Provoke your customers

Scott Gilmour from the NZTE Beachheads program sent around an excellent article from the Harvard Business Review last week dealing with selling in a recession.

In a Downturn, Provoke Your Customers

Underlying provocation-based selling is the idea that the vendor should help the customer find investment funds even when discretionary spending appears to have (at least temporarily) dried up.

I’m sure many sales people are already using this technique but I always enjoy reading analysis behind sales theories.

I don’t really like the word provocative, or provocation. It seems confrontational. I really think of this as active selling a specific benefit that is more relevant at a particular time.

But I find it really useful to be away of sales models and be able to flip between as the situations arise. Are you doing a product sell, solution sell, relationship sell or now a provocative sell.


In Xeroland our current provocation is Management Reporting. We believe that when the next round of loans come up for review Small Business Owners and Accountants will require up-to-date financials and regular ongoing monthly reporting. This is of course an opportunity.

In the technology world you can use upcoming technology trends as an accelerator. One that we’re hot on is Netbooks which we believe will fundamentally alter small business computing. It is cool that the mainstream media are beginning to wake up to this as well. ‘Big Three’ taking technology into the sky.

Where in the world will Google take us next?

The ambitious web search company joined the browser fray late last year with Chrome. It has an operating system, Android, that is running on some mobile phones and a “netbook” …

Next stop: the clouds. Cloud computing is the next new thing in the information technology world. …

Spending on cloud computing services is expected to treble in the next three years, reaching US$42 billion ($79 billion) a year by 2012, say analysts IDC.

The technology world presents many opportunities to use provocative selling methods.

A key quote in the Harvard article is around seeking a person with authority who can get a deal through.

To begin a provocation-based sale, you must do three things well: identify a problem that will resonate with a line executive in the target organization; develop a provocative point of view about that problem (one that links, naturally, to what your company has to offer); and lodge that provocation with a decision maker who can take the implied action.

Please feel free to share any other sales tips in the comments.


John-Daniel Trask
March 23, 2009 at 3:55 pm

Rod, your link on the image is broken. You have two ‘h’ characters at the start – hhttp:

Good post.

– JD

Rod Drury
March 23, 2009 at 8:04 pm


March 25, 2009 at 6:40 am

Awesome blog post! This is really helpful. I’ve also found that I’m able to reach more customers by using certain techniques. I also like your idea of having vendors help the customer find investment funds even when discretionary spending appears to have vanished.

Xero vs MYOB - A comparison | Euroasia: Language, Culture and Travel
April 14, 2009 at 12:01 am

[…] boss Rod Drury blogs about technology and implications for business eg check out his write up on provoking customers. They even have a twitter account! My bet is the senior guys at MYOB have no clue what twitter is, […]

April 15, 2009 at 10:11 am

I think you’re right Rod about xeroing in on a feature that “provokes” the sale. Your management reporting did it for me! We’re migrating over from QB as we speak.

We have found that being provocative has to be used carefully during a sale so as not to appear to be too radical for our more conservative enterprise customers. But it definitely is better to be noticed and memorable for a feature – than to be forgotten because we were too vanilla.

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