Great Tools for Uncovering Pain

One of the chief elements to closing business using the Sandler System is to uncover your prospect’s pain and make them re-live it. Most people buy emotionally, so getting your customer to emotionally re-live his or her pain is a sure-fire way to get them to buy your product or service to relieve their pain. A couple of great tools to use in identifying your prospects pain is COP, or Costing Out the Problem, and The Pain-O-Meter.

Take this example of COP, where a utility company did home energy audits as a way to cut usage back in hopes of relieving some pressure on the energy grid. Hoping to increase adoption rates, the company auditors tested a couple different ways to present the benefits of the home energy audits. One group told homeowners that if they implemented the audit suggestions, they would save 10% on their total energy bill. The other group told homeowners if they didn’t implement the suggestion, it would cost them an additional 10% every month.

Which group do you think had the higher adoption rate? You are right if you guessed the group that heard there would be an additional cost. Again, people buy emotionally but also get bothered when something is going to increase their costs. Bother is a negative emotion. Negative emotions fall into the category of pain. Pain compels people to buy. While people are motivated by gain, pain is more powerful. In any given situation, targeting the pain is more powerful than targeting the gain. The energy auditors proved this concept.


COP means you break the cost of inaction down to dollars and cents. You analyze the problems the customer has and what difference, in terms of cost and lost profits, your solution will provide. This analysis can be done on a spreadsheet or verbally presented to the customer. If the pain is steep enough, it will resonate with the person on technical and personal levels. It’s your job to ask the right questions and get the person to relive their pain.


The Pain-O-Meter is widely used in the medical profession as a way of assessing pain. Its’ more metaphorical version is quite popular in the sales world as a way to assess a customer or prospect’s pain. The illustration below uses a needle, much like on car speed-o-meters, to measure levels of pain. The needle typically starts on the left side of the meter, with intellectual or procedural type problems for the prospect’s business. However, as you ask more pain revealing questions, and the prospect re-lives his or her pain, and then becomes emotional, the needle moves to the right side of the meter. So if you aren’t seeing movement of that needle to the right, it may be that you are still being too technical.

Please don’t take the word “technical” too literally. I use the word “technical” to drive the point home that the problem shared at this point is intellectual in nature. Examples of what I’m calling technical problems are: prospects are getting late deliveries, no one picks up the phone when they call their suppliers, their computers are running slow. If the pain impacts the business or his family, the pain needle moves to Level 2. It’s not until you reach Level 3, where the pain affects the individual, that they start to get emotional. This is where you want to push the needle when asking questions to uncover pain, and eventually to Level 4, The Buying Zone.

These problems touch on several different solutions, products, or services that might be needed. One of the keys at this point in the interaction with prospects is to realize that they might need a solution. The other key is to realize that technical problems are not pains. You need to move the needle to the right if at all possible. Whenever you are in this situation, the goal is to move the needle to the far right into the buying zone or to find out there is no pain.

But guess what most salespeople will do once they hear one or two technical problems? You’re right; they will start presenting their products or services and get trapped in the prospect’s system for buying things. All this means is they end up with a “think it over.” So be careful and don’t get emotionally involved too soon. Keep moving the needle to the right!

Here’s the problem, though. Prospects won’t tell you their pains right away. They will, however, tell you eventually if you handle the situation correctly. The idea is to gradually and carefully, slowly but surely, move the needle to the right, one step at a time.