world that is very soft when it comes to direct feedback, and doesn't want to have anybody be judged or have hurt feelings we don't have we don't create cultures of role-play training within organizations or ways to really learn how to get better so sad it's the worst in b2b which is crazy the


Marcus

industry that is typically best at this car sale automotive they do okay most high-performing teams in the automotive space have weekly sales trainings, weekly.


Marcus

Yeah.


Marcus

And they're the best. They're the best. You know, it's like I love, and people give like car sales people like a bad name.


Alex

Especially the used car sales people.


Marcus

Yeah, but it's like, there's tons that are great. Plus CarMax changed that whole game anyway, with the whole used car.


Alex

Yeah, the games changed a lot.


Marcus

The haggling games is what killed it. You eliminate haggling, all of a sudden, you know, it's a game changer in terms of the user experience, the customer experience. And so, you know, there's just not a lot of, you know, most B2Bs really, really fail to do great sales training because they're so busy playing with tools. And they think, oh, I got to use Salesforce, I use HumpSpot, that's my CRM. And, you know, let's, our sales training consists of looking at the pipeline and just like announcing, okay, here's where my six people in my pipeline


Marcus

currently are. That's not a sales training. That's a sales update.


Alex

That's just, yeah, you're reporting on what's going on.


Marcus

Oh, here's some product announcements that everybody should know.


6

Cool.


Marcus

Man, we are wasting some time. And so, yeah, this is the problem that we're dealing with. And it can be fixed, but it starts from the top. Leaders need to be willing to put themselves in the line of fire when it comes to role plays, especially sales managers. If your sales manager is not willing to make mistakes in front of his or her team, they're


Marcus

not a very good sales manager because you can't possibly do role play trainings with someone without you leading the way. Like if you ask my team like what's it like to role play with Marcus? Marcus puts himself in the game over and over again to show. And when I screw up, I let him know. I'll say immediately before anybody,


Marcus

yeah, that wasn't any good, here's the reason why.


Marcus

I've seen you do it.


Alex

Yeah, this isn't working. Let's hit the reset button and try this again.


Marcus

Yeah, yeah. It happens all the time. It's totally okay because I know that's part of the process. Right. And I embrace that process of, again, for me,


Alex

it's just personal development. I can relate, though, because when we first started doing role plays I was very much in the mentality of like wait we're doing we're doing what? Yeah. I don't want to make a mistake. As a video guy you know. Yeah it's like what's happening here but then the more that you do it the more you realize you're gonna make mistakes and it's better to make them with your colleagues


Alex

in a situation like this than on a call with a potential client where you look like you don't know what you're talking about and then you're gonna lose a sale you know like that's ultimately what we're talking about is trying to get ready for the game, trying to be bringing your A game to the conversations and not making those mistakes


Alex

and trying to figure it out on the call.


Marcus

Well, we have, you know, we've got the adage at impact. We do not practice on our customers, we practice on ourselves. That's very, very important. We do not practice on our customers. You're losing potentially millions of dollars a year


Marcus

if you're practicing on your customers, practice on yourselves, create that mindset, make the hardest customer the role play that you do in that weekly sales training. And if you do that, it's like everything is a cakewalk. But few companies are willing to do that. That's a shame. Again, it's because we have a leadership problem.


Marcus

That's because we have a fear of feedback problem. But what we're talking about here is, you know, when you when you have a culture of feedback that is caring, candor, and however you want to call it. When you have that within an organization, man, you galvanize relationships because everybody's a little more real with each other.


Marcus

They're not walking around on eggshells. They're not holding stuff in so much. That's powerful.


Alex

That is powerful. That's really powerful. So I'm bought in, clearly. I hope our listeners that are listening to this are getting some more buy-in as they're listening to you talk about this.


Alex

But I want to go back. So let's say you're a salesperson, you start to implement assignment selling, you have a great conversation, you assign some homework, you're like, hey, on Friday when we talk again, can you have this stuff ready for me?


Alex

What happens if you get to Friday, you go to see this client, and they didn't do the homework? Or like what happens in certain situations where it doesn't always go to plan?


Marcus

Well, I mean, that's why I recommend when we teach this, I recommend that you reach out to the prospect night before, day of, and send that one-to-one video that reminds them, hey, make sure you do your homework. I'll even say homework,


Marcus

because I expect it to be done, it's homework, right? Because, and then I'm gonna reiterate the why. It's important you know this, it's important you understand this. This is going to prevent you from making mistakes. It's going to make our time together much more efficient. I've seen situations, like I've even tracked it before when I first started doing assignment


Marcus

selling. I'm like, what happens when they don't do the assignment? And I literally took, one time I did six months of tracking the appointments that had not done the homework. I said, how many of these closed? What's the closing rate for these people?


Marcus

Yeah, I'm curious. Do you know what the closing rate was? And I'm not exaggerating when I say this. No. Zero percent.


Alex

Zero.


Marcus

So in other words, when somebody wasn't willing to spend any time to learn and to become educated, it meant that they were really basing their decision on one thing, which was price. And if they're basing the decision only on price, I'm gonna lose every time


Marcus

because we're always gonna be more expensive.


Alex

Yeah.


Alex

I mean, you know what though? That also helps you disqualify those people that don't wanna be educated, that don't want to buy because ultimately it's not a good fit for the type of business that you're, the products that you're selling.


