In the wake of a recent article by the authors of Provocative Selling in the Harvard Business Review an attendee challenged me to defend Baseline Selling.  Since it was in the HBR, this attendee believed it had to be the better way to sell.

Provocative Selling, much like SPIN Selling, takes place between 1st and 2nd base.  We can narrow it down even further and say that both Provocative Selling and SPIN Selling take place specifically at Uncovering Compelling Reasons to Buy.  It’s important to point out that both SPIN and Provocative are not complete selling processes.  They are processes to identify problems and potential consequences.

SPIN is a process for asking questions to uncover problems and it is so difficult that most salespeople can’t learn to do it.

Provocative does the same thing by suggesting, as opposed to asking, what the problems are.  That is clearly easier for most salespeople but the ease of telling is offset by some potentially serious negative side effects.  Most prospects don’t want anyone, especially salespeople, telling them what their problems are. Their resistance will go way up and quite quickly.  Most salespeople can’t handle the effect of that resistance.

Instead, develop your SOB Quality by building your relationship, developing credibility and asking the right questions – good, tough, timely questions – which leads to a conversation that demonstrates that you get it and understand them.  Ask questions they don’t even have the answers to and they will share their compelling reasons for doing business.

Refer to the chapter on Getting to 2nd Base for more details and many examples of uncovering Compelling Reasons to Buy.

Pain as a motivation to buy also came up at this session.  Pain avoidance can cause someone to buy, but not necessarily.  For some, the pain they will suffer from doing something is worse than the pain they will suffer from doing nothing.  My favorite example is the CEO whose son-in-law, Livingston, runs the sales force.  The Livingston is awful, terrible, the worst; he has alienated the salespeople, the management team and a number of customers.  The CEO is in pain. But firing his son-in-law will cause more pain than living with the problem.  He doesn’t want to lose his daughter!

The same scenario, seen from compelling reasons, ignores the pain and focuses on what is compelling.  Improving morale, revenue and customer retention is compelling to this CEO, as long as it doesn’t involve firing Livingston.