Sell Provocatively

No, I don’t mean Victoria’s Secret-kind of provocative. I mean that with recent market downturns, it’s time to provoke your customers into choosing your solutions. For emerging brands of b-2-b solutions, in new market sectors, you can’t rely on old methods.

Tightening markets mean thinning leads and sluggish closing velocity, so keep your team’s Unique Selling Propositions a living document. It needs changing before every customer call, just like your shirt. Assume that if you continue doing what you’ve done in the past, that your sales rate will continue to decline. One way to tighten your rules of sales engagement is to introduce provocation-based selling into your bag of tricks.

Solution selling, which we know and love, begins with a technical proof and then builds a compelling business case. For example: “This is a proven product that has helped deliver 100 percent ROI in six months in ten companies just like yours.” The typical response: “We don’t have a budget.” How do you answer? Stall…

Provocation-based selling, however, begins with a compelling business case and then offers technical proof. Here’s a step-by-step:

Identify a Critical Issue. Even in a down market, customers can find the money to fix anything critical.

Ask yourself: “Are industry analysts identifying it as enough of a critical issue that owners or investors are crying for solutions?” and “Am I a credible source of advice on this issue?”

Ask your Customer:“Does [the issue] seriously jeopardize your company’s chance at success?” “Is [the issue] being ignored, or ineffectively handled by your company’s existing processes?”

Formulate your Provocation. Make it original and industry wide.

Lodge your Provocation.“We’ve recently worked with companies like yours and have seen them dealing with [this painful problem]. Is it possible your company is at risk, too?” or “We believe that if you can’t stem this problem, your company may lose up to x% of your market share in the next [6 to 12] months.” (Note: this approach disturbs the status quo without putting customer on the defensive.)

Pitch your Proposal. Make sure it contains Immediate Solutions (easily implemented; include professional services), Short-range Solutions (delivered within 1-3 months); and Everything Else. As your customer’s Trusted Advisor, you deliver what he needs, even if it means sub-contracting, or “coopetition”.

Provocation-based selling compels investment outside customer’s planned budget. It challenges the industry’s prevailing point of view, and addresses unacknowledged customer angst. Provocation-based selling targets strategic vs. tactical problems … it begins with a business case, then provides technical proof. Starting with an executive-level dialog, provocation-based selling uses insight to prompt customer dialog.

Succeed in selling during a tight market by provoking issues to be addressed proactively.

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Sorry, Can’t Hear You… There’s an Elephant in the Room

A trade summit with China last week neglected to address the most pressing trade problem facing our two nations head on: how to resolve the conflict surrounding the US’ tariff on Chinese-manufactured car tires, which (of course) is linked to their hitting us with a similar tariff on chickens. There’s nothing to do but escalate and retaliate, it seems… in response to the US’ 35% tariff on imported tires imposed in September, the Chinese will start an anti-dumping investigation on US-made cars.

There’s a succinct piece in the 1 November wsj.com’s Opinion Asia section that lays it out nicely. My sense is that there are too many political rumbles taking place on both sides of the Pacific for either side to back down. It’s a matter of what the country’s respective adiminstrations deem to be worth fighting over. We’re in for a long period of “happy ears” diplomatic and trade meetings between envoys with no skin in the game but only the need to sustain their influence. There’ll be dropping and adding tariffs and investigations, until one side lets the free market reign. Wouldn’t hold my breath.

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