Wednesday, December 7, 2011

What is the Compelling Event?

Google “What is a sales opportunity” and you will find some five hundred million pages to view. Conversely, if you Google “What is a compelling sales event”, you will find less than four million results.

With sales teams, the results are similar. Most will have a plethora of sales opportunities; many fewer will be able to identify the compelling event that will cause their sales opportunity to move forward with velocity.

The absence of a compelling event does not rule out the possibility that the prospect will take action. Organizations frequently take action based on a risk/reward analysis. I change the synthetic oil in my cars every 7,500 miles whether or not the engine is making abnormal sounds; indeed I pay a premium for synthetic oil and change it regularly to reduce the likelihood of abnormal sounds and engine damage. For the oil change, my compelling event is the identification of a spare 30 minutes on a Saturday morning. If it’s sunny, the oil change is deferred and the bike gets ridden. In this scenario, if the deferral goes on long enough, I decide that the oil change cannot wait any longer and it gets a higher priority than the bike ride.

On the other hand, the end of a car lease is a compelling event. If the lease is over on February 28, the car must be turned in by February 28. (This begs the question as to whether anyone changes the oil on a leased vehicle).

Similarly in sales, most responses to the question “what is the compelling event” driving this opportunity initiates a conversation about the symptoms or factors that may drive a risk/reward decision. “The system is performing poorly.” “We’re running out of space/power in the data center.” “Profitability is down.” “The CIO thinks our stuff is cool.”

None of these will cause the organization to act. How long can the company continue to run with a poorly performing system, without any spare space/power in the data center, with low profitability? Many function for years in this environment, choosing to invest in other, higher priority activities or to make no investment (all too common over the past couple of years.)

A workable definition of the compelling event is as follows:

A compelling event has an economic owner, a defined date and is a direct response to a business pressure. The action is expected to deliver a significant business result (either improving opportunity/capability or reducing pain). The compelling event defines the reason for the economic owner to act.

The compelling event, or its absence, is a strong leading indicator for the probability of success regarding the opportunity.

The symptoms described above may well be contributing to a risk/reward decision. I coach sales teams to look beyond the symptoms (and the technical owners of those problems) and identify for the economic owner. If that economic owner has chosen to address the issue, he or she will have a project plan with milestones and actions. The technical owners will hold the pieces of that plan but may not be able to identify the underlying plan. Once the sales team connects with the economic owner, a discovery process will determine whether the opportunity is real, the “fit” between seller and buyer, and ultimately the likelihood of success.

It’s time to surgically remove the sales person’s “happy ears” (“they think our stuff is cool…I have a deal!”)  and train them to focus on issues of real importance to their customers…issues that have significant business value when addressed.

Happy Selling!



  1. Remarkably similar to this article -->

    1. Yes, thank you for the heads-up. It looks like Andrew Chapman copied most of this post, from 2011, for his 2016 LinkedIn post, without providing any attribution.