Digging Deep to Diagnose Customer Pain Points – And Make the Sale

How to identify a customer's pain point and make the sale

If your customers keep getting stuck in the various stages of your pipeline, the problem may be way back at step one: qualification.

Are you and your sales team taking the time to understand pain points when you qualify customers? Or are you just taking them at face value when they tell you their problems? Worse, are you simply hearing what you want to hear, and not truly listening to them?

When identifying a customer’s pain points, you’re identifying the trigger that’s caused them to seek out your solution. Knowing that trigger – that thing that’s causing customers pain and frustration – helps salespeople articulate the value of their solutions.

Michael Harris, author of Insight Selling and CEO of sales training company Insight Demand, said that diagnosing the pain points is stage one of articulating your solution’s value. “If you do a good job of helping the customer see the pain points and they realize that they’re drowning, they’ll be ready to be rescued by your solution,” he said.

Can you show me where it hurts?

The customer’s pain points may not always be obvious – to salespeople, or to customers themselves.

Often, a customer may start looking for a solution because they think they know what their problem is. They feel the pain, they’ve done the research, and now they’re ready for a vendor to prescribe a miracle pill.

Harris likens the research that a customer does to what many of us do when we go on WebMD before we visit the doctor. “What happens is that suddenly I think I have stomach cancer, but I really only just have acid indigestion,” Harris said. “The role of the doctor is to challenge what we learned online overnight, and I really think that’s the role of a salesperson, too.”

To get to the bottom of the diagnosis, the salesperson needs to ask insightful questions that help them get a deeper, broader view of the customer’s business.

Jack Kosakowski, global head of B2B sales strategy for Creation Agency, sees many salespeople have only superficial notions about what a customer needs.

“On the outside, they think they’ve nailed where the buyer is a perfect fit, but they haven’t at all,” Kosakowski said. “The buyer knows from a high level what their pain points are, but sometimes they don’t get how it’s tied to their emotion, and why they need to do it now. If you don’t get to that deeper subset of pain, you’ll never get the buyer to take action.”

What’s the real problem?

A salesperson’s correct diagnosis of a customer’s pain is just a start – they also need to understand where it sits on the customer’s hierarchy of needs.

“If you go to the doctor because something’s hurting, sometimes it’s because you haven’t been taking care of two other things in your body,” Kosakowski said.

In a customer’s situation, they may need a vendor’s solution, but only after they fix one or two more critical problems first.

He said that most people don’t go through the process of realizing that, yes, a customer might need the salesperson’s solution, but it may not be the priority. Part of qualifying a lead is understanding where the salesperson’s solution fits in the customer’s hierarchy of needs. “Otherwise, you’ve actually sold them something that’s not a priority,” Kosakowski said. “When you do get those sales, it’s forced, they never use the product, and your churn rate goes through the roof.”

Successful salespeople put the customer’s needs first, Harris said. “It’s quite important when you getting the pain points that you’re not pushing an agenda – I think buyers smell that,” he said. “You need to be genuinely trying to be in service to the customer.”

Becoming an expert at diagnostics

Identifying customer pain points in a way that’s truly game-changing as a salesperson requires a shift in perspective.

“What do you want when you’re a buyer?” Harris asked. “You want a wise guide who can lead you through unfamiliar territory.”

Salespeople who are able to act as that guide – asking deep questions and diagnosing pain insightfully – are the ones who have customer knowledge, not just product knowledge. “You need to be brutally aware of the costs and problems to the customer’s world, and the absence of having your unique capability,” Harris said. “Because that’s what you’re selling. You’re not selling a product; you’re selling the absence of value.”

Kosakowski realized the importance of becoming an expert on his buyers’ needs  early on in his career when he was selling marketing automation software. “I had a CMO one time tell me, ‘Jack, you’re a good salesperson, but you don’t really understand what I go through, and you don’t understand how to sell your products to me,’” Kosakowski said. After that, he made a decision to learn everything he could about a CMO’s day, responsibilities, frustrations and needs. “The really good salespeople are the ones who actually know their industry so well that people look at them as the expert,” Kosakowski said.

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Jessie Kwak

Jessie Kwak is a freelance writer who helps B2B brands tell their stories. She specializes in business, SaaS, technology, and education. You can learn more about her work on LinkedIn or by checking out her portfolio.

  • Jessica Kunkel

    Jessie- I love this approach. How would you incorporate it into prospecting for new clients? It would be super ideal to start this approach from the beginning.