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Customers make decisions emotionally and back them up with logic to justify their decisions. Our goal then is to ask the key questions that get to the heart of the decision maker and build trust and confidence leading to a long term consultative relationship. We need to be a partner to the customer and not a vendor.



Of course the answer is “it depends.” The more important question to the customer is “when it comes to investing in the solution, what’s most important to you?” That will more closely address which is more important, solving the pain or creating a gain.

Customers make buying decisions based on needs. As Miller Heiman mentions in their model, customers take action when they are in “trouble” or “growth” mode, not “even keel” or “overconfident.” So the need is generated from a problem or challenge they are facing or the potential growth or gain they are looking to achieve.

Customers also buy for both business and personal reasons. The business reason is tangible and objective, the “Result.” It’s to increase productivity, decrease operation expenses, improve market share or their competitive position. The personal reason is the “Win.” This is the intangible and subjective result which says what it will do for the decision maker. Will it give them peace of mind, a promotion or a bonus? Both business and personal reasons drive the decision, but understanding which reason might move the customer to decide is key.

In Rick Page’s book “Hope Is Not A Strategy” it says this about pain. “Pain doesn’t come from the business problem; pain comes from the political embarrassment of the business problem.” I believe this is so true. Customers don’t make decisions until the pain hurts to a point that it must be alleviated, which includes their own embarrassment for not taking action. Pain needs to be heightened from both the business and personal perspective. We need to explore with the customer which need is hurting the most. Pain is a present existing condition, which is easier to address than exploring potential gains, which is a promise in the future. Rick also says that to create a sense of urgency to close business, we must creatively take the invisible costs and make them visible and politically painful. In other words we must put a price on the customer’s procrastination.  Giving out more price cuts or discounts doesn’t create a sense of urgency to buy unless it’s for a stereo system on sale just for the day! With complex sales situations emotional issues usually override cost justifications.

I agree with Rick Page that emotional and political problems drive buying activity more than logical ones. That’s why we scratch our heads when our pipeline forecasts look like a cloudy weather report. Customers make decisions emotionally and back them up with logic to justify their decisions. Our goal then is to ask the key questions that get to the heart of the decision maker and build trust and confidence leading to a long term consultative relationship. We need to be a partner to the customer and not a vendor. Vendors sell hot dogs. When we become a trusted partner the promise of the “gain” in our solution becomes a reality to the customer based on their confidence and our track record to deliver.

We should always prepare questions prior to our meeting with a customer which can gain us credibility and earn us the right to continue down the path to winning the sale. Most sales people don’t ask the tough questions since it will ruin a perfectly good forecast. Some example questions that I like to use to engage the customer are:

  • How have these issues impacted your business?
  • What are the critical success factors you expect from the solution?
  • What is most important to you for this project?
  • What other impacts might this problem have on your business?
  • What do you see as the benefits in solving the problem?
  • For you personally what’s most important?


These are some examples of some pain and gain questions that can help us to dig deeper into the real issues the customer is facing from both a business and personal perspective. Asking our customers better questions gives us better answers and a leg up on our competition.

Good selling!


About the author

Stu Schlackman

Stu Schlackman

Stu has spent over 25 years in sales management, sales and sales training with…

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