The Case Against Trigger Events

Last week, the guys from OneSource showed me their new product, iSell. It is a Sales 2.0 enablement tool that rolls up information from a massive number of sources  in a very meaningful way and with a super slick interface. Whenever they release iSell, it is worth checking out.

Disclosure 1: I don’t have any relationship with OneSource.

Part of the setup of their tool includes a gigantic and customizable list of triggers. For the demo, they chose all of the triggers. When I complained that I am not a “trigger event” guy, they showed me how I could specifically limit the triggers to what is meaningful.

Disclosure 2: My Google Alerts are second to none. I have lists of companies and people, and I have them all rolled up to my Google Reader. If something happens, I want to know. Most of what I receive is meaningless, but it occasionally provides some seriously meaningful business intelligence.

With all that said, there is a case to be made against trigger events, especially the tendency to believe that events present the best opportunity to prospect.

It Is Better to Already Have Built Deep Relationships

The events that salespeople look for as triggers include company personnel changes, company contract awards, and the company obtaining financing. There are lots of other triggers, but these are top of the list.

When events occur that might trigger a deal for you and your company, it is far better to have already built deep relationships within the company, to have built an understanding of how the event will impact them, and to have a specific idea of how you can help them capitalize on the event or minimize it’s impact.

You need to have already done your homework. It isn’t enough to show up with all of the other opportunists who received the same alert. Calling because you were notified of an event is anti-differentiation; this makes you one of the crowd.

It Is Better Not to Wait for Events

Most of the time, the events that we might call triggers are meaningless. They are mostly irrelevant and mostly they are not useful. This means they aren’t worth waiting for.

You know who your dream clients are. You know that they have long and deep relationships with your competitor. You know that spend a lot of money on your product or service. This is part of what makes them your dream client.

You also know that these are the hardest prospects to penetrate and the hardest to win. It is a rare trigger that undoes these relationships. Not that a new decision-maker with the desire to shake things up and make a name for herself will never show up, but it is far better to pursue these dream clients all of the time, regardless of triggers.

Pursuing these dream clients full time helps you to develop the relationships that make you look like more than an opportunist when events do occur. It also helps you build your own network of relationships, relationships that will alert you to the real trigger event.

The Real Trigger is Always Dissatisfaction

The main reason it is better to build and nurture relationships throughout your dream client’s company and to start selling without waiting for triggers is because the most important factor has no trigger. The real trigger for sales is dissatisfaction.

Dissatisfaction isn’t often something that happens as a single event, least of all one that can be captured and recorded from public information. Dissatisfaction is something that develops over time. It bubbles up within the organization when commitments aren’t met and when the product or service stops meeting their needs.

The most powerful trigger for discovering dissatisfaction is having conversations with people within the dream client’s company. The most powerful trigger is still the sales call. It is having access to the people who are dissatisfied and having access to the information that will allow you to help them move from dissatisfied to something better.

When and if there is a trigger event worth noting, it pays to have built these relationships. It pays to have spent your time selling within the organization while others waited for triggers. And it pays to have already uncovered the dissatisfaction that is the real trigger event.


It is important to monitor events within your client companies and your dream client companies. But, by itself, triggers are not enough. They make you look like an opportunist, and it is better to have built relationships, spent time within the organization, and to have a real understanding of their dissatisfaction.

Note 1: There is no reason not have triggers set up on your clients and dream clients. Going without business intelligence is stupid!

Note 2: I don’t believe that any of my friends who love trigger events will disagree with my admonition to sell with or without events. But I am fully prepared for them to take me to the proverbial woodshed in the comments. Have at it, gents.

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  • Jeb Brooks

    I couldn’t agree with you more on Note 1: “Going without business intelligence is stupid!”

    And it certainly makes a lot of sense that, without relationships, a call-out-of-the-blue — even if it’s at an appropriate time — doesn’t guarantee that a “triggered person” has any trust in you, your company, or your offering.

    Thank you for building a compelling case for informing “Relationship Selling” with business intelligence. This adds a nice layer of clarity.

  • Mikey

    Google alerts in Reader – I had no idea. Light dawns on Marblehead. Thanks for the tip.

  • Craig

    How you use trigger events depends entirely what industry you’re in. For some of our customers trigger events ARE absolutely vital and can make the difference between them winning or losing a contract. But others use trigger events to actually build the relationships you’re talking about. If you don’t know what’s going on with your customer then how can you expect to build strong relationships with them?

    If you’re a bank say, surely it’d be better to phone and offer assistance if a company had just announced it was planning to expand than just calling at random? It shows you are going that extra mile. So, no matter what context you’re using trigger events, I find it very difficult to build a case against them.

    • S. Anthony Iannarino

      Thanks for the comments, Craig. There is a difference between business intelligence and trigger events. It seems to me that using the event after you have developed a relationship is one thing, and using the event as a means to prospecting is another. I think the nature of response indicates that would agree with me that having already developed the relationship makes a trigger event relevant AND builds on the relationship (but correct me if I am wrong!)


