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“How Much Does It Hurt?”

by David Brock on September 5th, 2013

I was in the doctor’s office for a check up the other day and was fascinated with the “Pain Chart” on his examining room wall.  It was one of those simple things doctors use to help patients describe the magnitude of pain they are experiencing.  I’m sure you’ve seen them, typically a 0-10 scale ranging from “Ouch,” to “PUT ME OUT OF MY MISERY!”

My doctor explained the chart to me.  He said that it’s really difficult to get people to describe their pain.  They can describe where it is, they can describe a little bit of the nature of it—naturally, assisted by a lot of good probing (figuratively and literally) from the doctor.  However, they have difficulty in describing how much it hurts.  He said the charts start providing a context to help the patient describe the amount of pain they are experiencing.  He said, “I know they hurt, but I don’t know how much they hurt or how it is impacting them.”  He also said, that as he went through procedures, patients could continue to describe the amount of pain they were experiencing, using the same context.

One of the most important things he described was that everyone experiences pain differently, what I might describe as a “10” (I’m basically a whiner when it comes to pain), my wife would describe as a “2”  (My wife has a very high tolerance for pain–witness her living with me such a long time).  Understanding how the customer perceives pain is critical to the doctor’s ability to treat the patient–not just in diagnosing and treating the problem but in helping to effectively manage the patient experience and the pain they perceive.  But he was adamant, “The patient is always the person that describes and quantifies the pain they are experiencing.”

It’s useful for us to think about things in a similar way in sales.  We need the customer to tell us how much it hurts.  Different customers will have different perceptions of their current circumstances.  They’ll have different tolerances for the problems or challenges they face.  Customers must be able to describe the “pain” they experience.  We need to get them to quantify it in some way beyond, “we have problems.”  We need them to articulate for themselves whether it’s a 1 or a 10 — except they might express it in different terms–perhaps financial terms, in terms of opportunity missed, and so forth.  We can’t tell them the pain they are experiencing, we can only get them to describe it through strong questioning, and probing.  We can guide them to discovering where the “pain” might be, we can question, test, analyze to help them understand what’s causing the pain.

While we may look at them, thinking their problems are huge or they are missing opportunities, until they describe how much it hurts, they are not likely to take action.  We cannot tell them, “you have a huge amount of pain.”  Until the customer says, “This is no longer tolerable, I need to do something about it,”  we can’t move forward.

How are you getting your customers to explore and understand their “pain,” challenges, opportunities?  How are you getting them to tell you how much it hurts?

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11 Comments
  1. Doug Schmidt permalink

    Dave excellent comments about “how much does it hurt”.
    I want like to add one more suggestion that after we found out “how much it hurts”. If we can provide a solution to the pain an important next step may be to discuss what the mission is and vision the customer wants to engage in. An excellent framework for this is the “hero’s journey” as described in Nancy Duarte’s book resonate where our audience is the hero in their own journey to a brighter future. We are the coach i.e. Yoda and catalyst to helping our customer’s achieve their goals, dreams or mission. In summary, while pain is a powerful motivator to get someone to do something now what is our client’s overall goal, objective and mission may add powerful incentives for our clients and prospects.

  2. I really like this analogy but I would recommend going a little deeper. Its one thing to know how much something hurts, its another to know how that “pain” impacts them.

    Since its the first week of NFL imagine you are a starting TE for a superbowl contender and you are in the final year of your contract. You break your arm in the first half of the first game, out 8-10 weeks.

    Well you certainly have some immediate pain in your arm, but the real pain is that you may be hurting yourself in contract negotiations at the end of the season.

    This could cost you millions of $ over the next few years. To me this is where the real pain is, not the broken arm.

    When you can get your customer to understand the long term implications of their immediate pains and how your solution helps them, then you are not selling, they are buying.

    Just my $.02

    Richard

    • Richard: You perfectly captured what I was trying to include in combining the type/nature of the pain and how much it hurt. Another extension is the comparison of the “pain involved in the treatment,” to the current pain. Thanks for the contribution.

    • Richard: Great observation. Just like doctors, it’s important to understand and help our customers understand all the dimensions of the pain. Not only that which creates the symptoms, but the underlying causes. As you state, we have to help the customer understand the implications of not addressing it over the long term. Thanks for the great contribution. Regards, Dave

  3. Great this reminds me about the value gap this is before (COM) and this is the future (FOM) could be.

    Similarly Steve Job’s before and after way of reminding us as customers about the gap before the doctor’s intervention and great way of with for example with the chart to have someone to rate how bad is the situation/pain/issue today. Before even talking about any kind of solution to the pain.

    Thanks for sharing an interesting post!

  4. Brian MacIver permalink

    There is one caution worth remembering.

    Imagine after a discussion with the Doctor,
    about where the pain is,
    how often it occurs,
    how intense it is
    [on or off the chart!]
    Then,
    Your Doctor tells you:
    “Well I cannot help you with that!”

    In observing hundreds [and more] “Problem Based” Sales calls, it becomes obvious that you should never discuss Pain, with a Customer, if You cannot fix it!

    Loved the Chart, Dave
    [PS I know you have a high pain tolerance,
    you had IT customers!]

    • Brian, sorry for the slow response, but you are right on–and too often we miss this. Extending my example, a cardiac specialist would not spend time on pulmonary issues, and vice versa. They quickly assess the problems the patient is having and don’t take spend time on issues they can’t fix. Too often, we spend a lot of time, with customers who have problems we can’t solve. We’re destroying the relationship with that. We need to qualify the customer very quickly, if they have problems we can solve, then we need to engage. Otherwise, we are wasting the customer time and our time.

  5. Pete permalink

    David,
    good article, in my experience a lot of B2B sales folk tend not to look further than establishing the customer has some sort of pain / problem.

    This, imho is one of the reasons for the many stalled or no purchase outcomes.

    One question which I am sure you have heard before is to ask the prospect “What is the impact on the business of doing nothing?” That normally gets one into the ‘degree’ of pain issue.

    Thanks for the article

    Pete

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