How To Sell The Pain


There are aspects of our business life that are challenges. When I blog or when I design or consult, I often come across challenges that only research can address. I am currently investigating podcasts. I want the production to be more than me in front of a microphone discussing branding tips. What about production values? Background music? The intro? All of these concerns are what is known as pain points. In the course of accomplishing something, these are the little irritants along the journey.

When you develop your marketing materials, recognizing your target audience’s pain points and exploiting them, will resonate with that audience. Don’t bore them with simply a list of what you do and how well you do it, but answer the age old question from the mouth of your consumer: “What’s in it for me?” or “How can I profit from dealing with you?”

Let’s say that you’re a bright young management consultant. Your target audience’s pain points might be:

• Industry compliances
• Retaining quality employees
• Training sale staff
• Keeping a tight reign on payroll
• Cross-border issues
…just to name a few.

If you want to get their attention, address what you know to be the biggest pain point of them all. Use the pain point that feels as though you’re hitting their sore tooth with a small metal hammer. Their pain is your gain.

To go back to my pain, (podcasting) – whenever I came across information that addressed one of my pain points, it resonated with me and I investigated that service further. I ignored all others who tried to sell their services with brag notes or fancy slogans, I don’t have the time to figure them out. You might even use your own target’s pain points as the basis of your brand differentiator.

Look at pain point solutions that exist all around you: If you perspire, you use Ban roll-on – if your feet hurt, you use a Dr. Scholl gel insole – if your mortgage is to complicated, ING has the unmortgage. The wonderful thing is, your customer wants you to address their pain points. We all want relief.

In many ways if you don’t use pain points to sell, many customers probably wonder why you exist. Understand their pain and sell them the relief.

They’ll love you for it.


  1. Nesh Thompson says

    Quality post as usual Ed. One of the particular problems with some products is having multiple pain solutions. Which one is going to appeal to which customer? I automatically get turned off by a company’s detailed and very long list of product benefits which I assume are an attempt to spread the net as far wide as possible so that all pain points are covered. They may indeed have something relevant but I not inclined to search for it. How do companies address this information overload and which solutions should they target?

  2. Ah – and the scenario you paint is just why a brand positioning strategy is so important. Based on the target audience, you have to determine which of the multiple pain points will resonate the most. Then exploit this need. Many times they KNOW which it strongest but it is most likely the biggest challenge to implement but probably has the greatest profit potentional.

  3. Ed,

    Another fine post!

    Selling the pain – that’s what all businesses should do – otherwise, like you said, customers will wonder why the businesses exist 🙂

    To add, all the successful businesses out there, including the non-profits like UNICEF and WWF, do sell pain and offer relief – it’s actually their one and only marketing plan, so to speak 😉

    I wonder, how to apply this pain/relief selling in retail, especially selling commodity goods, such as markers, rulers, etc.


  4. Hi Ed,
    Ah the universal laws of human nature……….pain v. pleasure and wants v. needs. Interestingly people will do more to avoid pain than to gain pleasure. And they are more willing to pay for a want than a need. I recommend our readers to check out Cialdini’s new book

    Great article.

  5. Noob,

    In regard to your question: …where the pain is with commodities? Perhaps the pain doesn’t lie with the goods themselves but with the delivery of the goods – or the follow up.

  6. This is such a great point. Even though you are marketing your product or service, the marketing should center on your target audience, not on you. When you focus on a problem, or pain, that the target audience has, and explain that your product or service is the only one that can effectively solve this problem, the product or service becomes irresistible. The majority of the target audience may not realize how much it needs what you are offering until you articulate this need.

  7. Ed,

    I see – the delivery of goods does act as the major add on value for such commodities.

    Thanks for pointing it out Ed!