By Ian Hirst Greenbank MD, based on a HBR article
What is it and why do we need it?
The downturn is making it tougher than ever to make a sale and the companies you serve are probably slashing budgets. You may even find that senior executives – maybe not the managers you’ve traditionally dealt with – are now the decision makers. But you can motivate those executives to allocate funds for your offering – by using provocation-based selling: It’s a real option if your company’s solution makes a real difference to your clients’ bottom line and many major consultancy firms and technology companies have had real success using the technique…
Clients may already know what is keeping them awake at night in their business. Provocative selling prompts them about what should be keeping them awake at night. It is not a complete replacement for solution or consultative selling but rather an extra ‘arrow in the quiver’ when your client needs a different perspective – or when you realise you need to have a meaningful conversation with a C-Level Executive.
Provocative Selling in 111 words
There are basically 5 steps:
- Identify a critical problem facing your customer-one so ominous that, even in a downturn, it will find the money to address it.
- Formulate a provocative view of the problem-a fresh perspective that frames the problem in a jarring new light.
- Pave the way by exploring it with somebody further down the organisation
- Lodge your provocation with an executive who has the power to approve the solution you’re proposing..
- Gain agreement to a diagnostic study – the first small step towards working with you
A bit more detail on each step…
1. Identify a critical problem
Use your existing knowledge or note what securities analysts are saying about the target company or its industry. When analysts flag a problem, the customer’s investors are likely pressuring management to resolve it. Relevant critical problems:
- Seriously jeopardize the company’s ability to compete.
- Have often proved intractable to date.
- Are a problem you can help them with.
In the current climate, this would typically include something stopping them from being competitive, causing them to lose market share, increasing their cost base etc
2. Formulate a provocative view of the problem
It’s likely that the company has already thought about the problem, but may not have allocated resources to it or perhaps may simply see it is unsolvable…How can you re-define this – eg is the problem really about organisational structure? marketing strategy? company culture? change leadership?
3. Pave the way
Identify the executive who has the power to allocate funds for your offering and find a mutual acquaintance who can provide you with a personal referral. Sell the referrer on your provocation, get more details from them ( eg numbers to help with the business case, the real impact of the problem not being resolved) Make sure you know any objections the senior executive might have – rehearse the eventual discussion….then ask them to make the introduction and help you arrange a meeting.