It’s Time to Build the Customer’s Self Esteem

November 26, 2006

It’s cynical. It’s manipulative. And it’s being taught everywhere by the very best sales trainers in the world. It’s the “pain model” and sales trainers pitch it around the world every day of the year. But, like many things these days, these sales trainers are teaching worn-out strategies from a dying world.

Here’s the question sales forces are being taught to ask themselves – “How can you make a prospect suffer pain?” As we said, it’s cynical and it’s manipulative, but most sales trainers would be quick to point out that it works. Perhaps it does. But just because it works today doesn’t mean it will continue to work in the future.

Let’s take an example. Today’s New York Times has an article about learning to do “text messages” on your cell phone. If you are over 30 years old, you should learn this skill. If you are younger, it seems, you are born with the skill. “A Parent’s Guide to Teenspeak by Text Message” is all about how Cingular Wireless will be conducting a campaign next year to help parents learn to do “text messaging” on their cell phones. Why should parents learn this new-fangled skill? Because their kids and grandkids all text message their brains out all the time.

Now, I have no idea if Cingular Wireless will pitch their campaign to parents’ and grandparents’ pain. The article points out that some people already say that “Cingular is pandering to parents who are increasingly worried about their children’s safety, who fret that they are not ‘getting through’ to their children and want to maintain control over them.”

If they do pitch their effort at parents’ pain, they will simply be like 99% of the sales campaigns in this country. Such strategies are based on making the buyer feel inadequate in some way. Think of the beauty industry if you’re not convinced.

Hopefully, instead, Cingular will do something almost no one else is doing. It will pitch its campaign to the benefits of learning to send a text message on a cell phone. These two words (benefits and learning) are anathema to most of today’s sales trainers, but they are words that will increasingly return to favor as the public continues to become better informed about products and services. As we continue to have faster, better and more reliable access to information, we all become a little less susceptible to those who want to yank our pain and insecurity cords. (We’ve also written about this topic in the article “The Speed of Trusting Your Audience.”)

Which is why we hope Cingular will tell its audiences all the cool things they can do with text messaging besides contacting their children. For instance they could tell them about SMS – Google’s “Simple Messaging Service.” SMS allows you to look up everything from stock quotes to weather to local movie times – all without having a cell phone that connects to the Internet. Or, they could tell about how Yahoo will send “news alerts” to your phone – so that you will instantaneously know when your stock has hit a new high, your competitor has hired a new CFO or when the Denver Bronco’s have named a new quarterback. Again, all on a cell phone NOT connected to the Internet.

Cingular could go even further and teach the ways in which you can use your cell phone to make free international phone calls, look up price comparisons while standing in a store and ask for the definition of the word “incredible.”

In fact, there are tons of reasons to learn text messaging and the other incredible benefits that ingenious companies offer cell phone users. Yes, learning just enough to send a text message will bring you closer to your teenager – but that’s a benefit, that’s a real benefit, believe me.

A very few companies see this. One of the few is the Dove soap company and their Campaign for Real Beauty. Log on to their site to see a video of how the traditional beauty industry has been making you feel your pain. You’ll find it at http://www.campaignforrealbeauty.com/.

Every girl deserves to feel beautiful just the way she is” the Dove video tells us. Agreed, and every customer deserves to feel beautiful just the way they are. In the coming years, they’ll be buying from Dove and, hopefully Cingular, more than they’ll be buying from the companies who only look for a way to make them suffer pain.

The folks at Dove also ask in their video, “How did our idea of beauty become so distorted?” We’d like to ask, “How did our idea of selling become so distorted?” It’s time for sales people to direct their efforts towards the customer’s gain, not the customer’s pain. And, it does work. Just ask Dove.


  1. Build the customer’s self esteem? I agree compeletely. However, to put it bluntly I disagree with you overall premise regarding pain.
    Most sales training companies “Do Not” teach finding Pain. I own a sales trianing company and I assure you that 99% of the companies I compete against and 99% of the sales trainingg courses I took prior to starting my company focused one way or the other on the oldest way of selling in the world. What’s that? Teaching how to present on a sales call the preverbial “features and benefits”. Every salesperson that has ever presented his product or service to me, whether it be a personal or business purchase, does the “F & B” routine/show. Thousands of my clients said the same before they met us and learned a different, more effective way to sell.

