This morning, I was walking along a path with my kids and we came upon a four-foot long, black, Racer snake. As we approached, it took an aggressive posture. My son wanted to see it move, so I took a small rock and tossed it next to the snake. Instead of slithering away, the snake arched up as if preparing to strike the rock. It hovered over the rock for about 30 seconds as if deciding to strike or move on. My kids thought it was very cool – like something out of a movie. This encounter got me thinking about a sales concept called provoking.

To provoke is to do exactly what it suggests: incite or stimulate someone (or something) into action. In sales, it means you move beyond the sales strategy and process that burdens most of your sales efforts to affect change.

Think of it this way. At this very moment, you have needs, pains, and problems. Are you actively solving all of them? The answer is probably not – because you have to prioritize the problems based on how much risk you are willing to take. Your prospects are no different.

What You Face in Today’s Marketplace

  1. Budgets are tighter –there is less discretionary spending.
  2. Decision-making has moved up the decision hierarchy – despite what your contact tells you.
  3. Certain levels of decision-makers are more concerned with staying under the radar.
  4. Prospects and customers are willing to accept and live with increased business challenges.
  5. People are nervous about the economy and feel lucky to just have a job, so they’re hesitant to try something new (that is, something that introduces more risk).

Is your position or solution compelling enough for prospects and clients to risk making a change? Or, would they rather stay the course and ride out the storm? Trust and credibility are key ingredients to inspire a change decision. Without them, prospects and clients won’t even consider it.

Three Approaches to Building Trust and Credibility

  1. Remove your agenda.

    Think of five people that you trust and make a list of the reasons you trust them. I’m certain these people always have your best interests in mind – they’re focused on you. You should take this same approach with your prospects.

  2. Stay in the moment.

    Stop getting ahead of yourself by worrying about all the questions your manager trained you to ask. If you’re always focused on the next question — the one that might seal the deal — before the first one is fully answered, you won’t be focused on what your prospect is saying. Think back to why you trust those five people. You trust them because they listen and focus on you. They’re not trying to get you to do or say something they want to hear.

  3. Ask what needs to be asked.

    How many times have you left a sales appointment and thought to yourself, “Why didn’t I ask that question?” To build credibility with prospects you have to be willing to ask the important questions. Once again, think back on those you trust most. Are they willing to ask you the tough questions?

Remember how the snake was briefly provoked by the vibration of the rock? Why didn’t it strike the rock? Because it eventually recognized the lack of threat in the situation. It’s no different with prospects. Prospects will allow you to provoke thought, but only if they believe you have their best interests at heart. Stop selling and start provoking your prospects to think differently.