Pain vs. Problem: How to Tell If Your Prospect is Ready to Act (or Just Venting)

“Uncover your prospect’s pain!”

Every sales rep has heard it a million times. It’s what we’re trained to do after all—it’s the key to getting your prospect in the right frame of mind to buy.


Well, yes—but only if what you uncover is actual, intense, behavior-changing pain…

...and not just a minor “flesh wound” that your prospect is in no real rush to do anything about.

Here’s how to tell the difference between pain and problem. Then you can decide whether to write a prescription, scrub for surgery... or play a round of golf.

Does Your Prospect Have a Stubbed Toe?

Stubbing your toe seems like the worst… until like five seconds later when the pain subsides and it’s just a dull ache.

Stubbed toes don’t require immediate medical attention—it’s a kind of “pain” that can wait until the next time you go to the doctor… or if it gets worse… or until it just clears up on its own.

Lots of B2B “pain” falls into this category:

“I wish I had a better CRM, but we can make do for now.”

“I wish my sales team was more motivated, but they’ll get better toward the end of the year.”

“I’m frustrated we’ve lost prospects to competitors, but we’re getting by okay on referrals.”

Remember: just because your prospect expresses annoyance, frustration, or disappointment doesn’t mean he’s in pain—he may merely be venting over a “stubbed toe” that he doesn’t think is all that serious.

...Or Does Your Prospect Have a Broken Foot?

Problems are on the surface. They’re annoying, but not life-threatening.

Pain is deep. It consumes your prospect. It causes her to lose sleep. The difference between treating it and letting it fester could mean the difference between her business’s long-term success… or looming failure.

As a sales rep, you’re the “medical” expert.

Ask, “On a 1-10 scale, how bad does it hurt?”

“How long have you been feeling this way?”

“What do you think might happen if we do nothing?”

It's important to determine just how painful the pain is.

Of course, sometimes the “Sales Doctor” needs to poke and prod a bit to isolate the pain and make it hurt even more. Or relate the sad story of the young man who kept putting off treatment... until it was too late.

If it’s just a stubbed toe, make a note in your files, and schedule a mental “check-up” with your prospect at some point down the road to see if it’s gotten worse—or merely gone away.

But if it’s real pain, help your prospect understand how serious it is so she feels compelled to seek treatment—your treatment.