    Even companies who say they don’t sell this way have been doing it for so long don’t realize they sell this way. Do they make sells selling this way? Sure. So what’s wrong with “F& B” selling. Two things. One, it makes you look like everyone else. Everyone sells this way. EVERYONE I have ever been prospected by sells this way. So problem one is you therefore look like who? Everyone else! And in today’s world of selling and trying to make yourself different, ” feature and benefit” selling will not accomplish this.
    Second probelm with “F & B” and this is the biggest problem, is that studies have shown for years that people buy for two primary reasons. One, to move away from PAIN, or two, to move towards pleasure. What do do you think is the most motivating force? Away from PAIN, pure and simple. When people are in PAIN they want to stop that PAIN “now” and will buy to stop it. Why? People buy emotionally, and justify it intellectually. There is no more emotionally motviating force than stopping or preventing Pain.

    So the issue here is not that findng Pain is bad as you state. You use the words Pain is manipulative and cynical. Pain is neither unless you use fiding pain incorrectly. Facilatating a sales call for a prospect to help them “discover” this problem they have hurts and it hurts bad enough to fix it now elimnates the 3 dreadful words that every feature and bnenefit salesperson regrets hearing and those words are, ” I’ll think it over!”. This is an intelllectual response to an intellectual feature and benefit sales presentation. When you know how to find Pain in a non-manipulative way, then prospects don’t “think it over.” They say, “when can we start fixing my problem and I hope it’s now!”
    Lastly, finding Pain eliminates discounting that every salesperson that pitches features and benefits experiences.Pricve objections occur because of the salesperson telling the prospect that thier features and benefits are better that every one elses (talk about trying to manipulate). Prospects don’t beleive this. They hear it from ever salesperson out there that thier features and benefits are better than everyone elses. So how do the proesects then diffeentiate those salepeople? By price.

    Find Pain and the prospect doesn’t care what it costs to fix it. All they care about is fixing it now! At any price.Would you shop emergency rooms for the best price if you cut your finger off? I assume not. Why? You’re in pain and all you care about is fixing it now.

    So, I think you take the wrong, actually cynical viewpoint yourself,of what finding Pain is all about, or you have never had anyone teach you correctly how to find it in a non-manipulative, very nurturing fashion. But facts speak for themselves. People buy emotionally. Pain is all about emotion and paying to stop it. What to stop selling once and for all based on price? Learn how to find Pain the “correct” way, not the way I fear you have been exposed to based on your artcile.

    Gary Harvey is the founder and owner of Achievenment Dynamics,LLC. a professional sales growth training and development company based in Denver, Colorado. His company is consistently ranked by Sandler Sales Institute as one of the top tentraining centers in the world.

  2. My point was that the world of selling is changing because of the explosion of information that is instantly available on the Internet. If sales organizations don’t take this into account that they will miss the fact that their customers are changing and they are not. The Internet truly does change everything – and it changes the way sales organizations need to do their training.

    The article above also talks about corporate and social responsibility. Just because a sales approach is statistically more effective doesn’t mean that it’s a responsible approach. The way corporations pitch their beauty products is destructive to the self-esteem of their customers – and I doubt you’d get much argument on that topic. Dove is a perfect example of a company trying a new approach of building on self-esteem, not taking advantage of their customers’ insecurities.

    I think it’s the trend of the future of selling. Not just because it is a positive approach, but because the “pain” model will increasingly be outmoded because of your customers’ access to information.

    Gary, you just wrote an article for ColoradoBiz Magazine, (http://www.cobizmag.com/articles.asp?id=1401) and said, “Without continual training in a rapidly changing marketplace you can find yourself unprepared to meet unexpected challenges.” Sam Richter, the president of the James J. Hill Business Reference Library has written on this site, “I’ve trained thousands of sales people and executives over the past year on how to effectively use online search programs to locate information on prospects and 95% have no clue how to effectively use even popular search engines, much less the Invisible Web and other premium data sources.” (emphasis mine)

    How ‘bout this, Gary? – We’d like to learn more about your approach to pain – and how you feel about the Dove soap “Campaign for Real Beauty.” We’ll teach you how the Internet can explode your sales force’s abilities to make more sales. Deal?

    If, as you say, “The top job of the manager is to develop the people on the team” – are you willing to develop your own team’s (and customers’) abilities to put the Internet to work to increase your own sales?

    Thanks to Gary for joining in the discussion. These are important topics and we invite all sales trainers (and customers who’ve been on the receiving end of these sales approaches) to voice their opinions here.

    Michael Benidt

  3. Michael, I think you’re missing that the Dove campaign still deals with either “underlying” Pain or Gain and you may not realize that. Dove is “selling” to self-esteem as you mention. That’s fine. That’s what we call Gain. Remember, people buy for one of two reasons. (1), to move away from Pain, or (2) towards pleasure (Gain). Dove is focused on Gain (pleasure), but I assure you when people don’t acquire or accomplish that Gain, it comes back being painful to them. Do you not think that the things Dove is promoting to women of the world is not “painful” to those women if they dont achieve that fresh, smooth, young, etc. looking face? Unfortunately many women will feel and then ultimately feel that Pain in the society we live in if they don’t have that smooth, fresh, young, looking face. Sad, but true would you not agree? Dove knows this impacts the woman’s self esteem and sells to it. Period. I assure you.

