Assignment Selling: The Essential Sales Technique of the Information Age

by Marcus Sheridan

Assignment Sales Technique 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 2010…..that you’re not currently doing. Allow me to explain.

We’ve been talking a ton lately about content, education, and thinking like a consumer by  answering their questions.

No doubt, the phrase ‘Content is King’ is the latest rage, as well it should be. But what happens when content and information never get read? What happens when a consumer 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 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, as an example.

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 quote on a pool. And in most cases for just about every swimming pool company across the world, the process of setting up this appointment, other than a few ‘find-out’ questions, is rather pitiful.

I say pitiful because I used to be pitiful in my approaches with customers as well. They’d call, we’d talk, and bam—appt made. But before long I realized I was making one grave mistake—the homeowner 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 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 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 go on a sales appointment with an inground pool prospect I’ll 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 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 pool and knows they are getting ready to spend 30-70k, then they likely don’t want to make a mistake on their purchase—hence the call for great content and information.

When I set a sales appointment, I tell the prospect I expect them to read the information sent and check on the references as well.

And what if they say they don’t have time to read the info or seem uninterested?

Then I don’t go out to the home. Pure and simple.

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 I like to say—When it comes to running a successful business, Price Ain’t Nice.

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

As you might imagine, they’ve shot up drastically as well.

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. I can promise you that if you take this leap of faith you will be greatly benefited and you’ll spend much more time selling vs teaching, you’ll be happier, and your wallet will reap the benefits.

Thoughts? Your comments are very much invited below.

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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Kirsten June 25, 2010 at 12:28 pm

Excellent post today Marcus!

Totally agree with the idea of Homework and getting the prospect to have some skin in the game relative to the conversation you are having. If they won’t invest, it is price and also … they may just be what I call a ‘looky-loo’. Someone who has no intention of buying (at least not now) and will waste your precious time. Not all looky-loos are bad mind you … but you should nurture those folks with more content so that by the time they are educated and ready to make a purchasing decision … your name is on the top of their list:)

Great sharing – I will send this on to my man John who can also use this advice to benefit his small biz:)


Marcus Sheridan June 26, 2010 at 3:15 pm

‘Skin in the game’… it Kirsten….hope John enjoys it too! ;-)


leon Noone June 25, 2010 at 3:25 pm

G’Day Marcus,
Well said. My clients are small-medium business managers. I’m constantly reminding them that they need, for want of a better description, “quote criteria:” a set of conditions they need to have satisfied in order to provide a quote. I even go so far as to provide them with a telephone script they can use to ensure that they’re only quoting on jobs that they have a reasonable chance of winning.

Are you familiar with the sales research of Neil Rackham? He’s the creator of “Spin Selling.” It’s not the best title in this day and age, I’ll admit. But It’s a very interesting technique.

It’s designed particularly for sales that are either big ticket or long cycle or a combination of both. And it’s based on empirical work he did in the field. It’s not merely an academic theory. I’m sure that you could find his books on Amazon.

If you give me your permission, I’ll pass on your details to his company, Huthwaite, so that you can receive their newsletter. There’s no affiliate arrangement or anything like that. It’s just really good stuff and it works.

Make sure you have fun.




Marcus Sheridan June 26, 2010 at 3:17 pm

Sounds great Leon. Would love that……’Quote Criteria’, very good phrase as well—-the idea to have a specific and planned set of conditions is huge in this day and age. As always, thanks for stopping by my friend!


Brittany M. June 19, 2014 at 4:25 pm

Hi Marcus,

Thank you for sharing this idea. It’s so simplistic and can really add value back into meetings. I was very interested to see if you or Leon still had that “quote criteria” that you all discussed earlier? I would love to know more about how to discuss homework with clients and the content I general.

Thanks again! Funny how this is so relevant four years after it originally posted!!



Marcus Sheridan June 19, 2014 at 7:41 pm

The key is experimentation Brittany. It may be an eBook you’ve produced. Or a video. Or both. But if you play around with this, you’ll start to get a good sense of the impact of content on your sales and qualifying process.

So get busy experimenting!!! :-)



Kay Ballard November 18, 2010 at 7:46 pm

This is quite simply, smart, smart, smart.

When I was in active practice as an estate planning attorney, I worked very much the same way. The result was that I turned potential clients into clients 100% of the time even though I charged substantially more than my competition.

I think your approach would work for any service provider including professional services.
.-= Kay Ballard´s last blog ..Blog Sibling Rivalry =-.


Marcus Sheridan November 19, 2010 at 3:58 pm

Great example Kay. What’s funny is that as I teach this concept to businesses everywhere, there are always those that think they’re ‘the exception.’ Sadly, it’s those same businesses that are getting passed by.

Assignment selling, in one way, shape, or form, works in any field.

Thanks for stoppin by!


paul wolfe November 22, 2011 at 4:28 am


just so you know, I’m doing my homework! This is another incredible piece of information buried away on your blog!



Krista Kotrla January 7, 2013 at 12:24 pm

I’m with Paul! This is a totally awesome gold nugget unbelievably buried away. Really surprised it doesn’t have more comments and social shares. ITS A GEM I TELL YOU!

You’ve referenced the concept before so that’s why I just googled “assignment selling” and WHOOP, there it is. One of my goals is to implement this better with our team and now I can assign them to read this post as part of the process. See what I did there ;-)

Thanks for being awesome, Marcus! Keep rockin’ it.



Amanda Ingle February 7, 2013 at 3:22 pm

When you send homework via email, what do you say in the email body? Just curious.

This is such a great concept by the way, have been doing it for a while with photography!


Marcus Sheridan February 7, 2013 at 11:19 pm

Usually it’s a set of video and article links Amanda, or an ebook too. It all depends.


Dan June 24, 2013 at 12:40 am

Thanks Marcus! I heard you back in March on the HubSpot webinars. I’m new to inbound marketing. Funny I have a BA in Spanish and I’m looking to buy a swimming pool company very soon (maintenance/service). I subscribed to Jason Hughes back in December on YouTube to learn about pool maintenance and cleaning. Had no idea you guys were partners and you were this HUGE until today when I got the email from HubSpot that you guys were doing new webinars in July. Look forward to learning a lot about marketing, and pools from you.



Marcus Sheridan June 26, 2013 at 2:39 am

Thrilled to hear it Dan! Here’s to wishing you big success with your new business!!!



Margaret July 24, 2013 at 6:04 pm

Dear Marcus,

I understand the concept of giving people homework, but we sell a topical pain cream and when people are in pain they usually just want to buy and get it quickly, so I don’t know what kind of homework we would give?

Answering their questions I think more so than we do in the FAQ’s, which I know you hate is something we are thinking more about, after the webinar.

Any suggestions would be taken to heart.



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