Assignment Selling: A Completely Different Approach to Sales in the Information Age

Have you ever heard the phrase ‘Assignment Selling’? Chances are, you haven’t, but let me assure you it may be the most important part of your business’ marketing and sales success in 2012 and beyond, if you’re only but willing to embrace the following concepts.

We all keep hearing the phrase ‘Content is King’ again and again, as well we should. But what happens when we produce content and information but it never gets read? What happens when a potential client just breezes through it without truly making the effort to absorb its teachings?

The answer, as we all know, is Nothing. Nothing happens. Nobody learns. No trust and authority is established. And no progress is made.

When it comes down to it, ‘Content is King’ needs to be paired with the phrase ‘As Long as Someone is Actually Listening’.

To explain what I’m trying to say here let’s look at my other field—the swimming pool industry. (Note*** Other than teaching folks about social media and content marketing, I also own an inground swimming pool construction company in Virginia.)

Often times prospects will excitedly call my store or send us an email requesting to have someone out to their house so as to give them information and a price quote for a swimming pool. This process is rather typical of the swimming pool industry but unfortunately, most pool companies are pitiful with this initial conversation.

I say pitiful because I used to be incredibly less-effective in my approach with customers as well. They’d call, we’d talk, and bam—appointment made. But before long I realized I was making one grave mistake—the prospect didn’t have enough responsibility on their end. In other words, they were looking for someone to teach them in their home what they could already learn from the countless pages of content and video on my website.

Teaching vs. Selling

Because of this lack of responsibility, I found myself spending too much time teaching prospects on sales calls and not enough time actually selling. And regardless of what anyone in the world might say, selling, and not teaching, is what ultimately pays the bills.

Upon realizing the error of my ways, I became much bolder with clients. In fact, I started giving them ‘homework’ before I’d come out to their house.

Yes, that’s right, I did just say homework.

For example, before I would go on a sales appointment with an inground pool prospect I would send them the following information:

  • Our company reference list of over 600 customers
  • A 50 page eBook all about swimming pools and options
  • 3-5 Significant Articles/Videos from our company blog

As you can see, this is a lot of information—as well it should be. If someone is serious about a purchasing a swimming pool and knows they are getting ready to spend 30-100k, then they likely don’t want to make a mistake on their purchase—hence the call for great content and information.

So whenever I would set a sales appointment, I would also request that the prospect take the time to thoroughly read each piece of information.

I would also let them know that if they were unable to do their ‘homework’, we would just delay the appointment until they were more prepared to make an informed decision.

That’s right, if they didn’t do their part I would not go on the sales appointment.

You see, when it comes down to it, if a consumer isn’t willing to do their due diligence when researching an expensive product or service, this means only one thing:

All they care about is price.

And as we all know, when it comes to running a successful business, Price Ain’t Nice.

Since our company made the switch to assignment selling a few years back, we now find sales appointments are incredibly more effective. Prospects are clearly informed. Trust, because of the content, has already been established long before we arrive. And what about closing rates?

As you might imagine, they’ve shot up drastically while sales cycles have actually gone down significantly.

Needless to say, assignment selling has had an amazing effect on our business and sales staff.

Start Giving ‘Homework’ Today

So my question to you is what learning assignments do you give to prospects before your first sales meeting? Are you just asking a few simple questions or are you making sure the prospect demonstrates effort on their part as well?

If you’re not yet implementing this strategy into your sales system, please start today. Come up with some type of ‘homework’ for your clients and watch the dominoes fall as they may.

Over the past year, I’ve trained multiple companies to embrace this way of thinking and it has had a huge impact on their overall numbers, so please don’t think your company is the exception to the rule. These principles work, so please give it a try.



Marcus Sheridan, who writes at The Sales Lion, helps business increase traffic, leads, and sales through the power of content and inbound marketing. Make sure to get his FREE, 230-page eBook: Inbound and Content Marketing Made Easy.

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About the Author: Marcus Sheridan

The story of Marcus Sheridan is a unique one. In 2001, he stumbled across his first business with two friends and began installing swimming pools out of the back of a beat-up pickup truck. 9 years later, and with the help of incredible innov…

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  1. Debra Feldman

    February 6, 2012 at 4:03 pm

    Hello Marcus-

    At first glance, I took objection to the term “assignment selling,” because I am a firm advocate for building relationships with prospects as the first step. I always want to pre-qualify prospects. As an executive talent agent who represents senior level professionals, I personally put my reputation on the line every time I set up a networking meeting for a client.  Uniquely, not only do I engineer a guaranteed effective job search plan but I personally execute the strategy which enables JobWhiz clients to avoid cold calling and to dramatically expand their networking connections in a matter of weeks. This jump starts their career to the next level by making the insider contacts they need to accelerate their job search campaign and reach decision makers with hiring authority who will appreciate them and welcome their initiative.  Before I will accept any client or allow them to hire me, I thoroughly screen their background and make certain that their expectations are fully aligned with my  ability to deliver positive results.  Like you, I provide prospects with extensive educational materials which they must review before our first conversation.  If they don’t invest that time in preparing for a meaningful dialogue, it tells me instantly that they are not serious and that there is a very high probability this is not the right timing. 

    Thank you for labeling the process as “assignment selling!” I just thought it was about setting expectations about benefits and evaluating prospects.

    Debra Feldman, JobWhiz, Executive Talent Agent

    Since 2000,  have personally developed top-tier new
    career opportunities for senior level executives matching their
    personal selection criteria and produced thousands of productive
    networking relationships with hiring authorities to promote confidential,
    targeted connections and
    build swift pathways to unadvertised positions in the hidden job market

    • Debra, you really nailed this when you said: ”  If they don’t invest that time in preparing for a meaningful dialogue,
      it tells me instantly that they are not serious and that there is a
      very high probability this is not the right timing. ”

      That’s exactly it. If they don’t put in some effort on the front end we certainly won’t get the business in the rear.

      Thanks so much!


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