A few years ago, when corporate budgets were slashed across the planet, the press was full of talk about the use of "provocative selling" to convince people to buy. But in my opinion this technique is now coming of age.
In my view, it puts resellers in the driving seat. When it works, it speeds up the sales cycle. To make it work, you must know the product and the prospect very well.
Readers won't need me to point out that today's selling landscape is a tough one and it's not just about tight budgets. Customers have become jaded by seemingly homogenised sales routines, and the internet has democratised access to product information.
Customers may know more about the pricing and features of the product and its competitors than a sales team. Customers may also believe they know more about the value of what they are being shown than their suppliers.
Solution selling drags out the process, creating a sort of beauty parade where it may comes down to who offers the best price.
Wedge issues are the customer pain points that could start a dialogue. Customers may often not have registered those pain points -- or that we can solve them. That is the core of provocative selling: getting customers to recognise that they have a particular problem and then proving that one can help provide the answer.
In our neck of the industry, version management touches most people in an organisation most working days. However, it's not until we point out the symptoms -- lost work, lost productivity, or even lost business -- that many organisations understand. Similarly, in conversations about Agile software development and continuous delivery, we ask them whether they are doing it as well as they think.
In all cases, the customers are the proof.
Continuous delivery in software development promises to speed up software releases. Many end user practitioners think they're on the right track because they've started using new tools or better processes, even thought the process is slower than they'd hoped. This kind of negates the whole point.
Showing customers this limitation, telling them how they can address it, and showing them others who have achieved these results with your product is the selling opportunity.
Provocative selling is about actively getting the customer to think about their situation, and that requires an excellent understanding of the customer. Knowledgeable resellers are in the perfect position.
The vendor usually knows more about the product than the customer. In managing a portfolio offerings, resellers will often know more about a customer business to identify the customer pain points.
For some resellers and vendors, being more provocative in selling may seem daunting. But what choice is there? Enterprise software vendors have to move away from commoditisation if they are to survive, and the channel has to find ways to add value in the face of threats from online and direct sales.
Dave Robertson is vice president of international at Perforce Software
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