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So Now It’s Provocative Selling!

by David Brock on March 16th, 2009
I hate to start blogs with a disclaimer or apology, but I was very excited with I saw Geoffrey Moore’s (et. al.) article in HBR on Provoke Your Customer. I deeply respect—in fact hang on most of his words, his writing and work. I’ve crossed every chasm, done the bowling alleys and survived almost every tornado. I was eager to be a student of his new writing about Provocative Selling!

It is a provocative article-perhaps that was its intended purpose. Every sales professional should read it, study it and absorb it’s many good ideas. The most challenging notion in the article is moving from thinking about “What keeps our customers awake at night,” to “What should keep our customers awake at night.”

I think it is an important—natural question every sales professional should be constantly be challenging themselves and their customers with. Great sales professionals challenge their customers to think about their businesses differently. They not only solve their customers problems, but they find new opportunities for their customers to expand and grow their businesses. They bring their customers new ideas and possibilities—possibly provocative ideas.

These ideas engage the customer in a different type of conversation with the customer. We move from how they solve today’s problems, but what they can do and where they go tomorrow. The interesting thing is that you don’t have to have the “right idea,” the mere act of engaging the customer in a different conversation changes your relationship profoundly.

Years ago, I was prospecting to a potentially new client. I had done a detailed analysis and in my prospecting letter to the CEO, I sent a provocative letter, outlining some challenges they may be facing with their company, but did not appear to be addressing (yes, I am that presumptuous in prospecting letters).

She called me, with an interesting response. She said the issues I had identified were things they were aware of and working on. She went on to say, it would have been impossible for anyone not part of the executive management team to know what they were doing. Finally, she asked me to come meet with her and her team on a completely different set of issues.

I couldn’t contain my surprise, I responded that I would be glad to meet with them, but was embarrassed about having been off base on the issues. This is where the learning opportunity for me came: She responded: “You couldn’t have known, but what your letter demonstrated was the quality of your thinking and your ability to help us think differently. That is the kind of help I am looking for! I just need it in a different area and know you can contribute.”

In a profession that has too many buzz words, we don’t need another set. The basic principle of engaging your customer in a different conversation, caring about their business, and continually giving them ideas, solutions, and help in achieving their goals is what is most valued by customers! It should be part of what every sales professional does, every day.

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