Selling Strategies: Opening the Pain Funnel Door

In my previous blog on Customer Pain, I discussed the importance of focusing on a customer’s pain. Customers, particularly in the information security space, do not buy products or services, they buy pain relief.

Consequently, when working with prospects, all discussions and content should focus on the customer’s pains and what the company can do to alleviate those pains.

This requires marketing and salespeople to understand the pain a prospect is experiencing. I used the Pain Funnel from Sandler’s sales training. I found this to be a consistently effective tool.

The Pain Funnel

The Pain Funnel, is a sequence of questions, intended to uncover, explore, diagnose, and express a customer’s pain. You start with simple questions that identify the pain. Then you gently explore that pain with the customer.

Pain funnel
The Pain Funnel from Sandler Sales


The goal is to encourage the prospect to discuss how they feel about this pain. When people open up to you, and reveal their pain, they trust you. Moreover, you can then build a relationship based on support and care, rather than a merely transactional sales engagement.

The Pain Funnel also centers your conversations with on the prospect, not you. People will usually like you (more) when you listen to them.

Opening the Door

However, you cannot walk right into the pain funnel. People guard their pain. They are not going to reveal their pain to you because you wave your arms around and say, “share your pain!”

Salesman Sybok wants your pain
Salesman Sybok has a great place he wants to take you, if you share your pain. (Source: Paramount Pictures)

Opening the hanger door to the pain funnel requires a demonstration of genuine empathy and credibility. You must show the person you care about them and understand their pain. Otherwise, you are yet another salesperson slinging slop.

I found the most effective way to communicate credibility was to tell stories. Not any stories, rather a stories with the specific intent of communicating “I am like you, I get you.”

Again, most salespeople mess this up, as they tell stories about themselves. For example, anybody blathering about what a big shot they were when they worked at some big boy company, is not communicating empathy. They are communicating ego.

What are these stores like? I tinkered around with this for years, and discovered that stories that are tangentially relevant, were the most effective. A tangentially relevant story is about pain that is similar (not identical) to the prospect’s pain.

For example, when I was meeting senior level security people, I would often tell stories about when I did security operations (SOC) work for a customer. I did not focus on me (or confidential customer information), but rather on the clumsy tools and soul-crushing politics of the organization.

The intent of this (and similar) story was twofold:

  • I have “been there done that”
  • I understand your pain

Where this worked was when I mentioned the politics of the organization. This is an example of a tangentially relevant piece of information. It may seem innocuous complaining, but when people hear these, it reinforces the credibility of the story. Moreover, it communicated to the listener, “I have had to put up with this stuff too.”

This opened the door to the Pain Funnel. Once I had reassured the customer I understood them, they were more receptive to a question such as “tell me about your pain.”

Incidentally, while I did draw upon my experiences, I also changed details in my stories, so as not to reveal confidential information.

Training Sales to Tell Stories

Invariably, this prompts the question, how do you train salespeople to do this?

  • Send them to Sandler Training. Consider this a full-on endorsement of Sandler’s methods. They work.
  • Stop pitching. Reorganize your sales methods to stop all pitching. The first few meetings with a customer should be 100% listening and gathering information. Any discussion of your product or services should be relegated to later.
  • Build Buyer Personas. While not discussed in this blog, it is vital you understand who you are selling to. Buyer Personas help define these people. More specifically, they should define what is important to these buyers.
  • Smash down the ego and collaborate. You do not need to actually experience security operations to tell stories about it. With an ounce of creativity and a few gigatons of humility, you can borrow stories. Remember, the story is not about making you seem smart or cool, but rather reassuring the prospect you care about them. This is the difference in stories that repel and those that attract. Collaborate with other’s and listen to their stories. The stories you need are everywhere around you.

That last item is the magic. If you want to open up the pain funnel, you must smash down your ego. I could tell in an instant when a salesperson cares about me or themselves. It is all in how they present information.

If you can tell a genuine story, that shows you care, you can open the hanger doors to the Pain Funnel, and build a strong relationship based on caring about people, and not merely selling to them.


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