Not too long ago, I received a call from a business owner who was interested in re-branding his company. Although I tried to engage him in a conversation to learn more about his business he wasn’t very forthcoming. His objective, after confirming that we provided corporate branding services, was to get a meeting on the calendar. After a couple of more failed attempts to further qualify the opportunity I gave up, scheduled the appointment and figured I’d learn what I needed to know when we met.
Later that day, while relaying the story in our pipeline meeting, one of my co-workers commented “It’s no big deal, we always take the first meeting”.
“Well of course”, I thought, “What other possible alternative could there be?”
After spending several hours researching the company and putting together a rather impressive customized PowerPoint on branding, I met with the prospective client at his office, which was an hour’s drive away, for what turned out be a four hour meeting.
Our meeting evolved into quite the educational seminar and after being told that I had “given them a lot of great things to think about”, I packed up, shook hands and hit the road. I had been out of the office for six hours…it was going to be a late night.
Over the next few weeks, several more conversations followed, some by phone and some at his office. In the end, he asked for a quote and that was the last we heard from him. All in, my team and I had invested 15+ hours providing what amounted to be a free course on branding and a ball park estimate for our services. We were engaged and paid to do nothing.
“Always take the first meeting…what other possible alternative could there be?”
Answer: Assignment Selling*
Assignment selling is the process of using educational content to push a prospect down, or out, of the sales funnel as quickly as possible.
In my tale above, the prospect, after getting an education and the all-important quote, determined that it was not the right time to re-brand his company. He soaked up a lot of mine and my firm’s time, time that could have certainly been used more productively had I known he was never really serious about re-branding his company.
Marketing is to Education as Selling is to Revenue
The buying process typically starts with a prospect’s need for information and education on a product or service. Fulfilling this need is the role of marketing. Remember selling, not teaching, is what generates revenue and pays the bills. While there is always an element of education when selling, the focus of a sales call should be geared towards closing the sale.
Prospects that are ready to make a significant investment have done their research. If they haven’t then they are not yet serious about making a purchase and may never become so. Smart customers need to first be educated in order to be sold to. This is where content marketing (i.e., whitepapers, e-books, blogs, videos, etc.) can be extremely valuable.
Making product, service or industry specific content readily available to prospective customers does two things:
- It positions you as the authority or expert while providing essential decision making information
- It further qualifies them as a lead, pushing them deeper into the sales funnel or ejecting them from it all together
Try Giving Them a “Homework” Assignment
The next time, a prospective customer calls asking for an initial meeting or a quote; fight the urge to immediately set the appointment. Ask them first if they have been to your website and read your content. [If you have no web content, download our e-book: Driving More Leads with an Effective Inbound Marketing Campaign]. If they haven’t, send them to your website or e-mail them your e-books, blog links and/or videos and ask them to review all the materials before meeting with them.
If it feels like asking a lot, it should. If someone is really serious about investing thousands or tens of thousands of dollars with you then they likely don’t want to make a mistake with their purchase, which is why the need for great educational content and information is so important.
If they agree, let them know that you will be calling to see if they did their “assignment” prior to the meeting. If they haven’t, reschedule the meeting for a time that they will be more prepared to make an informed decision.
Sound crazy? Consider this: If they didn’t do their research at the onset and still don’t do it after you provide them with the essential information, how interested can they really be? In all likelihood, they are not a serious prospect worth your time to meet in person. All they’re probably interested in is a price. Either way, is it worth two, three or more hours of your time to find out?
If this sounds like an approach that you would like to try for your business, your first step is to determine what learning assignments you have available to provide prospects before your first sales call. Ideally you want to provide 3 – 5 pieces of meaningful content (i.e., e-books, articles, videos or industry specific research papers). If after reviewing your materials, they still want to meet, you have yourself one heck of a qualified lead…tee’d up and ready to buy.
* The idea of assignment selling comes to me from Marcus Sheridan, who has successfully leveraged inbound marketing to meaningfully grow his swimming pool company. He is also a very successful HubSpot partner and widely sought after speaker on inbound marketing.
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