Find the pain, then identify the pain killer


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Here’s a shortcut to developing effective messaging to influence your prospects.

Your product or service is intended to create a successful outcome. We talk a lot about painting a picture of success for your prospects. What will their life look like six months from now? How do they envision their business, their personal objectives? Prospects will be drawn to that positive future.

But achieving that positive future still isn’t a priority for many buyers, especially if there’s little perceived pain in their world today.

Your job is to identify that pain. Communicate that pain. Quantify the impact of not making a change or not taking advantage of an opportunity. If the detail of that pain isn’t compelling to your prospect, move on. You’re not talking to a qualified prospect.

But if you can isolate and enumerate the pain, you can also describe the pain killer. The pain killer is not your product or service, not yet. Your product or service delivers an outcome, and that outcome is the pain killer.

You don’t want to be a vitamin. Vitamins sound good, and they help people, but most people don’t take vitamins. We aren’t as preventative as we’d like to be. Most of us take pain killers. We address the problem after it’s occurred.

Help your prospect identify the pain and the pain killer, and you’ve simultaneously positioned yourself as both an expert as well as someone who likely has built (or at least represents) a solution that can act as the pain killer.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Matt Heinz
Prolific author and nationally recognized, award-winning blogger, Matt Heinz is President and Founder of Heinz Marketing with 20 years of marketing, business development and sales experience from a variety of organizations and industries. He is a dynamic speaker, memorable not only for his keen insight and humor, but his actionable and motivating takeaways.Matt’s career focuses on consistently delivering measurable results with greater sales, revenue growth, product success and customer loyalty.


  1. Matt: ‘Identify the pain’ makes sense. I was brought up on it. My earliest Xerox sales training in the ’80’s urged us to “find out what keeps the customer up at night!” But lately, I’ve been having second thoughts. It’s not that pain isn’t a reliable progenitor of buying, it’s just that it’s become clear that other things we might not know as “pain” are also part of the mix when things get bought. What about strategic enablement, innovation, knowledge transfer, and ideas for revenue generation? You won’t necessarily hear “pain” if you’re listening for other things, but the magnitude of need could be just as great, or greater.

    If I’m singularly focused on listening for and identifying pain–however pain might look or seem–I risk having other perfectly grand selling opportunities fly right past me. The reason I say this is because social networking technologies and analytics make it possible to see how people coalesce around ideas, and to understand how things get bought in ways that simply weren’t possible when we were advised to simply “find the pain.” Those ideas don’t always manifest themselves with statements like “how do I get my inventory turns higher?” or other operational headaches. Some coalesce around other topics, which I mentioned earlier. And stuff gets bought in the process. I don’t know how much, but I’ll wager that billions of dollars are spent for things that didn’t start out as pain per se.

    By limiting his or her view to uncovering pain, a salesperson has focus (a good thing!), but risks not being in tune with other topics around which people are forming buying networks.

    At the risk of sounding a little touchy-feely on this, I think an emerging selling challenge is to discover ideas, who is moved by them, and how people become networked around them. Unfortunately, it’s more complex than “discover the pain,” but I believe that sales organizations that learn now to do this well will have a significant jump on those that are looking for pain or “trigger events.”

  2. A couple of years ago (April, 2008) my friend, Henry DeVries, and I published a book entitled “Pain Killer Marketing.” The book describes the need to stop selling features and benefits and start by listening to what the customers’ pains are, then design a product or service to deal with them. We outline the proper techniques for listening and organizing the customer’s thoughts in their own words the way they think about them.

    As Andrew mentions, this is not enough, but it is a better start than most salesmen do.

    The key, in our view, is to translate that “Voice of the Customer” into ideas and predictable internal metrics that drive success. We have been doing this for years, having learned the techniques from the Japanese car industry in the early 1980s.

    It is not easy to be a good listener, or to be objective, or to hear the “pains” when the customer tells you a story of a bad experience. Sometimes, as Andrew describes above, the right idea can eliminate the cause of the “pain” – so neither you or the customer ever has to think about it. Thus, merely listening for pain is not enough, but that is where to start. Far too many salespeople believe that touting their benefits and pricing is what is required. Not so!

    Many senior managers are looking for the “silver bullet” (in the Kano Model) from their salesmen, when what is failing and losing sales is often something much more basic: a pain caused by poor design, unreliable delivery or unpredictable customer service. Ask customers why they LEFT your business. A great number of the reasons will be i9n those areas. If you can fix those pains, you will find retaining customers much cheaper than acquiring new ones.


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