Five Good Responses to a Customer’s Pain

By Heather Baldwin

Correctly identifying the pain that drives a sales opportunity is a critical element of successful selling. One effective way to uncover prospects’ pain is to share a relevant story about how you were able to help a peer company solve a problem. After sharing such a story you should get a response that falls into one of five categories, says Keith Eades, coauthor of The Solution Selling Fieldbook: Practical Tools, Application Exercises, Templates, and Scripts for Effective Sales Execution (McGraw-Hill, 2005). Here, says Eades, are the five potential responses to a reference story and the corresponding actions you should take.

1. Response: I’m having that same problem. The prospect’s problem is nearly identical to the one you mentioned in the reference story.
Action: Diagnose the problem and create a vision. In essence, the action you should take boils down to asking good, thoughtful questions that allow you to correctly diagnose the full extent of the prospect’s problem and then create a word picture that allows him or her to see the world being better after using your capabilities than it is today.

2. Response: I’m having a different problem. So the prospect’s pain is not the same, but because you’ve established credibility, the prospect will share his or her pain with you.
Action: Diagnose the problem and create a vision. (See #1.)

3. Response: The prospect admits no pain but remains friendly and talkative.
Action: Ask situation questions to help direct the conversation toward pain. “Situation questions can help funnel prospect’s responses down to either admitting the pain or providing information that can help you anticipate the pain,” says Eades. Situation questions are open. Some examples include: What do your customers do when they want to place an order on a day their salesperson is not going to call them? When a prospect calls a salesperson to ask an FAQ, how is that call handled?

4. Response: The prospect admits no pain and is not friendly and talkative.
Action: Ask menu-of-pain questions. Unlike situation questions, these are direct, closed-end questions that elicit a yes or no response. For example, you might say: The top three difficulties we are hearing from vice presidents of sales these days are missing revenue targets, the increasing cost of sales and the inability to accurately forecast sales revenue. Are you facing any of these issues today?

5. Response: I have that same problem, and we’re already working on it. This is not a lost cause. Instead, says Eades, consider this response an active opportunity. The prospect already has a vision of a solution; you’re just late in addressing the opportunity.
Action: Re-engineer the vision. While this is similar to creating a vision, is quite a different skill. In re-engineering you first spend considerable time understanding the buyer’s existing vision. From there you begin to steer him or her to a new vision by introducing capabilities you have that are truly unique and different from your competition. Keep in mind, however, that the odds of winning are low when you come late to the game. “You have to honestly assess your chances of winning and engage only in those opportunities that are most qualified,” cautions Eades.