The Secret of a Successful Sales Strategy: the Pain Funnel Theory

sales strategy

When we talk about the world of retail, there are at least two schools of thought. On one side, there is what we might call “the old school”, according to which selling is mostly about practice, commitment, years and years of field experience, intuition and a little cunning. For this theory’s followers, selling a product means having the instinct to detect the potential buyer’s actual needs: it’s a special talent, that you can’t buy on a store or learn in a classroom. Either you have it or you don’t, and if you have it you just have to cultivate and refine it, through a consistent practice.

On the other side, we have a more scientific approach. For those who follow this stream, succeeding in sales is a goal that anyone can achieve, as long as it is pursued through an analytic method, consisting in a deep insight of the clients’ needs and a subsequent detection of the means (or to be more specific, the products) to fulfill them. Instinct over technique: as of today, the debate is still open. Despite that, the recent achievements of the scientific methodology suggest that it will prevail in the foreseeable future.

The secret of the success of this approach seems to lie in a series of new techniques that have been added to the most consolidated ones. One of them – probably the most renowned one – has to do with the David Sandler’s pain funnel theory, and it’s known as the Sandler Pain Funnel Questions. Developed in 1967 as a part of the overall Sandler selling system (a demeanor protocol for salesmen to achieve more goals in their activity, which means making more sales), it has been studied and enhanced in depth only during the Third Millennium. The theory starts from the assumption that, in order to detect the clients’ needs, a salesman has to find their “painful points”: which could be a need, a lack, an unsatisfied desire. Once found the source of the pain, the salesman’s task is trying to soothe it, by selling a specific product. To get to the point, he has to use a series of more and more specific queries, able to unveil the most recondite and unacknowledged customer’s desires.

At the time, the most complex and effective pain funnel technique consists of a series of 28 questions: clearly, there are many variations on the basic scheme, and the salesman should be able to identify every possible critical point, since every customer could react differently to the inquiry. Nonetheless, the queries’ progression remains more or less the same, and its efficiency (though dependent on the salesman’s persuasiveness) has been amply demonstrated in many different business areas.

What are the vantage points of this method? Theoretically, it should ensure more efficiency, a significant increase of the sales’ ratio and a remarkable saving of time (which leads automatically to a productivity enhancement). Clearly, the human factor remains prominent: in other words, the ability of a salesman could never be replaced by a methodology, but this last can help it stand out in a more brilliant way.


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