One of the worst things you might ask your prospective client in a first meeting is "What is your problem?" or "What are your pain points?” Without realizing it, you have lowered your status in your client's eyes. Instead of showing up as an authority and expert, you are another in a long line of salespeople who don’t know much.
You sell a small, finite number of outcomes, which means that you solve a few problems and alleviate equally few customer pain points. While customer pain points are useful to discuss in the sales conversation, you should know what they are when you walk into your first meeting. When you called your prospective client, you must have had a theory of how you intend to improve their results. After making hundreds of sales calls, you already know what kind of problems your client has, and what pain points they face. Therefore, you need a new conversation starter.
A Modern View of Using Pain Points in the Sales Conversation
The legacy approach positions you as a person who knows too little. Asking a question that you know the answer to doesn't serve you or your prospective client. As a consultative salesperson, your clients expect you to enlighten them and offer guidance, advice, and recommendations. It's not that you shouldn't ask questions. It's that you shouldn't ask questions when you should know the answer. This is the art of sales.
When using customer pain points in the modern sales approach, your goal is to create a preference to buy from you. No client needs a salesperson who knows less about their pain points than they do. To do this work, you must start with the strategic outcome your contact needs.
Customer Pain Points and Strategic Outcomes
In Eat Their Lunch: Winning Customers Away from your Competition, the first chapter discusses value creation and how to talk to decision-makers. When you start a conversation with the strategic outcomes, you are addressing the contact’s real need. This is true even if they tell you they need help with a certain problem.
To improve your sales approach, you need to identify the strategic outcomes your clients need to enable or improve. This allows you to work backward toward the few problems your clients have that you can solve. Remember: The problem isn't the problem. The pain point isn't the pain point. The lack of a strategic outcome is the real problem—and it’s also a greater source of pain.
An Example of Problems, Pain Points, and Outcomes
Let's use a simple example to determine what you need to know and how to use pain points in the sales conversation. You sit down across from your prospective client. You believe your client has low production numbers. The reason you believe this is true is because what you sell helps people and companies improve their production. Even if this company has decent production numbers, they accepted a meeting because they believe they can improve. The contact sitting across from you has the problem of poor production.
You, being a consultative salesperson with years of experience in your industry, start by briefing the contact on what's changed outside their window and the impact it has on manufacturers. Because you have knowledge and experience, you say, "Is it fair to say you are missing shipments to your clients, having more service calls, worrying that some of your clients are looking for a new supplier, and losing market share? How is this showing up in your world?"
Your discovery and diagnosis may require you to ask several questions, but you may also diagnose the root cause of the client's problems by asking no questions. You may say, “The way you have been manufacturing was the best possible way when you started. You have reached the limit of throughput using your current process and machinery. Most larger manufacturers have invested in new machinery and automation, allowing them to improve their throughput by 200 percent."
The way to use customer pain points is to already know what your contacts are experiencing, what problems cause it, and what your clients need to fix it.
Real, Compelling Customer Pain Points Are Strategic
The real pain points are the strategic outcomes the company cannot generate using their current equipment and processes. Here, the loss of market share may be the most important strategic outcome they need. The reason they are losing market share is because they are losing their large clients. That is happening because they cannot fulfill their clients’ needs.
Every day, salespeople ask their clients about their problems and their pain points. Very few start by sharing the reason their clients cannot produce the outcomes they need. The best way to use problems and customer pain points in the sales conversation is to already know them. When you can explain why the client has specific problems and pain points, you prove you understand the client's situation better than they do, and that you know how to best improve their results.
Pain Points and Sales Effectiveness
The salesperson who is unaware of how to use customer pain points, problems, and strategic outcomes will struggle to be effective in the sales conversation. They are likely to be perceived as someone who needs something instead of someone who can provide the advice and the results the client is pursuing.
In sales, there are haves and have-nots. Your results are individual and require an improvement in sales skills. The "haves" have knowledge, experience, an effective approach, and insights that define them as consultative. They also have a high level of sales effectiveness. The "have-nots" lack knowledge, experience, and an effective approach, so they struggle to create value for their prospective clients.
You are better off educating a client about their pain points and problems than asking them what they are experiencing after they have agreed to meet with you. The number of pain points and problems are finite, but you must do the work to identify them to use them in sales conversation.