Creating Sales Calls Customers Would Pay For

In each episode of the TV show, 24, Federal agent Jack Bauer faces the challenge of enrolling bureaucrats, bad guys, and even US Presidents to support his plan to save the world from diabolical scoundrels. Whatever the nature of the threat, Bauer sizes up the problem in a unique way, offers innovative solutions, and presents his requests with either an explicit or implicit forced-choice close, “You can go along with my plan or say goodbye to the world as we know it. Now, which would you prefer?”

How would you like to be able to create the “I’m your best choice” influential leverage, similar to Jack Bauer, in selling to your B2B customers? What if your sales team could reliably deliver such outstanding sales conversations that buyers would be compelled to conclude, “There-is-no-better-choice” than to immediately purchase your firm’s products and services?

The results would be game-changing. Selling cycles shrink. Fewer price negotiations. The lifetime value of customers soars. Referrals to senior executives increase. Bid farewell to competing on requests for proposals. Bottom line: Unprecedented sales results with less time and effort.

A growing body of research indicates that a specific sales approach called “Provocative Selling” provides sellers with leverage similar to Jack Bauer’s powers of persuasion. What’s the fundamental nature of the provocative message delivered in this approach? Instead of asking customers questions like “What keeps you awake at night?” to elicit obvious pain points, provocative selling teaches customers about unacknowledged problems and missed opportunities that should keep them awake at night.

Right now you might be wondering, “How does a senior management team or sales executive staff figure out what a customer might want before the customer even knows?”


What would you need to do to get your customers to say, “That was such a great sales call, I would have paid for it?” Research by the Sales Executive Council indicates that customer loyalty and steadily increasing sales are influenced more by how you sell (53%) than by what you sell (47%).

Most B2B selling approaches (relationship selling, transactional selling, solution selling, consultative selling) are responsive to needs buyers can easily articulate. However, in provocative selling, the sales team focuses on needs customers aren’t aware of or acknowledged problems they’ve stopped attempting to solve.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHere’s a classic example: In the late 1970s, McDonald’s executives defined themselves as being in the fast food, hamburger business. Their store signage kept score of “hamburgers sold.” So it probably seemed strange when the world’s largest chicken supplier, Tyson, made a sales call at McDonald’s headquarters. Chicken wasn’t even on the McDonald’s menu.

However, the Tyson sales team was focused on McDonald’s long-term future. They saw a serious vulnerability. McDonald’s business model was predicated on a core belief—“Our guests want food delivered quickly and a larger menu will decrease speed of service.” Tyson’s provocative selling approach was orchestrated to expose the dangers of adhering to this unquestioned belief in light of emerging consumer trends.

Since I didn’t attend this sales call, I can only speculate that an elite provocative selling challenge might have contained these unsettling trends for the McDonald’s executives to fathom:

  • The US population is becoming more diverse and many new demographic groups won’t be ordering hamburgers.
  • McDonald’s aspires to be a global company. (Don’t even try selling hamburgers in India.)
  • In the US, the growing number of advocates of healthy lifestyle habits won’t eat red meat.
  • US consumers want to be able to choose from an array of customized products. McDonald’s will be vulnerable to any competitor who picks up on this trend (e.g., Burger King—“Have it Your Way”).

Tyson’s carefully-orchestrated provocative selling approach left the McDonald’s executives feeling extremely vulnerable by their failure to address the “Expand your menu vs. speedy food delivery” tradeoff. Tolerating a tradeoff by inaction was no longer an option.

With the McDonald’s team craving a solution, Tyson proposed a two-part solution. Their operations experts could help to streamline the meal preparation system to permit speedy order delivery even with an expanded menu. And one of those new items was Tyson’s Chicken McNuggets.

After that eye-opening experience, the McDonald’s executives might have thought, “I’d have paid for that sales call.” The Tyson team achieved Jack Bauer leverage to sell a solution that shaped the destiny of both companies.


In my seminars and year-long projects, I teach clients to discover latent needs (i.e., what customers might value but would never think to ask for) by considering these six categories:

  1. Pain points that are hard to acknowledge or discuss (e.g., Your customers don’t see their own inefficient practices in procuring supplies)
  2. Competitive vulnerabilities (e.g., Your customers think their products and services provide sharp differentiation from competitors but the actual differences aren’t apparent to their customers)
  3. Blind spots (e.g., Your customers underestimate the impact of a new technology that will make their service appear inferior)
  4. Consumer trends/industry trends being ignored (e.g., Your customers don’t realize major changes in buying habits of demographic groups.)
  5. Strategic assumptions that limit opportunities (e.g., Your customers assume that purchasing from a low price supplier is cost-effective, but don’t realize they’re missing out on a growing customer base that will pay more for higher quality products).
  6. Compromises being tolerated (e.g., Your customers don’t see any way to solve a long-standing tradeoff.)
  7. Underdeveloped capabilities (e.g., Your customers suffer from poor cross functional teamwork and it’s causing unnecessary costs.)


At the close of my seminars on provocative selling, my clients invariably share mixed emotions. They overwhelmingly feel excited over the chance to provide increased value to customers to make selling far easier. But they also are thinking, “Where are we going to find the time to discover our customers’ latent needs and devise innovative solutions for them?” You may be contemplating the same dilemma.

Your decision requires exercising dual-focus leadership. In the short term, there is a ramping up phase for provocative selling that requires individual study plus creative thinking in cross functional teams to uncover customers’ latent needs. It can appear inefficient by decreasing “street time” selling to buyers. In the long term, delivering sales calls customers would gladly pay for will galvanize unprecedented efficiency in your sales efforts. Efficiency soars when you can reliably exert the unspoken Jack-Bauer leverage that saturates the provocative selling conversation:

“You can go with the solution only our company offers or get ready to face pain points you desperately want to avoid. Which would you prefer?”

TO READ A SYNOPSIS OF MY PROGRAM, “Creating Sales Calls Customers Would Pay For,”  Click Here.

CONSIDER—WHO ELSE MIGHT BENEFIT? Elite performers make a habit of asking, “Who else stands to benefit from taking 5-7 minutes to read this blog? Share this blog with your sales managers and senior managers responsible for your company’s strategy. You might even share it with your suppliers who you want to bring more value when they call on you.

BONUS OFFER: Download a quick audit to get a clear sense of the effectiveness of your current sales approach. By rating your team’s sales performance on this audit, you will discover important gaps between your current practices and the provocative selling model in the preparation, presentation, and follow up of sales calls. Click the button below to download “Provocative Selling Proficiency Audit.”

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