Finding the hottest prospects is simply a matter of being first in with those who recently experienced an event that triggered them to become dissatisfied with the status quo.

I call this trigger event selling.

Don’t mistake a pain or a circumstance with a trigger event. It’s crucial to understand the difference.

For example, a married man who’s going bald wakes up every day older, heavier, grayer, and balder. These are circumstances that he doesn’t do anything about until he experiences a very specific trigger event -- becoming single once again. Now he buys a gym membership, new clothes, a new car, and Rogaine. 

The same is true in B2B sales. For B2B decision makers, a circumstance might be a company’s falling stock price or shrinking margins. Maybe for some reason they’re unhappy with their current solution or vendor, but not deeply enough to change their priorities and all of a sudden buy something different. A trigger event has to push their hand.

Identifying the hottest prospects is simply a matter of finding opportunities where a decision maker has recently experienced or is about to experience a trigger event that makes them want to change. This is easy as ABC because these events fall into three discrete categories.

A: Awareness

Awareness trigger events are driven by a seller’s organization. Salespeople try to move prospects into a window of dissatisfaction by attempting to make prospects believe their offering is better, faster, or cheaper than the current supplier's.

Some salespeople even try to challenge a prospect’s status quo by sharing good ideas or valuable advice. The problem with this approach is that if you have the best ideas but someone else has the best relationship, your ideas are often borrowed and given to the salesperson the prospect would rather do business with. In other words, even if this gets you a first meeting, your odds of getting a second are about 7%, according to Sales Benchmark Index.

My experience is that challenging a prospect’s thinking is 10 times more effective when one of the two following trigger events has happened.

B: Bad Experience with the Current Supplier

This type of event is driven by your competition. There are three ways a prospect can have a bad experience: 

  • People. For example, a change in the salesperson responsible for the account. Remember this the next time a salesperson for the incumbent supplier to a prospect changes jobs.
  • Product. An example here is when a supplier announces it will no longer be supporting or end of lifing a product.
  • Provider. A material change in the provider is often created by mergers or acquisitions. You would be amazed how often a merger or acquisition triggers mass customer exodus.

While bad experiences are effective in prompting buyers to make a change, they tend to be hard to identify and difficult for salespeople to track. Here are some suggestions to make detection easier:

  • People. Document the current vendor and account executive of each of your opportunities in a marketing automation or CRM system. When you get wind that an account executive quit, search their name in the system and reach out to their former customers.
  • Product. Keep track of which specific products each prospect uses. If an offering undergoes a major change, send a message to gauge if the customers are still happy with it.
  • Provider. Reach out to all customers whose providers have recently experienced a merger, acquisition, or another major organizational shift.

C: Changes Within the Prospect

As evidenced by the description, these events are driven by the customers themselves. Similar to bad experiences, they come in a few forms:

  • Change in People. A new decision maker is up to 10 times more likely to switch vendors than their predecessor, and research by DiscoverOrg shows that of those who will make a million dollars worth of decisions in their first year in a new job, 80% of them will do so in the first 90 days.
  • Change in Places. When a company opens a new location, it might have to comply with new legislation or local requirements.
  • Change in Priorities. If one player in the industry moves, the rest won’t be far behind. Watch for competitive shifts that create shockwaves of urgency across the industry.

It’s very important to reach out as soon as you know a trigger event has happened because trigger events turn on what I call selective perception (I believe the scientific term is reticular activation). Just like when you buy a new car and start seeing it all over the road or you get pregnant and suddenly start noticing pregnant women everywhere, prospects that experience trigger events see all the advertising and content marketing of companies that can solve their problem that they never noticed before. Now it jumps out at them. 

There are many specific forms of trigger events that make prospects want to change and move them from status quo into the window of dissatisfaction, but they all fall into one of these three categories.

To fully capitalize on the trigger events that create hot prospects, you need to conduct a special form of sales analysis that will show you exactly which work best for what you sell. I’ll cover this in my next blog post.

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Originally published Feb 11, 2015 8:00:00 AM, updated July 28 2017


Sales Prospecting