Ask a group of sales people what they want to know about their prospect, and the majority respond “I want to know about their pain or needs”. In theory a good concept, in practice highly over rated and ineffective. As discussed before, at any given time, only a small percentage of your total potential market is in play. The various estimates range from as low as 3% to 15%; so if we go with 10% for the sake of this piece, we are likely very generous. Of that 10%, almost all will recognise or admit to a need, and for some that need is in fact driven by or rooted in pain. So even when you perfect uncovering the pain and need, you are playing with a very narrow slice of opportunity. Not to mention a very visible and highly sought after slice, one that every sales person is pursuing, much like a lazy wild cat targets the weak of the herd.
A further 20% or so, don’t have an immediate pain or need, but they recognise that they will need to make a purchase decision 12 – 18 months out. Extremely good sales people, may be able to get a few of these folks to accelerate the need or heighten the pain, and thereby accelerate the purchase decision. But in the vast majority of instances, these people are future business, i.e. not this quota cycle. Having said that they are a good group to work with, as you have lots of runway to build a “relationship” and set yourself up as the obvious favourite when they going into buying mode.
This leaves the 70% plus, of the target market, the status quo, the complacent ones, the ones with no pain, no need, and no desire for a solution. Probing for pains or needs here gets the familiar “all set, we’re good, no need now, not interested” response; sometimes they’ll make you feel good and ask you to send them something. When was the last time you got paid for that?
For many of these buyers, the only immediate pain is the sales person sitting across from them, and the way that many of those sales people sell. While many pride themselves on having “evolved” from asking silly questions like “what keeps you up at night?” From the buyer’s stand point many of the techniques used by many are no better even though they changed the wrapping.
Some fall pray to pundits who will have them go in and try to “create” pain or make the buyer feel inadequate by asking things like “wouldn’t you agree that ….?” or “What would it be like if you could….? But buyers are hip, they see when you snap on the rubber gloves and “probe”.
One pain many buyers complain to me about is the complete unpreparedness they experience when meeting with reps. Rather than truly understanding the buyer, doing a bit of work in advance. Actually research the industry and current and future trends, how those impact the buyer’s company and the buyer, exploring more than just their social stream and LinkedIn profile. Absent pain, you need to look forward, the “value” you bring as a seller is helping the buyer face and win in that future, kicking them in the shin or higher brings a pain that does not lead to sales.
So if you want to use pain to win sales, it needs to be the “pain” of the effort you put into properly engaging a buyer who left to their own devices feels no pain, and is more like in search of something that will help them achieve their objectives, while avoiding the pain that is bad selling.