Prerequisites to Provocation

Sometimes your prospect knows that they are dissatisfied. They know that they need a better result. They may even know what they need to do to produce the results that they need.

But other times, you dream client may have no idea that they should be dissatisfied. It’s quite possible that your prospective client can produce good results and still have a massive gap between their results and what they are capable of with your ideas.

In cases where your dream client isn’t dissatisfied, when there is no gap, you have to provoke them to nudge them away from their current thinking. You have to provoke them.

Connotations and Prerequisites

Words like “provoke” or “challenge” come with baggage. They connote something negative. In the wrong hands, these ideas can be a source of problems. The way in which this approach is used requires skill and special handling.

Provoking clients with new insights and new ideas can make clients uncomfortable. In fact, it’s supposed to. In my experience, it is necessary to have developed the relationships that allow you to confront their thinking head on.

It’s true you need to be a subject matter expert. It’s true that you need to bring your clients ideas and teach them. But in doing so, you can be perceived as condescending. You can be perceived as you pointing out that your client isn’t doing their job well, that they don’t have their eye on the ball, and that they are responsible for the gap you are showing them.

Really provocative ideas require equally deep relationships.

Resistance and EQ

Ideas that challenge the status quo are almost universally met with resistance. Challenging ideas can cause your dream client contact to feel the need to defend past decisions. Your ideas can cause them to entrench.

A salesperson taking this approach needs to have a very high level of emotional intelligence. They need to be aware of the feedback they are receiving from their contact so they can adjust their approach and their language choice this is especially true if you are presenting a difficult idea on a first sales call, or where you don’t have as deep a relationship as you wished.

Provocative ideas need to be presented by someone with the emotional intelligence to be able to present them in a way that doesn’t cause their dream client to entrench and defend.

Challenged Back and Business Acumen

Challenging ideas can also be challenged. In fact, this is exactly the sort of engagement that is useful. But because a prospective client that is a subject matter expert can challenge your provocative ideas, it requires that you have the business acumen to defend the ideas.

When you provoke your client to abandon their thinking about something, you need to be able to handle the conversation that comes with that provocation. You need to be prepared to deal with all of the questions about what it takes to succeed, the outcomes that can be expected and when, and the risks and how they are mitigated.

Provoking to action can be both good and necessary. But without the relationships to support that level of conversation, the emotional intelligence to manage the conversation, and the business acumen and subject matter expertise to support that level of dialogue, the conversation can move from provocative to offensive.


If you are going to challenge your dream client’s current thinking and provoke them to take a new path, what kind of relationship is necessary?

What clues or signals do you need to be aware of to ensure that your message is being received in the spirit in which is it intended, so that you can be sure you aren’t causing your prospective client to entrench and defend?

What kind of business acumen and subject matter expertise do you need in order to have the level of dialogue that accompanies this kind of conversation?

What are the risks of failing to have the candid conversation you need when you know what your client needs to do to produce better results but doesn’t yet know or understand?

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