Should You Provoke Your Customers?

A recent Harvard Business Review article states that in a downturn, (you should) provoke your customers. I have to say that even after reading the article to understand where they are coming from, this scares me a bit. It’s one thing to provoke a sleeping bunny, but what if you provoke a sleeping bear? While the first might spring into action, the latter might take a chunk (of business) out of you (by deciding that you’re too pushy to do business with and simply ban you from future opportunities).

While a smart seller will help their customers see their competitive challenges in a new light, they’ll do it in a manner that illuminates the opportunity and inspires the customer to take cost saving actions, not in a way that provokes the customer into an unpredictable frenzy that could cause the customer to make a quick decision that isn’t necessarily right for them. And while it’s true that this could result in a short term gain, in the form of a sale, for a seller, it could also lead to a long term liability if the customer isn’t willing to follow through in the operational execution required to make the solution a success. If the solution ends up tanking, either because the customer failed to redesign their processes and execute accordingly or because the solution wasn’t right for them, and does nothing but cost the customer time and money, the customer could get irate, go public, and start a fiasco that will lead to long term revenue loss.

Maybe it’s just me, but I’d prefer a level-headed customer who saw the advantages, that were clearly laid out in the new competitive landscape the solution created, the solution had to offer to one that was provoked into buying the solution. I just see too many opportunities where “provoking” a customer could go wrong. What do you think?