Can Marketing and Sales Provoke Prospects to Change?


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Astute B2B marketing and sales professionals have long recognized that their toughest competitor isn’t usually a company that provides an alternative product or service, but rather the processes or solutions that their prospects are already using – the status quo. In most cases, no sale can be made unless prospects are first willing to sincerely reevaluate their current methods and practices.

Given the importance of the issue, it shouldn’t be surprising that many marketing and sales thought leaders have advanced several techniques for “breaking the grip of the status quo.” I described some of these techniques in an earlier post, but I’ve often wondered how effective they really are. The central question is:  Can marketing programs and/or sales conversations alone create a willingness to consider change, or is something else required to motivate a prospect to reexamine the status quo?

The answer to this question has major implications that are often underappreciated by both marketing and sales professionals. If marketing and sales activities can provoke a willingness to consider change in most prospects, then the content of our “top of funnel” marketing and sales messages should emphasize the need for change, and our goal should be to get our messages in front of as many legitimate prospects as possible. By “legitimate prospects,” I mean companies with problems, needs, or challenges that our products or services can effectively address.

If, on the other hand, marketing and sales activities can support and enhance, but not usually provoke, a willingness to consider change, then our sales and marketing messages should emphasize how the status quo can be changed and how the change will result in a better status quo. In this circumstance, our goal should be to identify which prospects are already motivated to consider change and then get our messages in front of those prospects.

So, what’s the answer to the question? The best evidence we currently have suggests that we shouldn’t expect marketing programs and/or sales conversations alone to consistently provoke potential buyers to become open to change. The evidence does indicate that the right marketing and sales techniques can enhance a prospect’s willingness to change, once the initial impetus exists.

For example, in a 2012 article for the Harvard Business Review, Brent Adamson, Matthew Dixon, and Nicholas Toman describe the strategies used by top-performing sales reps, as revealed in research by CEB. Adamson and Dixon are also the co-authors of The Challenger Sale, and in that book, they write that today’s most successful sales reps use disruptive insights to teach potential buyers new ways of thinking about the issues their business is facing.

Does this mean, therefore, that disruptive insights are sufficient to consistently break the grip of the status quo? Not exactly. In the HBR article, the authors stress the importance of using disruptive insights with the right prospects. They argue that top-performing sales reps:

“. . . pursue customers that have an emerging need or are in a state of organizational flux, whether because of external pressures, such as regulatory reform, or because of internal pressures, such as a recent acquisition, a leadership turnover, or widespread dissatisfaction with current practices. Since they’re already reexamining the status quo, these customers are looking for insights and are naturally more receptive to the disruptive ideas that star performers bring to the table. . . Stars, in other words, place more emphasis on a customer’s potential to change than on it’s potential to buy.” (Emphasis in original)

The reality is, identifying the right prospects to focus on is as critical to demand generation success as the specific marketing and sales techniques that we use. As the HBR article suggests, identifying prospects with a willingness to consider change is typically seen as a sales function. But what if we could identify which prospects are willing to change long before those prospects interact with our sales reps? With this insight, we could focus our marketing activities on those prospects and improve the productivity of our marketing programs and our overall demand generation efforts.

This is one of the core benefits promised by the providers of predictive analytics software and services. In a future post, I’ll discuss how predictive analytics solutions work, and how effective they appear to be.

Illustration courtesy of R/DV/RS via Flickr CC.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

David Dodd
David Dodd is a B2B business and marketing strategist, author, and marketing content developer. He works with companies to develop and implement marketing strategies and programs that use compelling content to convert prospects into buyers.


  1. Isn’t a company’s decision to maintain the status quo sometimes the result of senior managers sincerely re-evaluating current methods and practices? In my experience, this is a frequent misconception in selling – that the sales team “lost to no decision.” The confusion is extended by referring to “no decision” a competitor. Competitors have motivation, goals, and (often) resources. But having none of these makes “No decision” enigmatic. How can companies develop strategies and tactics to contend with an undefined entity?

    What sales teams do compete against are people who advance an agenda to stick with what they’ve got. And that’s rarely – if ever – permanent. Frequently, an opportunity gets labeled “lost to no decision” when, in fact, a decision was not reached by the time the vendor thought the decision should have been reached.

    Much as identifying sales prospects “willing to change” long before sales gets involved seems the holy grail, I don’t think it’s a fruitful pursuit. Rather, selecting opportunities based on forces and pressure seems a better approach. For example, I’ve found clients in fast-growing industries more receptive to making capital purchases (read: change) than those in low-growth or declining industries.


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