Provocation-based selling:proving pain does not close a sale

buying facilitation Sharon-Drew MorgenA friend sent me the Harvard Business Review article written by my hero Geoffrey Moore and two of his colleagues – Todd Hewlin and Philip Lay – titled “In a Downturn, Provoke Your Customers.”


I found the article ruefully humorous. Here are some of the smartest business minds in the country who have fallen victim to the conventional hype that buyers must discover their pain in order to be ready to buy. Indeed, in this article they suggest that you provoke them into buying: “Provocation-based selling helps customers see their competitive challenges in a new light that makes addressing specific painful problems unmistakenly urgent.”

How silly. This goes back to the age-old pain-principle.  According to the authors, if a vendor can identify a process critical for the buyer in the current environment (and this assumes the buyer hasn’t figured this out) and developed a ‘compelling point of view on how it was broken and what it meant in terms of cost, and then connected the problem to the solution’ then the buyer will be provoked into a purchase.

Haven’t we been doing this for decades? And our success rate has been…..  7%.


Think about this for a moment. Targeting pain as the reason to make a sale assumes that:

  1. the buyer or company doesn’t recognize the severity of the problem they have;
  2. the seller knows better than the prospect the ins-and-outs of the problem, causes, choices, and internal politics to choosing the timing on a fix;
  3. they haven’t tried to fix this before, or aren’t in the process of choosing a fix, or have a work-around for it that’s good-enough for now;
  4. there aren’t a whole lotta systems issues tied up in the status quo that would need to be resolved first – or that these can be resolved immediately;
  5. an outsider (and a stranger at that) can manipulate [Oops. Sorry. Provoke.] their way in to a buyer’s environment, have the answer, and expect to be trusted, believed, or listened to, and that everyone on the Buying Decision Team is sitting and waiting for someone to show up so that everything currently in place can be dismantled because SuperSeller has appeared.

For those of you who have been reading my posts for years, you know what I’m going to say. Until or unless a buyer recognizes and manages all of the back-end, private, behind-the-scenes issues they need to address to get the buy-in to make a change, they will do nothing.

If I provoked you, could I get you to go to the gym more? I can certainly make a case for it. What about changing your hairstyle? Can I provoke you into changing your selling style?


I can make an amazing case for you to be using Buying Facilitation™! Indeed – I can triple your sales, halve your sales cycle, and get rid of all objections. I really can (lots of testimonials). Soooo can I provoke you? Can I show you numbers that you’re not tracking? Oh. I’ve done that. Can I explain how managing the buying decision journey will turn leads into prospects on the first call, and teach them how to close a couple of calls later, with no meetings, proposals, or appointments? Oh. I”ve done that. Geesh. Haven’t I provoked you enough… and you’re not buying?

Please. Continuing to focus the sales effort on different ways to get a buyer to take action, rather than add the capability of assisting them in managing their entire pre-sales buying journey, makes no sense. A purchase is not an isolated situation, but demands a systemic approach to change management.

We all know that the sales model is horribly broken, and yields very poor results. Why keep finding ways to push harder and harder? The definition of insanity is…..   And we all know systems theory: every system will maintain its status quo (homeostasis) until or unless the system knows how to shift without disruption and will easily incorporate the change. Hence the failure of sales.

Stop trying to provoke, push, get an appointment, understand needs, be in relationship, get in the door or to the top, be an advisor, be a consultant – all of that is just a Trojan Horse to make a sale. Be a real consultant. Put on a GPS hat and be the lead dog in helping your prospect manage their change issues first so they get buy-in from the Buying Decision Team. Then there is no need to be provocative.

Just saying…


Choose to learn one of the new skills of Buying Facilitation™: our Learning Accelerators are designed to help you upgrade any of your current sales skills.

Or, listen to an MP3 of Sharon-Drew using Buying Facilitation™ on real calls.

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