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Our Success Is Based On The Misery Of Our Customers!

by David Brock on June 18th, 2013

OK, maybe misery is too dramatic, but at its core, unless our customers are “miserable” we will never be successful in selling them.

This morning I was having a conversation with a sales person in a healthcare related company.  We were discussing his sales strategies, value propositions, and how to get customers to buy.  Finally, possibly in frustration, I blurted out, “Your services create value for people in misery.  If they aren’t in misery, you’re wasting your time and their time.”  In hindsight, I felt a little like Gordon Gecko declaring “Misery is good!”

As crass as it sounds, all of selling is really about addressing and relieving “misery.”  If our customers, whoever they are–CEO’s, CIO’s, CFO’s, Engineering, Manufacturing, whatever aren’t in “misery,” we will never convince them to buy.

A lot of my early training in sales taught me to focus on “finding the pain.”  It’s a useful metaphor, that’s fallen a little out of disfavor.

I get it, technically, to find the pain, the people we are dealing with have to recognize they are in pain, they have to describe the pain, and they want to get rid of it.  Selling 101.

Finding the pain has been displaced by Insight, though in reality Insight is just the other side of the “pain coin.”  Insight is really about helping the customer realize they are in pain–though they may not have recognized they have a pain.  Insight gives them the tools to recognize the pain, to describe it, and help create the urgency to do something about it.

So whether we are solving problems, giving Insight, presenting solutions–we’re really all about finding the pain or exploiting our customers’ misery.

Presented that way, it sounds awfully callous and manipulative.  It may be callous, but as sales people we offer the solution to that pain.  Often, it’s hope or a vision—If we do these things we will be able to address these opportunities and grow.  If we do this, we will be able to improve our operations and become more efficient.  It has to eliminate or reduce their misery or pain.  It has to provide relief or a way out.

I think the challenge too many sales people face is they are calling on happy customers and prospects.  They aren’t miserable, they have no pain.  If we keep asking about the pain or misery, they look at us, eyes crossed, “What are you saying?  We’re happy, nothing’s wrong!”

If we are unable to provide the Insight to get them to say, “Things aren’t as good as they should be!  We’re in pain, we need to change,” then we waste our time and that of the customers.  (OK. we can become pains in the A**, but customers have easy solutions to that.)

So crass as it seems, revel in your customers’ misery and pain.  Make sure they understand it, make sure they can describe it, make sure they want to do something about it–urgently.  Without this, you have nothing to sell.

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7 Comments
  1. John Sterrett permalink

    I actually lead with this question. Within 10 minutes of beginning our discussions, I frame it as, “What would you improve, if you could?” or, “Which problem are you having trouble solving?”

    With a few more open-ended follow up questions and 5 minutes of listening, I know how to target the rest of my presentation, rather than using the shotgun approach and hoping I hit something.

    And sometimes their pain is something I can’t alleviate. In these cases, I admit that my solution won’t help this time, but to please keep me in mind on their next project, or the next time they experience ‘misery’.

  2. Interesting take Dave. You are a positive-outlook kinda guy, sometimes looking at the other side of the coin is a good thing.

    I think there are multiple kinds of “pain” our prospects deal with.

    – There is pain a prospect is currently experiencing. For instance, respondents to CSO Insights’ latest survey say that 53% of forecasts are lost to “no decision” and the competition. That is severe pain.

    – There is pain I can avoid, for instance, if I successfully take advantage of an opportunity today, I avoid the pain of missing that opportunity (and perhaps, direct that pain to my competitor!).

    – Another kind of pain avoidance is associated with risk mitigation or cost avoidance. “Insurance” so to speak.

    – Yet another would be to identify an achievable future state that would improve the current state. The current state may not feel painful right now, but would in comparision to the improved future state.

    Find the current pain, or a potential future pain, and make it go away.

    • Thanks Jim, sometimes we have to turn things upside down to see them more clearly. In my very first design engineering course in college, as we started the class project, the professor opened the discussion with the question, “How many people do you want to kill?” His point was not that we wanted to kill people, but that we needed to think about problems differently. (in this case, design constraints, etc.)

      I like your positioning of “pains.” I think one of the big things that Insight Selling and Challenger have brought us is the conscious recognition that Lost Opportunity, Opportunities To Grow, Things We May Have Never Realized/Thought Of, Doing Something Differently all represent pains not yet realized but they are pains they can/should address. We offer a lot of leadership in doing this.

  3. Ray Leger permalink

    I have been preaching this to my mentors. Working in the mobility industry, we have only 3 big players where I am from (Bell, Telus and Rogers), I work as a Bell dealer, selling B2B. When I approach someone that is with Rogers or Telus, and they are satisfied, I get the decision maker’s permission to follow up with them ever 3 months to see how satisfied/unsatisfied they are.

    A salesman (unless you have no conscience) can’t sell to someone that is not emotionally driven. Especially in the business world, where numbers and pain are the drivers. My job is to be there when the competitor screws up, emotions are running high..and then I call. “So John, how’s Telus been treating ya”, “Ray, we have to talk, 2 months in a row, the bill has been doubled, our rep quit, the Telus client services changed..” whatever…

    When they are emotional about your competition, you have a much, much greater chance of success. Otherwise, everyone is wasting everyone’s time.

    • Thanks for the comment Ray. You are absolutely right, there has to be an “emotional” component to it–we may have to stimulate that emotional awareness or component by providing insight, helping them realize they could be doing something that improves results, and creating a compelling desire or need to change. Until we have done that, we are jut pushing a rope uphill.

      Having said that, with the competitively installed customers in your territory, rather than waiting for them to be dissatisfied, maybe there are some unique insights, approaches or problems you can make them aware of that would create a desire to take action. It may not work with all, but you may find some. And the insight doesn’t have to be focused on dissatisfaction with current suppliers, but something you can help them do better than anyone else (I realize in the mobility world, this may be a tall, nearly impossible order).

      Thanks for contributing!

  4. Dave, your post had me mulling over the same question for two days. Is it really pain and misery every time? Ray’s broader adjective “emotionally drive” suits my philosophy a little better. Many of the best sales I made were driven by positive motivators such as expansion.

    Building a new facility and filling it with new, state of the art equipment is not a cakewalk, but I would not call it painful or miserable. Construction might be painful, but that wasn’t our end. I’d have to say they were upbeat, fun purchasing experiences and that is true of many of the sales we were involved.

    Attempting to dethrone an existing vendor is another story and there are many cases when pain is the driver. Fear is another driver such as not making your numbers; production, revenue, safety, etc.

    How do you feel about expanding the premise of pain and misery?

    • Gary, to some degree, the headline is overly dramatic to catch the reader’s eye. Sometimes to catch people’s attention we have to (or I tend to) pose an issue in a way that may be very polarizing. For instance, people tend not to respond to “We’re doing great, but we could do better.”

      But I think we are talking about the same issue—-How do we get our customers, or even, how do we get ourselves to recognize there may be an opportunity to grow, to do something better, to improve, to produce better results.

      Sometimes we need to exploit FUD (as manipulative as it may sound), sometimes we exploit something better, a greater vision, an opportunity. I tend to think it’s situational. But we need to continuously learn, continuously refine, continuously improve.

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