How To Shorten Your Sales Cycles: Assignment Selling

8 min read
Feb 20, 2023 5:44:41 PM

As a salesperson, how much time do you waste on bad-fit prospects every month? Or answering the same questions over and over again? Or chasing a prospect with emails like "Just checking in to see if you have any questions on the proposal I sent" because you haven't heard back yet?

Let's face it: salespeople love and thrive on meeting with ideal-fit clients, but get very frustrated (and rightfully so) with the amount of time they are wasting on the way to getting to the good stuff. This affects not only the morale but also the performance of the team.

On the flip side, what impact would it have on your team if you only spent time with good-fit, highly-educated leads? In this article, we will discuss how to utilize specific content throughout the sales process, resulting in better-fit, higher-educated buyers, faster sales cycles, and, therefore, higher closing rates. This is called assignment selling. After reading this article, you will have a proven and highly practical way to implement this method in your sales process.

What Is Assignment Selling?

Although some companies have used content in the sales cycle before, the term assignment selling originated from Marcos Sheridan's They Ask, You Answer framework. Back when he was still a pool guy in deep financial trouble, he decided to look at his sales data a little closer.

His mission: to find out what distinguished the leads that had requested a quote and bought versus those who didn't end up buying. He found that those who had looked at 30 or more pages of content closed 80% of the time, while those who hadn't looked had only a 25% likelihood of buying. 

💡Leads who read 30+ pages of content had an 80% likelihood of closing!

Since 2008, this concept has been studied more thoroughly in a B2C and B2B context, and while the numbers vary slightly, the overall statement proved to hold. 

Definition: Assignment Selling

Assignment selling refers to the process of actively using content (text-, video-, or audio-based) during the sales process to intentionally educate your buyer about your products and/or services with the purpose of addressing your prospects' main questions and resolving their major concerns, making them dramatically better prepared for sales appointments. 

Benefits Of Assignment Selling

This serves multiple purposes:

  • You differentiate yourself quickly from your competitors. Because you start the sales conversation from a position of a teacher and place so much emphasis on educating your buyer, they will start to see you as an expert or trusted advisor. This allows you to build a unique relationship based on trust and authority.
  • Promotes self-discovery. Today's buyers would rather clean toilets than speak to a salesperson. They prefer to do their own research as they see it as a way to get more unbiased information, allowing them to make the right choice for themselves. Consequently, they prefer to work with companies who respect their needs and minimize the time spent with pushy sales professionals.  
  • Leads to higher-value sales appointments. On average, 80% of the questions asked in a sales appointment are always the same. By assigning a buyer's guide that answers these questions before the appointment, the salesperson can have more effective conversations and focus on providing higher value to the prospect, resulting in better meeting outcomes.
  • Reduces the amount of time wasted on bad-fit prospects. Bad leads will self-filter themselves out — either by reading the material and realizing that your product or service isn't a good fit for them or by not doing the assignment, which 99% of the time means the only criteria for them will be price. 
  • Faster sales cycles. Because you address fears, concerns, and worries proactively and head-on, and your buyer is a lot more educated than they'd be without assignment selling, you move much faster through the sales funnel. 
  • Higher closing rate. When you practice assignment selling, your sales professionals spend more time with your best leads, resulting in much higher closing rates.

Take the course on Assignment Selling now.

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How Do You Shorten Sales Cycles With Assignment Selling?

Implementing assignment selling doesn't have to be complicated or over-engineered, but it does require some thought and pre-planning. Follow these five steps to do it successfully:

1. Map out your sales process and identify ideal assignment selling points

First, bring your sales and marketing teams together and map out your sales process. This can be done in PowerPoint or Google Slides, or in a whiteboarding app like Lucid. The important thing is that you document your entire sales process from beginning to end, including:

  • What are the major milestones in your sales process, e.g., lead fills out TOFU form, demo, trial, or proposal sent?
  • What red flags do you encounter that tell you this lead isn't ready to move to the next step?
  • What criteria do they meet to move to the next steps, e.g., meeting ICP definition criteria to become a Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL) or Budget, Authority, Need, and Timeline (BANT) has been confirmed?

Once you have identified the critical milestone points, think about what questions, concerns, or objections you face before and after those milestones. These are your key points for assignment selling. For example, do you have to "follow up" with a lead once you send them the proposal? Do you have a big drop-off after a demo? 

All these bumps in the road indicate that you could smooth out the process and make it more streamlined. For example, assigning a buyer's guide that discusses ballpark pricing, implementation timelines, and major integration options BEFORE a product demo will often yield a more engaged demo and smoother proposal process than holding a demo and then, in the end, discussing pricing.

