A trigger event is something that forces a company to change. For example, at the time of this writing, the Federal Reserve has raised the Fed Fund rate to the highest level in many decades. This is a trigger event for real estate agents, mortgage banks, and title companies. Real estate agents will have to change how they find potential buyers, mortgage banks may have to develop new lending programs, and title companies may be forced to take a little more time off.
There are two types of trigger events. The first type are the ones that every salesperson sees because the media and business news have covered them. The second trigger events are visible only to salespeople who pay attention to what is going on in their environment. First, we’ll look at the trigger events that everyone can identify, then we’ll look at those that tend to fly under the radar.
High-Visibility Trigger Events
Let's start with every salesperson's favorite trigger event: a prospective client gets a new senior leader. As soon as LinkedIn Navigator shows a large company has a new senior leader, salespeople pounce on the person before they even receive their business cards. A new leader is going to have little allegiance to the status quo and is likely to want a fast, early win to establish themselves. Because so many salespeople can see this trigger event, the new executive may get overwhelmed by sales communications.
One challenge of waiting for a trigger event to contact a company is that you may have trouble getting attention when other the company has strong relationships with other salespeople. For example, recruiters see that the executive leader’s past position is vacant and recognize a trigger event. The recruiter who already has a relationship with the hiring company has the best chance of replacing the executive, and large companies may use multiple recruiters to replace the leader who left.
In another instance, there are sales organizations that track a venture capital company's investments. They pounce on companies that have just received millions of dollars to grow their business. Salespeople who identify this trigger event make a pitch as to how they can help the company grow and reach its goals. However, most of the time, the new investment is already allocated for growth and scaling up. The person with the best chance of capitalizing on this trigger event is one who was working to help the client grow before the VC patron made their investment.
Trigger Events That Are Hard to Detect
Some trigger events are difficult to see. They tend to happen over a period of time, often without the company recognizing that anything is changing. When salespeople fail to see these trigger events, they have a harder time selling because they are missing critical information that will help their clients. Only One-Up salespeople possess the business acumen and curiosity to see what others miss.
Savvy salespeople detect trends that indicate something is changing—something that will cause their clients to reevaluate what they’re doing. Those who recognize the slow trigger event as it unfolds have an extreme advantage in winning the client's business. These trigger events occur alongside macro trends that impact a company’s business on a fundamental level. Consider Uber, as one example. Without advances in technology like the iPhone and the App Store, there would be no Uber. Uber also relies on the gig economy, which is in part a technological trend, but also a societal and cultural change, as many people no longer want to work for a company. Finally, legislation around labor, privacy, and the environment forces Uber to change how it does business.
Peter Drucker was able to see farther into the future than most people, and he was skilled at identifying slow-moving trigger events. In 1993, in Post-Capitalist Society, he predicted that large institutional investors would impose their values on the large companies that took large sums of money. A few months ago, Chicago ended their investments in fossil fuels. California followed a week or two later.
The advantage of recognizing these types of trigger events early is that most salespeople can’t or don’t. If your competitors pay more attention to their local sports team or the popular new Netflix series, your work as a One-Up salesperson is a lot easier. My experience in sales has been one in which I can see around corners because I was—and still—pay attention to what might harm my clients, helping them update their view of reality. I predicted when the client would need to do something different, and helped them get in front of the change.
Let me describe the value of information as it relates to trigger events: The one that everyone is aware of presents a less valuable opportunity than the one that few people see. One of the major strategies for creating value for your prospects and clients is correcting an information disparity, by providing them with the information they need before they need it. The types of trigger events you look for indicate what kind of salesperson you are. If you hope for trigger events that are widely known, you are the kind of salesperson who wants selling to be easy. If you are always 10 steps in front of your clients, you are the kind of salesperson people find valuable. Companies pay a high premium for people who can help others learn what they need to know before it is widely recognized.
When it makes sense for you to capitalize on a trigger event that everyone sees, make the call and see if you can create an opportunity. But when you are done being opportunistic, understand that there is a much greater play when you identify the trends that drive slow trigger events that your competitors and clients are likely to overlook.