Developing Provocative Propositions; Short Statements that Describe the Desired Future

Sometimes, a compelling visual image may be enough to encapsulate the dream. However, groups often prefer to add a brief message, which can act as a purpose statement or summarize their strategic vision. The power of the Dream phase (The Starting Point for a Business Development Project) is that it encourages people to use the creative side of their brains, enabling them to come up with ideas and solutions they may not have considered in a more formal setting. It also allows people from various levels within an organization or community setting to communicate with one another on an equal basis.

Facilitating new thinking and conversations around the company vision: A good way to kick off a provocative proposition development session is to use a mapping exercise. Start by asking participants to write words, phrases, images, sounds, smells, and feelings they associate with their organization on sticky notes. You can then display the notes on a large wall or virtual space. An advantage of the virtual space is that it can be easily shared and accessed by a wider group, including customers or people outside the organization. Another way to get everyone thinking is to ask participants to write down their hopes and fears for the organization’s future. This can bring out some surprising and revealing insights.

 A Checklist for Developing Provocative Propositions

  • Keep it Affirmative – it needs to be positively stated about what you want rather than what you don’t want.
  • Stretching – it needs to challenge people and the organization to raise their game (hence ‘provocative’) but still be achievable
  • Stated in the present tense – to make it easier for people to associate with and imagine
  • Exciting – this is where many published propositions fall. To make the proposition statement as exciting and vivid as possible, avoid abstract concepts (like ‘business benefit’ or ‘stakeholder value’) and jargon verbiage (like ‘leverage’)
  • Use simple, evocative, sensory-specific words so that they form pictures or tell stories.
  • Using the active rather than the passive voice
  • Make sure it resonates with the core.

Developing a shared understanding with customers of the desired future state: For organizations with a customer-facing focus, one of the key benefits of taking time out to develop a provocative proposition is that it enables a collective understanding of customers’ needs, aspirations, and dreams. This is important because it can create a common language in which future customers and stakeholders can engage in conversation about the products and services offered. As part of this process, the team should develop a shared understanding of the desired customer state. This involves asking several questions that might include:

  • Who are our customers?
  • What do they currently do or experience?
  • What would they like to do or experience?
  • What would we like them to do or experience?

An advantage of developing a shared understanding of the desired customer state is that it enables the team to visualize a product or service based on customer needs and aspirations rather than the company’s internal value proposition.

Provocative Propositions versus Value Proposition: While the provocative proposition is the strategic vision, the value proposition is the specific customer benefit set that makes the vision a reality. Although there is some overlap between the two, the value proposition is more precise and may rely on some detailed customer research. The value proposition is developed by looking at the company from the customer’s point of view to find out what they want, need or expect from the product or service. At the same time, the company needs to understand its strengths, weaknesses, and core competencies. These then need to be aligned so that the company can provide the benefit that the customer is seeking.

Using the provocative proposition to guide sales and marketing strategy development: A provocative proposition might be a single sentence or a short paragraph. It describes the organization’s desired future state, the ultimate goal, or destination. Ideally, it should be short enough to be printed on a single page or as a single headline. The provocative proposition should be communicated to all levels of the organization, as well as to customers. It can guide the development of the marketing or sales strategy. It can also be used to guide product or service design development. The advantage of using a provocative proposition to guide the strategy development process is that it enables the company to put the customer at the center and consider the product or service from their perspective.

 Using Provocative Propositions in Sales Proposals: One way the provocative proposition can be used is to help structure the sales proposal. Sales proposals are often written as narratives, describing the customer journey from the customer’s perspective. The compelling sales narrative needs to be customer-centric. However, it also needs to reflect the company’s value proposition. The customer-centric nature of the sales proposal enables the customer to see themselves engaged in the narrative and to experience the sales rep’s expertise first-hand. It also allows the customer to feel they are being listened to and that their needs are being heard and understood. By adding a compelling and customer-centric provocative propositional narrative, the company can show how it can meet customers’ needs and aspirations. The sales rep can then summarize the sales proposition at the end of the narrative.

Conclusion: The corporate strategy development process is usually very top-down and management-led, with little or no input from lower-level employees. This can result in a strategy that is not only uninspiring but also unworkable. The Dream phase offers a more inclusive approach to strategy development, enabling people from all levels to communicate with one another on an equal basis. It also encourages people to use the creative side of their brains – which seems to enable them to come up with ideas and solutions which they may not have considered in a more formal setting. Dreaming up a provocative proposition empowers the team to imagine and visualize the future and determine how to get there.