Posted 31st July 2012.
I was chatting last night to a smart marketer who was asking me about an effective sales process for high value services.
He was experienced, and he'd done his homework and studied and tested some of the classic approaches. The steps he outlined to me that he was following were rock solid.
Where he was struggling was “finding the pain”.
You know: the step in every sales process where you drill in to the problems the client has and ask about the impact. And ask some more. And some more.
“Twist the knife”, so to speak, so that the client is fully aware of the situation they're in, how much it's costing them, the impact on their business or life.
He just didn't feel comfortable with that part.
And I don't blame him.
Almost all sales techniques focus on finding the pain. For good reason too. Without a big motivation to change, clients just won't buy.
You can find the pain ethically. Help the client see the reality of their situation for their own good.
Or you can do it unethically. Exaggerate all the negatives to scare them so you make the sale. I've even seen some sales training teach people to ask about the impact of the business issue on the potential client's personal life, their husband or wife, their kids. Yuck.
Here's the thing.
Finding the pain works. But it has a downside.
If you're constantly looking for pain, that means your focus is on clients with problems.
Remedial work. Fixing issues.
And typically that means you'll end up working on the same basic stuff again and again.
Like a plumber fixing leaks or a mechanic changing tyres or replacing alternators.
Not necessarily the most rewarding work. Or the highest paid.
If you're an engineer at the top of your game you probably want to be designing cars, not just fixing them.
If you're an expert business coach you probably want to work with clients who are doing well and are keen to grow, rather than those who are struggling to survive.
There's less desperation. but there's more upside. More joy and more enjoyment. Higher fees (and they're much better placed to pay you too).
If you look at a lot of marketing you can see that it's geared at the desperate. It agitates the pain and makes exaggerated claims. Who else but a desperate person would believe you can make thousands of dollars a day with just a few hours work. Or get 306 clients from a teleseminar?
So I believe my friend was right to feel uncomfortable finding the pain.
Yes, you and your client need to understand the gap between where they are today and where they need to be.
But isn't it so much better if that gap is about upside and growth?
And won't working on those growth challenges build your capabilities much more than just fixing the same old problems?
Isn't there much less competition at the top? Aren't car designers better paid than garage mechanics?
Next time you revisit your marketing strategy, take a look at who you see as your ideal client. Who you target with direct mail or who you focus your website content on.
(In fact, as I write this my stomach has just turned as I realise the pay-per-click campaign I've been testing is focused on pain rather than gain. Time to fix that).
Look at your marketing. What sort of client would be attracted by your headlines, your tweets, your sales letters?
A struggling client, or a growing client?
Who do you really want to work with?
Posted 29th May 2011.
I've been a big fan of Alan Weiss's work for a number of years.
It was probably reading Million Dollar Consulting while on holiday in Hong Kong many years ago that inspired me to go solo.
I don't always agree with everything he says (I suspect Alan would say those are the times when I'm wrong). But his arguments are always well made and based on probably more experience of high level solo consulting than anyone else.
One of the thing's I've heard Alan say on a number of occassions is that “finding the pain” went out with the ark. That it's no way to sell your services.
That had always puzzled me. Finding the pain for me means diagnosing the client's problems and understanding which are the biggest priority (and so motivating them to buy).
I always wondered what he didn't like about it. Perhaps he considered it to be manipulative or something?
Thanks to the power of the web, these days we have a chance to interact with “superstars”, not just read their books. So when Alan repeated this statement on a blog post recently I asked him to elaborate.
His answer was incredibly significant.
His point was not that “finding the pain” was unethical – or even that it didn't work. But that it led to commoditisation. Problem solving to address clear areas of pain is something most organisations have got good at, and that a whole bunch of consultants and coaches can do pretty well.
Or put it this way, lots of car mechanics and engineers can fix a broken engine. But how many can design and build a new one?
Who is it that gets paid the big bucks? Not the guy down your local repair shop.
So by focusing on aspirations and innovation instead you set yourself ahead of the pack. You're not easily copied, and you're not doing work that the client finds difficult to justify paying high fees for because they could probably have done it themselves.
To my mind, this is more important today than it's ever been.
Whether we're talking about decreasing purchasing costs, writing a marketing plan, creating a website or improving your people management skills: 5 years ago if you needed to do it you had a very limited choice of people you could find to help who you were confident would do a good job.
These days you can go online and find decent free guidance, buy a training course, or hire one of a myriad of competent advisors willing to help at highly competitive rates.
So for consultants and coaches, the days of an easy six figure income just because you're skilled in something clients need are over. It's just too easy for clients to find competent help at low cost.
If you do want that six figures and more income then simply solving problems isn't going to be enough. You have to help them innovate. Achieve something they didn't even know was there. Deliver something remarkable the problem-solvers can't match.
Sure, you might have to start by fixing some core problems – find the pain and stop the bleeding in medical terms. But you then have to move on to something much bigger.
If that's making you feal uneasy, it's a good thing. It makes me feel uneasy too because the implications are big.
It means we have to constantly stay at the leading edge of our field. We can't just learn our trade then happily ply it for 20 years.
And it means we have to find the clients that need more than problem solving. That have the appetitie for something bigger.
But it also means we're going to have an interesting and rewarding time doing it.
Image by A Strakey