    Per your question to me, I assure you my team of employees is trained constantly. Remember, I’m in the training business. I believe in training. But see my other blog comments on the fact that selling is still about getting on the phone or out of the car and making the call. So please don’t misread my comments and I think you may be. You don’t need to defend the internet to me. I am a believer. I am not critizing, nor am I against internet use to help sales. Not at all. It’s another tool just like many other sales aids are. My concern as a sales trainer is that too many salespeople who have the fear of making a sales call hope it “makes” the sale for them. It helps. That’s all.

    Lastly, based on your comments about Pain, I do honestly believe you have never been taught the correct way to find Pain on a sales call and therefore have a cynical, doubting, and incorrect mindset about the tactic. Pain used incorrectly, or taught to salespeople incorrectly is then used as a weapon, and that’s wrong and I think that’s possibly where your belief about Pain is coming from. I get the sense that has been your exposure to finding Pain, or sold to by someone using pain incorrectly that is the basis of your comments.

    Used correctly it’s a strategy, not a weapon, to help the prospect “discover” why they need the salespersons help, vs. that salesperson trying to “convince/push/shove”, if you will, that prospect in their direction which is then using Pain as a weapon and frankly is really not at all the correct way.

  4. I come down on Gary Harvey’s side of things, but also think you and he may in fact be in violent agreement. Let me add some other language to the discussion in search of common ground.

    It is a very useful concept, and true in practical terms, that people only buy that which they perceive can make things better; either better than they had previously thought possible, or better than things have gotten relative to what they already knew was possible. That’s the same as, “to get something they want, or to alleviate pain.” Phrased the right way,it’s a trivially obvious point, otherwise known as, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

    That’s also an axiom in change management consulting, by the way; it’s not unique to sales. It’s also true in phsyics: a body at rest tends to stay at rest—inertia. People don’t change if things are just fine, they only change if they perceive something better.

    “Better,” put in different words, simply means we perceive an “as-is” state of affairs vs. a “could-be” state of affairs. The more sharply we see that difference—either in magnitude or precision, or both—the more we want the change. While it’s easy to say “people only buy to gain pleasure or alleviate pain,” it’s basically the same thing—seeing how things could be different and wanting to go there.

    Most salespeople like Gary use this principle quite correctly: they recognize that if the buyer doesn’t see any reason to move, he won’t. No biggie. No ethical issue, either.

    The issue that you are speaking to, I think, has to do with borderline or unethical uses of the “pain” concept. These have to do with “creating” demand. Hard core “purist” marketers like to argue that no one can create a demand, all they do is articulate a previously unexpressed demand. I think this is great theory, but booshwah in the real world. Look at feminine hygiene sprays, or teen age male cologne sprays, 5-bladed razors, and, if you like, the Dove product line.

    I think the strongest cases can be made against highly sugar-filled children’s cereals advertised on Saturday AM TV, because of the lack of ability to context the advertising, and the generally bad-for-you product being sold. But those arguments will always be subjective in nature.

    Now just to complicate the matter, let me make another proposition that I used to disagree with until my wife—a natural born salesperson and an ethical one—made me see differently. The proposition is: there’s nothing wrong with hard-sell, what’s wrong is wrong-sell. She sold ballroom dancing, and when the product wasn’t right for someone, she would pass up the follow-on sale opportunity, urging people who bought the introductory package to simply go out and tell others about the studio. But when she ran across someone who could hugely benefit from the product—e.g. nerdy young single guys who could gain enormously in social skill and self-confidence by learning to dance—she would push them hard, saying things like, “I don’t want you leaving this studio tonight until you write me a check for $1,000, because I’m going to fix your life—and you know I can do it.”

    She didn’t do this because the customers were helpless or defenseless—she did it because it was right, those students really could benefit enormously from that product, and she felt—and I agree—that the only wrong thing in their case would be to not give them the extra push they needed to make a slightly scary decision.

    So: pain is a simple, objective way of describing human buyer behavior. It is only bad if misapplied. And hard sell is not as important as wrong-sell. You shouldn’t sell something to someone who doesn’t need it; and you should try hard to help them see the benefit of something that can. Maybe those are two sides of the same coin.

    Best wishes,
    Charlie Green

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