Marcus

Yeah. Like with my pool company, before I would go out on a sales appointment or our team goes out on a sales appointment, they confirm the appointment and they confirm that they've done the homework. And if they haven't done the homework, guess what? They'll delay the appointment.


Marcus

Now I'm not saying you should do that if you're listening to this, but that's what we do because we know that if they haven't done it, we're just gonna be spinning our wheels Anyway, it's no different than you know My team knows that if I'm gonna talk to a prospect if they haven't read they ask you answer Then there's not a whole lot of reason for me to talk to the prospect Yeah, just doesn't they it's like if I'm trying to go in there and convince them of something It should be more of like they've got


Marcus

They've got skin in the game. They have put in time, effort and energy. They're not just, you know, demanding answers. They've done the work. Anybody knows that if you've ever dealt that person that didn't want to do anything and they just had a million questions for you, expected you just to wait on them like a servant to answer their questions, that is not a good prospect to have in the sales world. You want somebody that's equally yoked with you, that's invested in trying to figure this out.


Alex

Yeah, and I think some salespeople would be like, challenge accepted. I can convert them. I can get them to be a client. But then even if you can accomplish that, what's that client relationship going to be like? You know, you might be opening up a can of worms with a client that is really not a good


Marcus

fit. It's not one that I want to have. Exactly. I can tell you right now. That doesn't change. The behaviors, the patterns that you see in the sales process, they continue when they


Marcus

become a customer. They don't suddenly just become incredibly like easier, nice to work with, right? And so those that are invested in learning, they tend to be just a lot more thoughtful in general, a lot less reactionary, more level-headed when it comes to, you know, the actual relationship.


Alex

I love it. That's assignment selling, folks. It sounds like something that people should be doing immediately. So if you're a sales team that doesn't know how to do this, first off, read the book they ask you to answer, but then start getting into assignment selling and how it could really help you change your closing rates. And if you have questions, Marcus, how can people get in touch with you


Alex

to learn more?


Marcus

Yeah, of course. I mean, you know, and one last thing I'll say about this, people oftentimes will say, how long does it take The Ask You Answer to work?


Marcus

Okay.


Marcus

Your sales team, if they learn how to do this, can integrate one piece of content into their sales process that immediately changes your sales calls and Immediately affects your closing rates. That's powerful. So they ask you answer can work immediately But it's it happens when you learn how to integrate content into the sales process from jump That being said if you want to reach out to me


Marcus

You can find me at Marcus Sheridan calm is my website And of course I speak and teach on these things And so if you need a speaker if you need someone to do a training with your company, I'm happy to have that conversation with you, or maybe somebody from Impact as well. And you can find me on LinkedIn,


Marcus

because that's where I put some of my best stuff, and people tend to really enjoy it.

Alex

All right, and that's our show, so thank you for tuning in to the Endless Customers Podcast. We really appreciate you listening, and we will see you on the next episode. And hey, don't forget that we have episodes every Monday and Wednesday releasing on all major platforms so be sure to go subscribe that way you won't miss out on


Alex

major platforms so be sure to go subscribe that way you won't miss out on how you can earn trust and win customers in the age of AI.

About this Episode

Ask your average salesperson the following question: Are there certain questions you find yourself answering on every single sales call?

Chances are, this will be met by a laugh or an eye-roll or a sigh of despair.

Yes, salespeople field the same questions from customer after customer after customer. 

Assignment selling can help change all that. 

Assignment selling is the act of using content during the sales process to address major objections and questions your buyers have — often before they come up during a meeting.

Assignment selling is the act of using content during the sales process to address major objections and questions your buyers have.

The idea was developed by Marcus Sheridan more than a decade ago when he was running his swimming pool company River Pools and Spas.

Marcus was writing a lot of marketing content for his website that was bringing in tons of traffic — and a good number of leads. He decided to dig through the data to see what conclusions he could draw about his customers.

Marcus realized he had two very different groups of people requesting sales calls — and he was seeing dramatically different close rates depending on which camp someone came from.

  • The first group had only viewed a handful of pages on his website. They had a closing rate of around 25%. 
  • The second group had viewed an average of 30 pages of his website and had a closing rate of around 80%.

In short, the more well-informed the buyer is, the more likely that buyer will close.

Marcus took this lesson and applied it more broadly. In the time since, he’s taught salespeople all around the world to use content to get questions out of the way ahead of time. 

So, rather than answering the question when it comes up in a meeting, a salesperson can say, “I know you’re likely going to have questions about X. I’m going to send you some resources that explain it thoroughly so you’ll feel more well-informed going into our next meeting.”

This is the beauty of assignment selling: better sales conversations, more attention paid to buyer needs, and deeper trust built between the prospect and the company.

Connect with Marcus

Marcus Sheridan is a writer, speaker, and business expert who’s worked with companies all over the world. Marcus is the author of They Ask, You Answer and co-author of The Visual Sale.

Connect with Marcus on LinkedIn

Learn more about They Ask, You Answer

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Endless Customers is a podcast produced and distributed by IMPACT, a sales and marketing training organization.

We coach businesses to implement our They Ask, You Answer framework to build trust and fill their pipeline. 

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They Ask, You Answer 90-Day Starter Guide