Provocation-Based Selling

I’ve just come across a fascinating clash of viewpoints that, quite rightly,  highlight how the slightest of nuance can make a huge difference to people.  Despite having only seen what’s publicly posted, this exchange strikes me as of paramount importance to b2b vendors in the next 24 months or so.

In the rad, new corner are Harvard Business Review authors, including ‘chasm’ disruptive thinker Geoffrey Moore.  And on the been-there-done-that stool, the company that trademarked the term ‘solution selling’.

Published in March 09, the HBR article announces Provocation-based Selling as the next evolution in Sales. To provoke, they suggest telling your prospects what really should be keeping them awake at night and introducing them to a new angle on an undesirable situation.  Provocation gets defined in such terms as “different perspective”, “making waves” and “much-needed breath of fresh air”.

The main difference of opinion appears to stem from this type of conclusion:

“Whereas solution-selling salespeople listen for “pain points” that the customer can clearly articulate, provocation works best when it outlines a problem that the customer is experiencing but has not yet put a name to.”

When apparently compounded by a cheeky slap in the direction of solution selling’s face from an evidently disparaging, dismissive sidebar, the measured response provoked (sorry, couldn’t resist!) is well worth a read on SPI’s own blog.

It appears (with some foundation) that the respondent doesn’t necessarily question the merits of this new slant as much as suffers dismay that his beliefs are misrepresented by the HBR.

For instance, on one level, it’s either a useful tactic to slot into the established strategy, or alternatively, it’s a new get-right-to-the-heart-of-the-matter burn ’em up approach.

So, first let’s look at the framework of the Provocation proposal; it’s three-part construction is, in their words:

a) identify a problem that will resonate with a line executive in the target organization

b) develop a provocative point of view about that problem (one that links, naturally, to what your company has to offer)

c) lodge that provocation with a decision maker who can take the implied action

And now, let’s consider a lovely strapline for (New) Solution Selling from Keith Eades (SPI CEO):

“It’s a mutually shared answer to a recognized problem, and the answer provides measurable improvement.”

Now spot the difference.  If ‘provocation’ is just one of many means of gaining problem recognition, then it’s a useful extra tool in the bag, but hardly a game-changing weapon.  After all, where would we have been for the past half-century without the liberal spreading of tangentially similar F.U.D. across prospects’ toasted Elevenses?

On the other hand (and I must re-iterate that I don’t have access to every single morsel of data on this matter) the premise that solution (and I use that term as a generic, substitutable with Value, Consultative, Strategic or Complex) sellers need a bit of a poke and prod in these distressed commercial times is one that I am minded to favour.  And for that, attention to ‘Provocation-based Selling’ should be drawn.

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