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At the most basic level, people typically spend money on two things: First, they readily spend money to combat pain. Second, they spend money to pursue pleasure. But did you know that getting people upset is the fastest way to help them? Strange, but true.

In sales, you may think your focus should be on really relating to people and saying all the nice things to get them to be your friend. But here’s the truth: they will commit to work with you only when they get fed up with a problem and decide to do something about it.

Buying decisions are made when someone is feeling upset, frustrated, angry, anxious, etc., about a problem, and they believe you have the solution to the problem. Buying decisions happen when you are able to "hook" emotions. All things being equal, the more acute the pain or problem, the more likely it is that they will listen to what you have to offer. And the more compelling the solution, the more quickly the customer will pay.

Think about your most recent prospects. Were you able to make any of them upset about the problems they are having and how those problems will affect their businesses, their relationships, their careers, and their lives? When you are able to hook emotions, people will work with you … they can’t help it … none of us can. All decisions are rooted in emotion and rationalized with logic.

Pain is where you identify a business problem your prospect has and begin to get acceptance that there is a real need for a solution. This answers the "why buy anything?" question in sales.

There exist many ways to identify someone’s pain points, and here’s one method:

  • Determine what your prospect or customer is going through; what they’re struggling with.
  • Prove to them that you understand it.
  • Genuinely care about their problems and want to help them.
  • Start with a surface-level issue they need solving, and ask them "Why?" five times to pull out the pain points associated with it (e.g., Why do you want to attract more customers? Why do you want to make more money? Why do you want to surpass your sales quota? Why do you want to be successful?).

Jon Burgstone and Bill Murphy, Jr. write in their book Breakthrough Entrepreneurship to "Think of things that people find disturbing, frustrating, urgent or uncomfortable. Then, with the pain clearly recognized and in mind, switch gears and develop cures. Focus on healing. Let that be your guide as you try to invent a venture that will make the pain go away." They add that "You want to focus not just on identifying what the pain is, but also figuring out when people feel it most pressingly. It’s almost always easier to sell a solution to a current, intense pain than to solve something less acute."

Interested in some probing questions to help determine someone’s pain points? Sean McPheat lists 100 of them here, and some of my favorites of his are:

  • How does the problem ultimately affect your customers, employees, or sales?
  • How much longer can you afford to have the problem go unresolved?
  • What is your strategy to fix this problem?
  • What options have you tried?
  • What three key outcomes do you want from this?
  • What else should I know?

Summarizing, you should strive to identify your prospect’s or customer’s pain points, and to figure out whether your solution will really address their pain. Essentially, as a sales professional, can you (simply) describe the pain your company solves and then persuade a prospective customer to purchase your product or service? If you can, you’ll be miles ahead of your competition.

So, do you want to create friends or clients? The choice is yours.