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Let Your Prospects Tell You The Full Extent of Their Pain

How to "sell without selling"

Are you an aspirin or a vitamin?

One brings relief immediately but can create long-term damage, while the other takes a long time to work but creates long-term benefits.

Everyone will pay top dollar for one but will look for deals or skip the other in order to make room for instant gratification.

You know why.

We live in the nation of Procrasta. (Some call it “Procrasti.” I think it depends if you’re Italian or Polish. But I digress.)

In the world of Procrastination, for every one Boy Scout out there who thinks ahead, performs that one stitch in time to save nine, and is always prepared, there are nine who are bumbling through life fat, dumb, and moderately happy.

So you can sell sewing kits to the one—there is a need for them—or you can sell emergency sewing services or custom clothing with same-day alterations to the nine.

As I said, both are needed, and it is totally fine to make a good living selling either one.

But if you choose to sell sewing kits or the ounce of prevention in the form of the best multi-vitamin on the planet, please understand that it will take more creativity, better storytelling, and more persistence to grow than if you choose to sell the cure.

(However, there’s less competition in selling high-end solutions to smart consumers, so there’s that.)

However, however, both the masses and the more discerning buyers will still question the cost of the gym membership and the cold pressed green juice from time to time…but have you ever heard anyone in the emergency room asking how much the heart surgery would cost?


How to get your prospects to tell you their pain, i.e., how close they are to buying and how much they’ll pay for it

I know the heart attack patient is an extreme example, so how does this look in real life?

Most entrepreneurs launch their dream business because they think they’ve built a better mousetrap.

If I build it, they will come, and form a long line, and stand happily in the cold, and gladly pay me any price because I’m so obviously the best!”

Right? Ha.

It’s just not true.

What few realize is that even the story about the better mousetrap is a better mousetrap. 

Ralph Waldo Emerson didn’t write the quote we think he wrote.

A salesman by the name of Hubbard did. Hubbard attributed the quote to Emerson to give his own success gravitas.

So, the story—not the efficacy of your widget, gizmo, or proprietary methodology—is the secret to sales success.

You think I’m kidding?

  • Between 1838, when the United States Patent Office opened its doors, and 1996, more than 4,400 mousetrap patents were awarded in dozens of different subclasses, including “Electrocuting and Explosive,” “Swinging Striker,” “Choking or Squeezing,” and 36 others. That’s an average of more than two dozen patents every year for more than 150 years. (The Atlantic)

  • Better mousetraps die lonely deaths stacked high in dark storage containers along with thousands of their clones every day due to their inventor’s inability to market and sell them.

But most professional salespeople, sales managers, business owners, and entrepreneurs don’t know if they’re selling an aspirin or a vitamin.

And guess what?

It doesn’t matter, at least not in one-on-one, face-to-face, kneecap-to-kneecap, belly button-to-belly button sales.

(Sidebar: I know that in marketing, it matters A LOT what you are selling because you need to be clear on that to create your message to market match. But I discuss that in the #1 Job of a Business Owner. It ties in nicely with the #1 job of a salesperson.)

To do your #1 job well when your prospect is in front of you—or on the phone or on a Zoom call—you need to dig in. 

Great salespeople are like great ER nurses.

They look at the patient standing in front of them and calmly ask,

  • “How long have you not been feeling well?”

  • “Are you allergic to any medication?”

  • “Where else does it hurt?” 

  • “How will you be paying for today’s visit?”

However, typical salespeople hear someone holler from a little paper cut and put them down as a “hot prospect” with an “upside of $100,000-$150,000” for the hospital without ever going deeper to determine if it’s a real prospect or not.

In a sales scenario, when you are engaging a prospect who is either dancing around the subject, playing coy, playing hardball, or just not sure what they need or what their budget is, simply ask…

How did you make this purchase before?”


What process did you follow when making this purchase last time?”


When you are evaluating a new (vendor/partner/hardware/software solution), who on your team do you bring in to run point on this?”

Do you see what I’m doing here?

I’m intentionally making one of “The 7 Deadly Sins of Selling.”

I’m assuming the prospect has either bought something like this before, that they have a process for analyzing how to make a wise purchase, and/or they have a team of advisors on their staff or on retainer who can help them make this decision.

Why would I make that assumption?

Because it’s a promotion to them.

I’m complimenting them on how smart and powerful they are.

Instead of telling them why they should buy from me, I’m opening the door to have them tell me the right way to make this deal happen.

And then it happens.

They jump back, roll their eyes, and scowl a little as they reply…

Ha. I’ve never bought something like this before. My current one just stopped working, and I need to get it replaced ASAP!”


Dude, this just got dropped in my lap. I’m flapping in the wind here.”


Ha. Whatever. Team? Yeah, right. I’m on my own here, and, frankly, it kinda pisses me off that this got thrown in my lap with everything else I have going on.”

Lookey here.

We can’t just walk up to a prospect and challenge them with:





So don’t challenge them.

Promote them with a gentle, complimentary assumption, and see how the conversation unfolds.

When you challenge a prospect, it rarely goes well for several reasons.

  • Prospects distrust salespeople.

  • They hate the buying/proposal process.

  • They never reveal the full extent of their issues because they don’t really know the full extent of their issues. (If they did, they would’ve already fixed it.)

And here’s the bottom line: Unless there is extreme pain in the prospect—pain they acknowledge and quantify—you’ll experience extreme pain as the salesperson.

Great salespeople do not sell.

They sort, sift, and separate.

They follow the advice of my buddy Patrick, who always says

I’m looking for the prospect looking for me.”

Since 2006, I’ve run and grown my business by making it easy for people in pain to find me. 

Need help doing the same? Let’s talk.

Now go sell something.