Pain Points: A Primer On What To Ask & Why

BY Jessica Helinski
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Pain points are a driving force behind sales. If you can successfully identify pain points, and present solutions to ease those pains, you’re more likely to showcase value and close the deal. “Your prospects need to have authority and money, but having business pain trumps both,” writes HubSpot contributor Dan Tyre. “If your prospects don't have business pain, they have no need.”

But how do you learn pain points? Some prospects aren’t even aware of what their actual issues are, let alone able to clearly define them for you. This is where smart questioning comes in. 

Pain points: How to identify them

First, salespeople must understand what a pain point is before they can identify them. Tyre defines them as follows:

A business pain point is an issue or problem causing ‘pain’ in an organization and requiring a solution. True business pain isn't a problem where the solution is a nice-​to-​have. It's a budgeted, pull-​your-​hair-​out, have-​to-​get-​it-​solved, discussed-​at-​the-​board-​level kind of problem. Because they affect the bottom line, they must be solved in order for the organization to grow and function successfully.”

He goes on to explain that there are actually different kinds of pain points, and understanding each type can help with their identification. Below are a few examples:

Positioning Pain Points. These are issues that are holding back the prospect’s company from moving forward and generating their own new business. Often, when a prospect struggles with positioning pain points, you will hear phrases like:

  • No one knows who our company is.” 
  • Our competitors are outspending us.” 
  • The market is changing, leaving us behind.”

Financial Pain Points. Reps may be able to recognize these issues most easily, as they are specifically tied to finances. “Money is a big topic in business, and many business pains are caused by lack of it and solved by more of it,” he writes. Listen for keywords like “profitability” and “revenue” that will clue you in that the prospect is facing finance-​related pain points. 

People Pain Points. There’s a chance a prospect’s struggles ultimately are caused by another person, whether it’s a co-​worker or boss. People pain points can be tricky to identify because it might always be clear to you immediately that another person is fueling drama or creating unease. And not surprisingly, this scenario happens often. SalesFuel's Voice of the Sales Rep found that 68% of reps have worked with a toxic manager or co-worker.

Phrases like the following can clue you in if another person is causing pain:

  • "Employee morale is low."
  • "We lose our best employees to higher paying positions elsewhere."

Productivity Pain Points. The prospect may be having difficulty because they’re stuck in the weeds of business. And, once they get behind, it’s hard to catch up. Many may not even realize how inefficiently they are working. If the prospect mentions missed deadlines, lots of meetings or quality issues, they might be dealing with pain points related to lapsed productivity.

Questions to ask

Now that you know what you are looking for, it’s time to craft thoughtful questions that will bring those pain points to light. Tyre put together a list of questions that reps can use to help guide the prospect through the process of discovering which pains are hurting their business. “As you're performing sales qualification with a prospect, here are eight questions to help you unearth some of the business pains that can create great dialogue,” he writes.

What's cutting into or preventing growth?

Yes, this is a broad question, but it’s going to cut right to the chase. Even if the prospect isn’t sure what the biggest inhibitor is, this will set the wheels in motion for examining what could be wrong. “Many prospects haven't thought about this at all, so this question builds your personal credibility as well,” Tyre explains. “Helping prospects talk through their current business situation can increase your understanding of the company while demonstrating your expertise in a non-​showy way.” Additionally, you are already providing value before the prospect even buys.

Keep the dialogue going, and dig even deeper by asking the following follow-​up questions:

  • "What's your plan to tackle X pain?"
  • "When is your deadline to solve this problem?"
  • "Do you think it'll be easy or hard to solve it?"
  • "Who in your company is working to fix this right now?"

Again, these questions will help expose what is inhibiting your prospect’s success and help you start strategizing how you can be of help. Also, you’re gaining insight to how the prospect is currently handling their business and approaching challenges. You may also learn about current vendors they are using or competitors they are considering.

What does your boss worry about?

You might be wondering how this question can uncover a pain point, but Tyre points out that it’s best to involve the ultimate decision-​maker as early as possible. Likely, your prospect’s boss is who controls the budget, or at least has more say in company spending than the prospect. While they may not share the same pain, they can still influence a purchase. So, it makes sense to learn about their pain points as well. 

Additionally, by helping out the boss, you can indirectly help the prospect. As Tyre points out, “…a win for the manager will usually improve her direct reports' lives as well. A lot of your prospects will have crappy bosses, and getting them off your prospects' backs is a big motivator in the sales process.”

Finally, this question can reveal a lot about the prospect as well. If they don’t know the answer or are unsure what is keeping their boss up at night, they may be too junior or too inexperienced to even be able to move a deal forward. 

These are only two of the eight questions that Tyre shares, and each one will bring you closer to uncovering both a prospect’s pain points as well as opportunities for you to solve them. Want to learn the other questions to ask, as well as his advice for addressing those pain points? Check out my next post, which will be published here on Wednesday, October 21.