What Opens an Executive’s Wallet? – plus other answers about Provocation-Based Selling



This post has been contributed by Kathleen Schaub, principal consultant at TrellisOne Consulting and former VP of Marketing at Sybase. Ms. Schaub and Marketo’s SVP of Sales, Bill Binch, conducted a Marketo Revenue Masters webinar called ‘From No Budget to Signed Deal Using Provocation-based Selling’. In this webinar, they share tips on implementing Provocation-based Selling, a methodology developed by noted Silicon Valley author, Geoffrey Moore and his associates, Todd Hewlin and Philip Lay. The case study of Sybase’s Provocation-based Selling pilot project was published in the Harvard Business Review.

What opens an executive’s wallet? How do you identify critical issues amongst your prospects? How do you get the attention of the executive with the wallet? Bill Binch and I answered these questions in the Marketo Revenue Masters webinar about Provocation-based Selling. Thanks for your follow-up questions. I’d like to answer some of them here.

What is Provocation-based Selling?
Provocation-based Selling is a pragmatic approach for igniting a selling motion that can’t get started because your prospective buyer has no budget. To get things rolling, you give a senior executive a ‘poke-in-the-ribs’ with your knowledge of his seriously unsettling, business-critical challenge. In the webinar we talked about how to find that executive, identify such a challenge, and how to have this provocative conversation.

How does provocation-based selling differ from other selling methodologies (consultative selling, solution selling, needs-base selling, or SPIN selling)?
Most selling methodologies assume that you are competing for an existing budget. These methods start the selling motion with an investigative dialog to locate a “need”.

Kathleen Schaub spoke to Marketo's webinar audience on the topic of Provocation-Based Selling

However, buyers don’t always have budget and buyers are becoming increasingly impatient with questions like “what keeps you up at night?” They expect you to know! If you aren’t an expert, why in the heck should they talk to you? Provocation-based Selling turns traditional selling on its head. You don’t search for ‘need’. You enter the dialog with a well-researched, provocative, hypothesis.

In the Harvard Business Review article called In a Downturn, Provoke Your Customer, Geoffrey Moore and his associated go into more detail on the differences between Provocation-based Selling and solution selling.

What tools can be used to assist provocation-based selling?
To prepare the provocation, use research tools: Examine your customer base for recent wins where senior executives rave about your solution. Interview the decision-makers and sales people. Check out what financial analysts say about buried problems that could shake stock prices.

To locate senior executives, more research tools: You can’t buy a list. You’ll need to create your own. Use the Internet. Look for speakers at industry events or members in professional organizations. Look who is quoted in press releases. Look at the company’s LinkedIn profile.

To lodge the provocation, use dialog tools: Find illustrative stories and killer facts that get attention. Create surveys and value assessments that give executives insight into how their organization compares to their peers (people love to learn about themselves). White papers and other thought leadership pieces establish your company as experts in the provocative challenge and its solution.

Does provocation-based selling apply only to large ticket sales in companies with large budgets?
You definitely do not need a large budget to conduct Provocation-based Selling. In fact, this method works great for start-ups carving a foot-hold in the market. Customers rarely have budget for items that are genuinely new-to-the-market because they don’t even know these new things exist.

As for the large ticket sale – ummmm, maybe. It’s not often that a small item can have a transformative impact on a company. Ask how much difference your product will make on a business-critical problem. If the answer is something like a 10x gain, then you might try Provocation-based Selling regardless of your product’s price tag.

What is the proper use of social media, such as LinkedIn, to access the social networks of senior executives?
Networking is THE best way to reach senior executives. Social networking tools, such as LinkedIn, are best used as a source of intermediaries, rather than as a way to connect directly. LinkedIn etiquette forbids sending invitations out-of-the-blue to people you don’t know as well. Nor should you pretend to know someone that you do not. Use LinkedIn and other sources for connections to board members, professional organizations, vendor and partner relationships, etc. When you find a connection, ask that person to intercede on your behalf to get an appointment to lodge your provocation.