Provoking the sale: One crucial meeting?

While the main idea of “provocation-based selling” may not be so new, Geoffrey Moore’s recent article has certainly provoked some useful thinking here at Solutions Insights. Steve Hurley has already presented our general perspective that the differences between Moore’s “new” idea and the longstanding tenets of solutions selling are actually minimal at best. Indeed, we have always believed (and taught) that good solutions selling requires just the type of deep customer insight, strong point of view, and executive-level engagement that Moore, et al, claim are the key ingredients of the new approach. But I’m also intrigued at the article’s suggestion that making a provocation-based sale ultimately comes down to “one crucial meeting” with a senior executive at the prospective client’s firm. This seems a bit too formulaic to me, so I asked my colleague, Jackie Quint, to comment. Jackie used to run both sales and sales effectiveness at a large IT services firm, and has helped dozens of other firms increase their impact with solutions selling. Here’s Jackie’s take:
  • According to the authors, a provocation sale “depends on the one crucial meeting in which you present your point of view to a carefully chosen line executive…discover how much urgency that executive assigns to that issue, explain its relation to your business, and get the go-ahead to do a diagnostic study.”
  • This seems pretty risky in the “biting off more than you can chew” sense of the word. Sellers who expect within the first hour of meeting with a senior executive to get a go-ahead to study a problem that seriously jeopardizes the organization’s ability to compete may find themselves disappointed.
  • Certainly there is some value to Moore’s argument. I would instruct clients to adapt the best parts of provocative selling to the core of discovery-led selling. Particularly in a recession, portfolio managers and solutions marketers need to equip sellers with a compelling, well-researched, and yes, provocative set of offerings for customers. But we needn’t wait for an economic downturn to find the issues that are “keeping our customers up at night” and find innovative ways to help them avoid risk of failure and propel them toward success. And we certainly don’t need to limit ourselves to the one big idea that’s going to resonate with all executives.
  • Sellers need to be more disciplined about doing customer research to develop the right hypothesis about what could be “game changing” for this customer, plan for and ask highly relevant discovery questions that hit the core of that hypothesis, offer up a provocative point of view linked to their firm’s solutions, and, using the authority to commit their firm’s experts, take the sale to the next meaningful advance—whether that’s an education session with a team of key executives or a paid engagement to study the problem further.
  • Sellers need to push themselves and their skill development in the above areas. In our practice, we’ve found that doing live account planning sessions can be the catalyst not only for working on the provocations that will most likely get customers to buy, but also for developing real passion for results among account teams. In order to be effective, these sessions need to include convention-challenging ideas from management, solutions, research, marketing, delivery and sales—even customers who are influential to the decision-making process. The resulting communications strategy and action plan may not rely on a single, high-stakes meeting with a single line executive, but they always include taking the sale to the c-suite.
  • I think it’s premature to signal the death knell of Solution Selling. Let’s just say that Provocative Selling and Solution Selling have more in common than not.

Comments (1)

Amy Patel

This article outlines one of the most difficult jobs of any company which is, of course, the "hard sell" to their clients. And it is exaclty in this way that solutions differ. AS this article outlines it is imperative that sellers understand their clients extremely well in order to provide a solution - unlike a commodity which focuses on generic trends. Of course, when selling, you are often talking to senior management which ties in very well with another article on this webiste: Lessons from IBM's CIO community ( which outlines exaclty how sellers should take theri knowledge and expertise to the CIOs they are selling to. In particular, this article outlines two major areas which ties in well with this article. It identifies What exactly senior executives really value, including extending their professional networks, influencing the direction of organizations, and sharing best practices; the article also looks at what the four core objectives of these executives are. Of course, the second part of the sell is maintaining those customer connections once they are established, as well as even outlining in that 'one crucial meeting' that you will be doing this for them in the future. Another blog effectively outlines this which is fantastically named "Four steps to strengthening B2B customer connections" ( and complements this article as a follow-up. Specifically it highlights the necessity of not just selling but maintaining the sale through close customer connections. These connections are essential to: 1. Gain deep insight into customer wants and needs 2. Gather input and advice on potential new offerings 3. Uncover new opportunities and co-create solutions 4. Obtain references, testimonials, and proof of value delivered It is important to remember that solutions marketing is a relatively new term, and the techniques, tips and tricks are still being developed. But solutions are gaining traction as customers identify it was the way to extract the best business practices from their consultants, and vice versa.