2. Make sure you have the content you need for assignment selling

Next, you want to ensure you have the content you need to address your buyer's concerns at each point of the buyer's journey where you identified a need for assignment selling. This can be a Selling 7 video, a Big 5 article, a buyer's guide, or something entirely different. The important thing is that it is helpful and unbiased. 

Audit the content you currently have in-house and determine which pieces of content should be used for assignment selling. Identify any gaps you might have and create an editorial calendar for those topics that you are missing.

Remember: Always create assignment selling content in close collaboration with sales. They know exactly what questions, concerns, fears, or objections a buyer has and, most likely, why. 

3. Manage all assignment selling content in a central place & teach sales how to use each piece

All assignment-based selling content should be stored in an easily accessible repository so everyone can find what they need without having to ask the content manager for it every time. Make sure, you add context around each piece. Many sales teams like to have a quick snippet of text that they can copy and paste — something that summarizes the content and briefly explains why the prospect should read/watch/listen. 

One of the biggest mistakes I see companies make is not teaching sales how to use the content, which results in awkwardly assigned content, leads not bothering to complete the assignment, and frustrated sales professionals who then refuse to use the content. 


4. Create assignment selling scripts

Most sales professionals are great person-to-person but they aren't good copywriters. It is a good idea to create email and even phone scripts to position the assignment correctly. Those scripts need to:

  • Address the why. The prospect must clearly understand why they are being assigned content, what they will learn from it, and how they will benefit from it. 
  • Get a commitment. Simply giving the assignment to buyers won't work. You need to get their commitment that they will complete the assignment in the given time. 
  • Lay out the consequences. Here is where most people chicken out. For this to work, we need to state that we will not proceed to X if they don't do Y. For assignment selling to work, we need to commit to not taking meetings if the prospect hasn't completed the assignment.

But there is a right and a wrong way to go about this, and scripts help your sales professionals to find the right words and tone. We will address specific situations and give you script examples in a different article very soon.

5. Measure and report on the outcomes

Finally, to know what works and what doesn't, it is crucial to measure and report on the results achieved with assignment selling. This could include:

  • The percentage of leads you move from stage to stage,
  • The number of days in each deal stage,
  • The overall length of your sales cycle,
  • The size of the discount given (which should decrease as educated buyers better understand the value you offer), and
  • Other sales analytics KPIs you might track that relate to the velocity and quality of the sales cycle. 

One metric that isn't often mentioned but is very useful is the Net Promoter Score (NPS), which measures your buyer's happiness with the sales process.

Assignment Selling Related FAQs

How do I ask a lead to complete an assignment?

While asking a lead to complete an assignment isn't complicated, it also isn't as simple as writing an email saying: "Thank you for your time yesterday. Below, I have attached some helpful documents I think you should read. Let me know what you think."

You first have to clearly explain how they benefit and why you are assigning the content. This is crucial. Secondly, you will need to be bold and get their commitment that they will complete the assignment before the next meeting with you. Finally, you will need to clarify that there will not be a next step unless the assignment is completed. This might sound a bit harsh, but if done carefully and right, the content will be tremendously helpful to the buyer and is a necessary step in the process.

What if the prospect doesn't complete the assignment?

What could cause a lead to not complete the assignment? Usually, there are two reasons. They say they don't have the time (which simply means it isn't important to them to make it a priority), or they aren't really interested in learning what makes you different from your competition and are only interested in one thing: the price! Either way, if you take the meeting without them having completed the assignment, you will end up frustrated. 

A better way to handle this is to give them a call before meeting with them to ensure that they have read the article or watched the video you assigned. If they haven't, then you ask them something like: "We created this video specifically to answer the top seven questions everyone always asks in a demo so that we can spend more time on your unique problems. By when will you have finished watching the video so we can reschedule our meeting?"

If I do assignment selling, won't this scare some people away?

Yes, there will be people who aren't willing to do the assignments but that's actually a good thing. Rather than wasting time with unengaged or bad-fit leads, you can focus on those that are eager to learn more and have a higher chance of closing. 

Conclusion: Sell  Smarter, Not Harder

Now that you know what assignment selling is and how to implement it, it is time to get your marketing and sales teams together to kick off the process. Start by mapping out the sales process and collecting the top 25 questions your sales team faces. Create the content you need and start using it right away. If you have doubts, start with a single point low down in the funnel and work your way up. 

You've got this! And if you ever get stuck, you know where to find me!

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