  • Dave Brock

    Interesting post Anthony. I tend to agree with you, but there are a couple of subtle points.

    I think trigger events are misunderstood. Frankly, much of the time sales people “discover” the trigger event is way too late. If sales people are relying on news releases or articles, too often these may be months after the event occured and even more months after the need was “triggered.” I think this is a real problem with many of the tools on the market–they alert you when it’s too late.

    If a sales person is a “student” of their customer or their industry, the trigger event tends not to be a press release, but some key metrics, market conditions, key changes in their customers, changes in competition. Within the company, there could be a whole variety of other triggers. These are actually pretty useful triggers, but difficult for the sales person to find if they don’t understand their customers or have relationships they maintain.

    I agree that dissatisfaction is a trigger, I also believe ignorance is a trigger. By this, many organizations have no idea they are missing an opportunity–this is, in fact, the root of provocative selling. Many of my best opportunities have been helping people understand they should be dissatisfied when they weren’t.

    As usual, a great post. Regards, Dave

    • S. Anthony Iannarino

      It’s good to have a David Brock around to say what you are saying much more elegantly!

      I agree that triggers are too late, and the fact they are public means that they aren’t the kind of business intelligence that leads to a tremendous competitive advantage. I take your point on ignorance, too. Ignorance maybe the second best trigger after dissatisfaction.

  • gregg dourgarian

    Anthony…i’m curious how the classification of trigger events might be changing in light of all the changes taking place in social media. For example, if you trace website visitors as part of an ongoing communications/email program, are webvisits a trigger?

    Wouldn’t that make for a pretty good event to work off of since you know not just who at the prospect company was curious about your offering but the exact nature of their curiosity in relation to your products?

    tx in advance

    • S. Anthony Iannarino

      Thanks for the comment, Gregg. I agree that someone proactively visiting your site and looking may serve as a trigger, and it may give you great insight. As long as we aren’t waiting for them to visit our site before we develop the relationship!


  • Juan Lulli

    It’s a delight having access to the thinking, insight, mindset of Dave and Anthony! What I saw in Anthony’s post is a declaration of a mindset, not a practice. What I took away from Anthony’s post was a criticism of a transactional, event-driven sales culture that is short term based, activity-driven…and of course thoroughly inconsistent with a value-oriented relationship, partnering approach. Event triggers, and all other things, thrive with success within a selling-partnering approach–but not the other way around. Always grateful to join in.

  • Craig Elias – Creator Of Tigger Event Selling™

    As the creator of Trigger Event Selling™, and having spent almost 20 years harnessing them to a top sales person, I have a deep understanding of the events that trigger dissatisfaction.

    When talking about Trigger Events it’s critical to understand a decision maker’s three buying modes, the typical activity associated with each buying mode, and the Trigger Events that shift decision makers from one buying mode to the next.

    It does not matter what you sell or who you are selling to, buyers are always in one of three Buying Modes:
    1) On one end of the spectrum is Status Quo. This is when a decision maker is happy with what they have and see no reason to consider an alternative solution.

    2) On the other end of the spectrum is Searching for Alternatives. Here decision makers are unhappy with what they have and are actively searching for alternative solutions

    3) The lesser known of the three buying modes is called the Window of Dissatisfaction. It exists between Status Quo and Searching for Alternatives. In this buying mode a decision maker knows what they have no longer meets their needs but they are so busy Searching for Alternatives for other more important problems that they have not found time to start looking for alternatives for what they are unhappy with…YET!

    The first Trigger Event is one that makes someone want something different. This first event pushes them out of Status Quo and shifts them into the Window of Dissatisfaction. Our research shows the average close ratio is 75% when you get to these decision makers, before your competition.

    The next Trigger Event is typically one that has people understand that they can afford to do something about the problem and they move into the buying mode of Searching for Alternatives.

    Typically they don’t buy after the second Trigger Event, they need a third one – the Trigger Event that helps them justify their decision to others – Typically superiors, subordinates, or spouse.

    All three Trigger Events are excellent opportunities to make a sale but the important thing is to harness the first one to start the relationship building process when you have no competition.

    If you want to learn the best Trigger Events for what you sell you can download, at no-charge, the Won Sales Analysis (aka Trigger Event Analysis) template and instructions at

    Call my cell phone (+1.403.874.2998) or Skype me (Craig.Elias) if you have ANY questions after downloading the template.

    Have an eventful week!


    If you want to learn more about the Window of Dissatisfaction or Trigger Events you’ll find more details at and

    • S. Anthony Iannarino

      Sorry, Craig.

      My post had nothing to do with your brand or what you have created with your model. My beef is with the idea that the act of prospecting needs to be based around news events that are very public and scraped from the Internet. I agree with your premise on there being a development of dissatisfaction that precedes all sales, but don’t believe that what shows up in many software offerings does much to inform that. To the contrary, I have found that developing relationships that result in shared information and access to the people who may be dissatisfied does wonders as an alert system for dissatisfaction.

      As an aside, lots of people are using the words trigger events, and they mean something very different than what you described in your comments.

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