Provoke Your Clients – Smart Strategy or Bad Idea?

provacative thoughtsThis eye-catching thought is the title of an article in this month’s Harvard Business Review (HBR). It presents a provocation based approach to selling your services in a market where people are pulling back from buying. Below is a summary of portions of the article along with added suggestions for using it in your practice.

“Instead of using meeting time to discover what clients are troubled over” say HBR authors, Philip Lay, Todd Hewlin, and Geoffrey Moore, “tell them what should be keeping them up at night.”

By revealing the scale of the problem as well as the solution that you provide, you can sell a solution to clients who had not previously been troubled by the lack of one because they had not viewed the situation from the angle you are showing them.

You already have the tools

In other words, there are problems that you know exist – or will exist without action – that the client has not considered. If you can show these significant new problems to the client along with your solution, you enhance your ability to make the sale.

This approach is more challenging to your client’s thinking which is what opens the door to making the sale. The authors explain it this way:

Instead of aligning with your client’s prevailing outlook (i.e., listening for problems they have already identified), provocation selling provides a new angle on the situation by in effect saying:

“You are thinking about your scenario along the following conventional lines….But the way we see things, that puts your success in jeopardy. You should be thinking about it in this completely different way….”

How to use this in your practice

So what does this mean for you? How can you use this approach to selling your services?

Start by identifying the problems that you solve. Then, look for new angles on why these issues are important. Though you might start with conventional reasons, move away from focusing on the obvious. Turn it upside down. Look for the twist that is hidden but significant.

Here’s an example:

Let’s say your service is financial planning. Clients come to you for guidance in planning for retirement or sending children to college, or both. Instead of focusing on how much to save/invest each month, focus on how your clients are role modeling beliefs about money and financial habits for their children and what their failure to implement good practices will mean as their children become adults with their own finances to handle.

Given that many are finding it a challenge to save for both retirement and funding college; encouraging children to get scholarships and loans has become a norm. What is the impact of your client’s child graduating with significant debt in the form of student loans when that child (now adult) has poor financial habits or limiting beliefs about money that were learned from the parents?

You should be able to outline in financial terms the dire consequences that could get passed down through the generations as well as a solution that can get the family on track to financial success for generations to come. Since leaving a legacy is important to many parents, this approach can be a significant inroad to selling your services. It may even create an opportunity to sell higher-end services to address this issue.

Your client has already identified the problem of saving for retirement or for funding college. They may not have thought in this way about the impact of their financial habits on the generations to come.

Questions for getting started

What potential problem is your client not considering?

To use the provocation selling approach in your business, start with these questions:

What angle or perspective can you show your client that they have not considered that will present their situation in a new light with significant consequences?

How will your service help them to alleviate this?

Your provocation approach might just be what’s needed to make the sale.