Is your product a pain pill or vitamin?

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If you spend any time around mentors and founders you’ll hear this question all the time: Are you a pain pill or a vitamin? The question behind the question is: Is your product a must have or nice to have?

This is certainly a good question. But it is worth drilling down a bit. Just because someone has a pain doesn’t make them a good customer. There are two important dimensions to customer pain: magnitude, how big is the pain? how much does it hurt? and frequency, how often is the pain experienced? So for example, in a retail store, if a product is out of stock that causes pain to the retailer, as it may result in lost sales. However, if this only happens once a year and the price of the item is low you have a low level of pain that happens infrequently – the exact opposite of the ideal customer. Then there might be a retailer who suffers from employee theft. This may be going on constantly and include expensive products, so it results in significant financial losses plus the intangible loss of trust in employees and cost of tracking down the culprit or culprits.

So while it’s necessary to find your customer’s pain point, it is not sufficient. You need to ask the questions, How serious is this problem? and How often does it occur?

This is a process known in sales as qualifying the customer. Sales people don’t want to waste time and effort (or even money in terms of travel expense) on prospects who are not qualified. Of course, there are other key elements to qualifying a customer, such as ability to pay – do they have the funds in the budget to purchase your product? Length of the sales cycle, the lifetime value of the customer, the likelihood that the customer will act as a reference for you, or better yet, as an evangelist for you product, the need for customer support, and more.

However, you need to be careful when probing customer pain, it can hurt! Customers may not want to admit that they have must have one or more employees who are stealing, for example. One way to get answers to touchy questions like this is by story telling. “You know Bob, one of our customers for our in-store security system found that it wasn’t customers who were responsible for inventory shrinkage, it was employees. He was really surprised, but glad to get to the bottom of a serious problem.” This may prompt your prospect to respond in kind. And if not, you can always follow up with, a question such as “Any ideas on what’s causing your inventory shrinkage? We certainly don’t want to sell you a security system if it turns out your problem is actually a bug in your inventory management system or data entry errors. We want to solve real problems for you.”

So as in medicine, pain is a symptom. And like a doctor, your job with your customer is to diagnose the cause of the pain and provide a solution, which if you have done your homework, should be your product or service.

Author: Mentorphile

Mentor, coach, and advisor to entrepreneurs, small businesses, and non-profit organizations. General manager with significant experience in both for-profit and non-profit organizations. Focus on media and information. On founding team of four venture-backed companies. Currently Chairman of Popsleuth, Inc., maker of the Endorfyn app for keeping fans updated on new stuff from their favorite artists.

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