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Lynn McInturf Associates Incorporated | Cincinnati, OH

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When you first meet with a new prospect, how do you position your product or service? How do you characterize its various features, functions, and advantages? Which elements do you emphasize as having the strongest potential appeal to the prospect?

It’s difficult to determine which aspect of your product or service will hold the most meaning for the prospect until you understand the prospect’s motivation for the potential purchase. Once you’ve discovered that, you’ll be able to position your product or service as a best-fit from the prospect’s perspective.

So, what motivates people to buy? There’s been a lot written on the topic. The prevalent theory is that people buy to either gain pleasure…or avoid pain. Broadly speaking, that’s absolutely correct. In fact, psychologists suggest that those are the two reasons that drive people to take any action.

This raises an interesting question. Which should you as a salesperson emphasize – the possibility of gaining pleasure, or the possibility of avoiding pain?



Consider this: Jorge, the VP of Production at a manufacturing company, has been wrestling with a production line problem for some time, and he has been unable to solve it. The problem is hindering production and negatively impacting profits. The pressure from Jill, his CFO, is causing Jorge considerable worry which results in many sleepless nights. That’s pain, right?

Jorge engages Dylan, a process engineering consultant, to help him solve the problem. With the consultant’s analysis, input, and recommendations, he is able to solve the problem and bring production and profits back to desired levels. The pain is gone. No more pressure from the CFO, and no more sleepless nights. Jorge now feels relieved, and he experiences an overwhelming sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.

“Relief,” “sense of accomplishment,” and “satisfaction”—wouldn’t those feelings be characterized as pleasure? So, was Jorge’s motivation to hire that consultant-driven by the desire to eliminate pain or to gain pleasure?

The answer is . . . “Yes.” It could be either.

Think of pain and pleasure as opposite sides of the same coin. One side represents the situation from a negative (or pain) perspective and the other side represents the situation from a positive (or pleasure) perspective. And here is the most important thing to remember: the prospect – not you! -- gets to choose which side faces up.



How do you determine which side the prospect has chosen? By asking appropriate questions…and listening carefully to the language of the prospect’s answer, you’ll be able to get an idea of what the priorities are. Once you do, you’ll know whether to position your product or service as something that will help the prospect move away from an undesirable situation (pain) … or help the prospect move toward a desirable situation (pleasure).

Questions to help you make that determination might include:

  • “I’m curious. What precipitated your interest in (___your product or service___)?
  • “What specifically are you hoping I can do for you?
  • “What would the most ideal outcome be?”

Notice the difference between these two answers to the “What precipitated your interest…?” question:

  • Response A: “I’m getting a lot of heat from our CFO to fix the assembly line bottlenecks which have not only thrown our production numbers off, but also driven up our maintenance costs . . . both of which, he continually reminds me, are eating into our bottom line.”


  • Response B: “My goal for the next 60 days . . . and my commitment to our CFO . . . is to get our production numbers up by 10%—back to where they were in the first quarter of the year—and at the same time, smooth out the fluctuations in production throughput, and reduce maintenance costs.”

Both answers describe the assembly line production situation…but from different sides of the coin. One frames the situation from the perspective of the problem to be solved; the other frames it from the perspective of the goals to be achieved.

There’s a subtle difference between the two positions. However, by recognizing which side of the coin is facing up and then framing the presentation of your product or service from that perspective (thereby matching the prospect’s motivation), you can gain the kind of advantage that often makes the difference between making the sale…and not making the sale.

In Jorge’s situation, Dylan, the consultant, heard Response A . . . and chose to emphasize the dynamic of moving away from the undesirable situation of Jill putting pressure on Jorge. It worked . . . and led to a win-win solution!


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