Selling Pain Relief Or The Promise Of Gain

I want to look at how “selling pain relief” can be used to persuade customers to buy based on the idea that people are more motivated to solve a painful problem than to seek pleasurable gains.

The Background – Away Motivation Is Moving Away From Pain

One of my mentors, Peter Thomson has an expression based on NLP meta-programs.

“Away motivation is the catalyst for action, towards motivation is the continuation of action.”

What does Peter mean by this?

Simply that the relief from pain (or the avoidance of future pain) is a bigger factor in a person’s decision to buy than the promise of reward, pleasure or gain.

When you are in a sales process, you need to find your prospect’s pain – their fears, worries and problems- and then show how your solution can stop the pain.

The Other Experts Agree – Pain Is The Key Motivator To Make Sales

David Sandler and the Sandler Sales Institute strongly emphasise the importance of helping the prospect explore their underlying pain because prospects start by telling you about a surface symptom.

The first problem a customer will admit to is not the real issue and it’s certainly not the motivating force.

People will start with logical reasons which they feel OK to admit to but there is no emotional connection. Only by mining their pain will you create the emotional force and urgency to persuade the prospect to buy.

Tony Robbins takes a similar approach in his excellent “Power To Influence” audio program. A prospect in pain will buy, a prospect sitting in their comfort zone will think it over.

Tony Robbins talks about the need to find ERBN (pronounced “urban” and standing for emotional reasons to buy now).

In SPIN Selling, a similar approach is taken with the P referring to the problem the customer is having and I standing for the Implications so that you can help the prospect see the pain, damage or cost of doing nothing.

Isn’t Selling Pain Relief Negative Selling?

You may have some concerns about the process of selling pain relief and I can understand.

Let’s just take a little look at the process.

You meet a prospect.

They seem nice and you first work to build rapport to help them like and trust you.

Then you start asking about their problems … and you dig, and dig some more … and your prospective customer feels worse and worse about the problem.

They see how the problem is affecting their lives, holding them back, stopping them achieving their goals. They discover with your help how the problem  badly affects other people they care about. They start feeling guilty that they haven’t done something about it in the past.

Your prospect becomes desperate. They need a solution and they need it NOW.

You carefully explain how your product or service will stop the pain.

Just as you would want someone to stop hitting you with a hammer, your prospect wants the pain to stop. Their emotions are heightened and they will buy almost anything, just in the hope that it will stop the pain.

You don’t have to close, your prospect is desperate to sign on the dotted line.

Is This Manipulation?

Difficult question.

You can’t create pain for people.

They will quickly tell you to go away so the literal “hitting your prospect with a hammer” won’t work.

But you can unearth pain that they are already feeling but have suppressed. You have to do it tactfully and sympathetically through the art of effective questioning.

Trying to sell a dietary product by telling fat people that they don’t look good and can’t get dates is a big step too far (and of course not true in many cases).

People are very sensitive and if you go for the pain jugular badly, you will be insulting and make people very defensive. There is no chance of a sale because people will actively resist your ideas.

I know because I am about 30 pounds overweight and don’t like it when my Mum tells me that I “must do something about it.”

Slimming product advertisements may show the difficulty of getting into your best pair of jeans or the disappointment of finding that your favourite outfit doesn’t fit but they don’t major on the physical and emotional consequences of being overweight.

Selling Using Pain Doesn’t Have To Be Negative

Still using the weight loss/body re-shaping industry as an example, if you can gently help your prospect explore what being overweight and out of shape means to them by careful questioning, your concern and empathy come over favourably.

How they feel about themselves. What they think other people think of them. How other things they have tried before didn’t work.

You have heard the saying “a problem shared is a problem halved” and I think it was Peter Thomson who said “it’s not a good talking to that many people need but a good listening to.”

All these emotions are there in your prospect, just waiting for you to tap into.

You can’t create pain.

The prospect already has it but their self defence system may have suppressed the full impact to make life easier. If something hurts  and you want it to stop there are often two options:

a) Do something about it to relieve the pain

b) Try to block it out of your mind by deliberately ignoring it and concentrating on other things

The first solves the problem, the second option of denial relieves the symptom but leaves the problem festering away to reappear again in the future.

So helping your prospect to find a great solution to a serious problem is a great service and can be seen that you do really care about their well-being. Using the thinking behind Jay Abraham’s strategy of preeminence, if you can help them, isn’t it your duty to do what you can.

Manipulation Is Selling A Product That Won’t Relieve The Pain

The manipulation problem comes if you don’t have a great product.

If you use a pain relief selling approach to sell a poor quality product which won’t benefit the prospect, then you are manipulating the situation. You are acting in your own self interest, rather than for honest, mutual benefit and in particular the benefit of your prospective customer.

Does Selling On Pain Always Work?

I don’t think so but some people don’t agree. I think it depends on the product, the problem/situation and the purchaser.

Some products are not problems to solutions but celebrations and exciting opportunities.

Products That Aren’t Pain Sells

I’ve just come back from a safari holiday in Africa and I can’t see a pain based selling approach persuading me to buy.

Using pain to sell a wedding dress to an excited bride goes against the whole idea of her living her dream since childhood.

I can’t see a pain sell working if you want to buy a Ferrari. The sale is being the envy of the people who see you, being recognised as a success, the immense satisfaction of walking up to your car and knowing that you are a success, the sheer pleasure and exhilaration of driving it.

Situations That Aren’t Pain Sells

Some situations don’t need the pain to be increased.

Housing repossessions are increasing in the UK because of mortgage arrears. If someone contacts a debt management company for help, they are facing up to their problems and don’t need extensive pain exploration. Yes, it may be necessary to clarify what the ramifications are, but they can already imagine the shame of being homeless and unable to provide for their children.

People Who Don’t Need The Pain Sell

To help some people, you have to break through the denial stage and make them understand the consequences of not taking action but some prospective customers will come to you ready to buy.

They will admit their pain readily. They know they have problems and what they are looking for is someone who can reassure them that they have the answers that will work and not make the problem worse.

For example a business may be in serious trouble and need an experienced turnaround consultant. This is make or break time. Do nothing is not an option but doing the wrong thing risks making the problem worse by incurring costs and draining much needed cash out of the business.

What Happens After The Problem Is Solved?

I have read research that indicates that a customer who has bought to relieve pain is likely to stop when the pain is solved while a customer who bought to gain benefits, will continue.

This makes sense because the comfort zone creates so much inertia. When something stops hurting, there is less motivation to go on.

This is why Peter Thomson’s phrase says:

“Away motivation is the catalyst for action, towards motivation is the continuation of action.”

Peter recognises that relieving pain will make someone start buying but there needs to be a positive outcome for the buying to continue.

Going back to the slimming analogy, the desire to look good, feel good and be healthy is the motivation for continued action once you’ve hit your weight loss target. But if you don’t have the gain clear in your mind, the pain of the continued diet and exercise program may tilt the balance when you’ve reached your weight comfort zone.

Using Pain In Different Selling Media

In face to face selling, you have the chance to see and hear the full communication signals and you can adjust your approach if you feel the person is getting upset.

In TV advertising, it is common to see the problem to solution transformation.

In copywriting, some of the best copywriters have advised me to focus much more on the positive of the solution.

There is a copywriting model – problem, agitate, solve – which works but even if you use that, the main emphasis is on quickly establishing rapport with the problem and then presenting the solution. Referring back to the problem in the call to action to help persuade the reader to do something.

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