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To Sell More, Scare Customers Spitless!

Here's a new idea: to increase sales, scare the living bejezzus out of your customers. According to high tech guru Geoffrey Moore, some B2B vendors are motivating customers to buy (even during hard times) by identifying something that terrifies them and then developing a sales pitch that explains the horror in an insightful, actionable way.

Sound crazy? Yup. But according to Moore, this weird technique actually works. He cites the example of the software vendor Sybase, which was able throughout the summer of 2008 to pry business out of financial services clients, even as their industry was beginning to implode.

Rather than probing for what those clients thought they might need, Sybase reps pointed out the impending disaster likely to result from an industry-wide failure to manage risk. By explaining the scale of the threat in all its gory details, Sybase was able to sell its Risk Analytics Platform, a tool for integrating risk management.

Moore calls this method "provocation-based selling." The key, according to him, is to develop a pitch that doesn't align with the customer's outlook, and doesn't identify and respond to the customer's proverbial "pain points." Instead, you must provide a new angle on the situation by outlining a problem the customer hasn't yet put a name to.

Of course, this only works if you've got the credibility and personality that inspires confidence in a crisis. And you've got to be careful how you play this card. You can't just stand up and blast your pitch to all and sundry, or you'll only harden the cognitive dissonance.

Instead, you've got to pitch the story to a carefully chosen line executive in one crucial meeting. You'll also need incontrovertible proof that the problem is real, with evidence that proves that you've got a firm handle on the problem's scope and depth. You'll also need a short diagnostic study that maps the horror onto the prospect firm's own financials.

The game plan? Once you've scared the living daylights out of the key executive, you help that executive save the company by selling your offering as preventative to the impending disaster.

The advantage of framing the sale this way is that the immediacy of the threat creates a readiness to listen, while the diagnostic study helps convert the dialogue into an actual contract.

There are two disadvantages, though. First, it can take considerable time and effort to develop a credible pitch with all the relevant evidence and proof points.

Second, and more importantly, if you're not careful, you can scare the exec so badly that you'll get a "deer in the headlights" rather than a motivated customer.

READERS: What do you think? I'm sure many sales professionals could pull this one off. But it IS an interesting idea, eh?

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