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It’s been over thirty years since David Sandler introduced the concept of “pain” as the core element of a selling methodology—the Sandler Selling System®.  Pain represented the prospect’s collective reasons to buy a product or service.

Sandler chose the term not only for its connotation—physical discomfort, emotional distress, or something troublesome—but also for its relationship to one’s motivation to take action.  Psychologists note that people take action to either seek pleasure or avoid pain. Of the two, they suggest that avoiding pain is the bigger motivator.
 
Although the term has found its way into most selling methodologies being taught today, at the time, “pain” and (more importantly) the concept behind it was unique.  Most salespeople were being taught to focus on and put forth the “unique selling proposition” (USP) of their product or service—the features, functions, benefits, and advantages that the product or service seemingly provided for prospective buyers.  Sandler, however, was teaching salespeople to temporarily put that information aside.  He taught them a questioning strategy to uncover the reasons for a prospect’s interest in their products or services, and another strategy to help prospects discover unrecognized needs (that could be fulfilled by their products or services).
 
Sandler’s approach shifted the focus of the initial buyer-seller interaction from the salesperson (and his or her product or service USP) to the prospect. And, it shifted the salesperson’s initial (if not fundamental) role from being a presenter to being an interviewer. Persuasive presentations of features and benefits were replaced with thoughtful questions designed to help prospects view their situations from new perspectives and learn things they didn’t know before the “interview.”

This shift required salespeople to develop a new way of thinking and a new set of skills. As a “presenter,” the salesperson was a fountain of information—which he or she endeavored to present in a persuasive and impactful way. As an “interviewer,” the salesperson became a reservoir for information—filled by the prospect’s answers to his or her insightful and thought-provoking questions.
 
The shift in role also required salespeople to develop new banks of knowledge. As a presenter, salespeople had to be knowledgeable about their products or services—all of the features and functions and the associated benefits and advantages. As an interviewer, salespeople also had to know a significant amount of information about their prospects, e.g., their business challenges and initiatives, the nature of the markets in which they operated, and the pressures they faced. It was from that in-depth knowledge that salespeople crafted their “interview” questions to explore and define the challenges the prospects faced and the nature of the goals they desired to achieve. It was that knowledge-based questioning that established the salespeople’s credibility. And, the information they obtained allowed them to identify best-fit solutions and subsequently position their products and services in the most favorable light.

But that was then.  What about today?

Sandler’s approach was revolutionary some thirty-plus years ago…and it is just as “revolutionary” today. By asking focused questions early in the selling process, salespeople were (and still are) able to develop a greater depth of understanding of their prospects’ situations. From those more informed positions, they were (and still are) able to shape subsequent conversations around the aspects of their products and services that would enable prospects to most effectively meet their challenges and achieve their goals. And that enabled (and still enables) salespeople to develop and present solutions that meet prospects’ expectations...and lead to successful sales.

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