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5-MINUTE SALES COACH: If prospect’s pain isn’t personal, don’t waste your time

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I say it all the time: No pain, no sale. If a prospect doesn’t have a problem to solve or a desire to fulfill, why would they spend money on your product or service?

But even prospects who have obvious problems or goals aren’t automatically worth your salesperson’s time. Prospects need to be experiencing Bill McCrarythree levels of pain—issues, consequences and personal impacts—before they’ll be motivated to switch from the incumbent to you, or to allocate new funds for your product or service.

Pain level 1 (Issues). Say there’s a prospect whose current supplier is sometimes late delivering parts. Classic first-level pain. Seems like a great opportunity to grab some business from the competition, right?

Not before the salesperson asks more qualifying questions. This prospect has an issue, but is that issue creating consequences?

The salesperson’s questions might reveal that when the current supplier is late, the prospect can find replacement parts relatively quickly. Also, he’s been using this supplier for 10 years and he’s comfortable with them. Sourcing replacements is somewhat annoying, but it doesn’t affect his company’s bottom line.

So the prospect has first-level pain, but nothing more. Teach your people that opportunities like these are usually time-wasters.

Pain level 2 (Consequences). Imagine a second prospect with a supplier who’s sometimes late delivering parts. But now, suppose a late delivery means a production line has to shut down, and for every day that line is closed, it costs the company $100,000.

At this point, the average salesperson would think, “All I have to do is round up my team and spend a few days putting together a presentation, and this sale is as good as closed!”

Not so fast. There’s an issue (late deliveries), and there are consequences (lost time and money), but what about that third pain level—personal impacts?

Pain level 3 (Personal impacts). Let’s eavesdrop on a hypothetical conversation between this prospect and a salesperson who is not average, but well-trained. He recognizes that although he’s discovered first- and second-level pain, it’s crucial that he continue asking the right questions to search for a personal impact on the prospect. Only then will he be able to determine whether this opportunity is worth pursuing.

Salesperson: “You say this problem costs around $100,000 every time it happens? Can I ask how this situation is impacting the company?”

Prospect: “We’re losing close to $300,000 a year. That’s money that we could use to expand X or make improvements to Y.”

Salesperson: “Mind if I ask how this situation is affecting you personally?”

Prospect: “I’m not that concerned about it; I’m retiring in a couple of months.”

Ah! Good thing this rep knew to search for all three pain levels before committing his time and company resources to this project. The prospect isn’t losing any sleep over late deliveries and red ink. Will he spend his last 60 days at work encouraging his soon-to-be-former team members to buy your product or service? Doubtful.  

There are plenty of reasons why even significant issues and consequences don’t affect a prospect personally. Your reps might hear prospects say things like, “It doesn’t really affect my area” or “We always go with the low bidder.” Your rep should always translate statements like these the same way: Time to move on!

What if our prospect, when asked how the situation affects him, had answered something like, “If I don’t fix this, I could lose my job.”

I could lose my job. THAT is personal, third-level pain. So are statements like, “This problem cost me my bonus last year” or “I don’t see my kids at night because I’m working late dealing with this situation.”

Now, not every expression of third-level pain will be so dramatic. But when a prospect’s words and tone reveal that their issues are creating a personal impact—be it frustration, stress, anxiety or even fear—that’s a good sign of third-level pain and a good sign of a prospect who’s open to change, motivated to take action, and ready to pursue the solutions your company can offer.

Bill McCrary, a speaker, coach and trainer, is CEO and founder of Strategic Partner, an authorized Sandler Training Center. You can contact McCrary  at 803-771-0800, or

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