Skip to main content
SalesGrowth MD, Inc. | Denver/ Englewood, CO

As a sales trainer, I get a lot of pushback about the word “pain.” Many of my clients reason that there are many other motives to explain why people buy. There have been multiple instances where they were offended by the very word “pain” and its negative connotation and then asked if we can call it something else instead.

People are motivated by 5 things, listed in order of intensity:

1.   Pain in the present

2.   Pain in the future

3.   Pleasure in the present

4.   Pleasure in the future

5.   Interest or curiosity

Pain is the strongest and interest is the weakest. Many of my clients are engineers, contractors or software developers. They see themselves as problem solvers that build things and provide improvements. When they first see the motivators, there is a lot of resistance to the idea that pleasure or benefit in the future is so low on the list. They fail to realize that almost all of their past customers were actually buying a solution to eliminate a pain, not for future benefit.

There are specific reasons why pain is the strongest motivator. One is called intertemporal discounting. It turns out that human beings are not very good at perceiving an accurate value of things in the future. When people are asked if they would prefer $100 today or $110 tomorrow, most will take the $100 today. If the offer is changed slightly to $100 on the last day of the month or $110 on the first day of the next month, the response rate changes to $110. Any banker will tell you that an extra $10 is a fantastic return on the time value of money. And both scenarios involve waiting just 1 day. But people make really bad decisions when payoffs in the future are concerned. When the value of future solutions is being evaluated by the prospect, they too may make some very poor decisions. Your product or service may seem to be a very intelligent purchase to you but your prospects are discounting its value because of the time difference between today and when they will receive its benefits.

This effect is not limited to the selling profession. Healthcare deals with this continuously. People do unhealthy things today and discount the consequences in the future. Financial advisors beg their clients to save for retirement but the vast majority of people on this planet choose to spend today and worry about retirement later. Several reputable professors and psychologists have conducted extensive studies on this topic that is worth further investigation for the curious student.

So why not sell pleasure in the present? That would seem to be a good way to succeed as it removes the intertemporal discounting. In fact, it does work well which explains why people buy on impulse. Clothing and snacks come to mind. In fact, those companies exploit the impulsive buying habits by tempting you at every opportunity. Chewing gum companies display their products in the grocery store right where you’re standing in line to pay. Online retailers make it really easy to buy with one click! And one-day shipping is now prevalent as these companies understand the importance of instant gratification.

But there is one huge difference for my clients. They are not able to provide a solution instantly. It may take several months before a solution can be implemented and it may take a year for results to be measurable. I don’t train anyone who can provide instant gratification. They may have two to three appointments just to qualify the prospective company, much less close a deal with terms and conditions and the vendor approval process. A lot of effort goes into the sale for both the selling and buying companies and it takes a lot of time! The longer your sales cycle, the more important it is to find pain.

Risk is another reason to find pain. Prospect don’t believe salespeople. In their mind, there’s always a risk that the solution the salesperson is promising may not work. The better it sounds on paper, the more cautious the buyer becomes. It’s hard enough to sell something that people know will work. (Think weight loss, retirement savings, healthy eating, higher education, smoking.) So when the result of a purchase is not guaranteed, it’s even harder.

Time Kills Deals.

The longer your sales cycle, the more factors outside of your control can creep in to upset your deal. Intertemporal discounting occurs when the prospect looks at all the effort they have to put in today to move the buying process along. They over-weight the short-term inconvenience or sacrifice and get cold feet about the distant solution. External factors you can’t control mess up your deal: Your champion gets promoted and relocates to another city. The prospect’s stock price changes dramatically. Your prospect buys another company or gets acquired themselves. Other more pressing pains outrank your pains. Fill in the blank here…

The point is that many issues outside your control can interfere with your sale. By finding pain, you are doing everything possible to ensure your sales process is as short as possible. If you are in the business of turning a profit, finding pain is not something you do to your prospect; it’s something you uncover to decide how to allocate resources within your company. Pain is nothing more than a good predictor of future behavior. Stop “selling” and start finding pain to be a good predictor of a sale.

Learn more about uncovering a prospect’s pain from this podcast.  

Share this article: