Buyers need to resolve a problem. They don’t have pain. Understanding a buyer’s pain does not make a sale.

Believing otherwise creates the 93% failure rate – the overlong sales cycles, the differentiation issues, the money objections - that sellers experience.

For some reason, it’s become the norm to believe that sellers need to ‘discover and solve a buyer’s pain to become a trusted advisor and differentiate from the competition’. Or that the only way to sell is to ‘understand the buyer’s pain points’, have them ‘admit/reveal’ this pain, and then design a solution that includes the seller’s product.

How simple. So why aren’t sellers closing all the deals they deserve to close?


I believe that buyers buy because they need to resolve a business problem. If they were truly in pain, they would have fixed the problem already.

Let’s look at the facts: Buyers had pain yesterday. Why wasn’t their problem solved then? And, given it takes far longer to close than it should, why aren’t buyers buying sooner? When you break your arm, you go to the hospital and have it set immediately. That’s pain. But when a buyer spends time seeking a solution, seeking the right vendor, discussing issues with their decision team, they are obviously not in acute pain. Sure they have an identified problem, but Pain?? To me pain is acute, not chronic.

Buyers have an unresolved challenge that needs some sort of a solution. But make no mistake: some configuration of people, policies, relationships, market/global drivers, history, fears, etc. have created and maintained the status quo that includes the Identified Problem. I call this internal assemblage a ‘system’ – an organized structure of the stuff that a group of rules and people develop together to keep them in alignment. Like a family, or a team. And each group has it’s own ‘system’ that is unique.

Have you ever tried to enter into a new group/team that was formed before you got there? How long did it take? What did you have to change about your personality, your clothes, your way of relating in order to belong? Did they all change for you? Probably not. They were the status quo. You needed to make alterations to fit in. And it took a while before you understood the unspoken rules.

For some reason, you believe you can enter a buyer’s system, notice something is wrong, and start going about the task of fixing it – believing that what is wrong is broken and causing the buyer pain, and can be fixed because you have a product that addresses that solution. But of course that is naïve: if it were true, youclose all appropriate sales.

I agree you can recognize the parameters of a prospect's identified problem in relation to how your solution will resolve it for them, and make information available to them in very influential and dramatic ways, once they have determined the issues that must be addressed. But as an outsider, you will never, ever be able to understand the full range of hidden, unique, systems issues that must be reconfigured to allow a new solution to enter.

Before thinking that a buyer is ready to make a purchasing decision, ask yourself the following:

  • Does the buyer know how all of the internal rules, policies, people, historic events that got them where they are – to the point where they have an unresolved problem that has been in many ways absorbed by the system?
  • Do they know what and who needs to be managed and reconfigured from within the entire system (not just the area immediately surrounding the Identified Problem, but the entire system of rules, policies, and people) before they adopt a solution so the elements that touch the problem will not be adversely affected?
  • Are they certain that one of their familiar resources – a regular vendor or normal product purchase – can’t help them this time, and have they tried all that is possible to fix the challenge before seeking an unfamiliar solution that might cause disruption?

Until the buyer knows all of the above – all of the above - they will do nothing.


I’d like to tell a story that I have repeated often, about a buyer with a huge market challenge, that delayed a decision for 2 years, to a cost of one billion (that’s B) dollars, because they didn’t know how to manage the internal issues that created the problem.

A few years ago I was working with a major technology-based consulting company in Europe. One day, one of the senior partners called to see if I could help them. They had been given an approval from one of the major European banks to create an electronic banking solution for them. The money was approved, the guidelines for the system were approved, and my client knew, and were friendly with, the CFO, CIO, COO, and CTO. Yet it had been two years since the approval, and my clients knew that it was costing the bank $500,000,000 annually to delay the implementation. What was going on??

As per arrangement, I called the CEO to chat. Obviously he knew what was going on also and wanted to get to the bottom of the problem. After spending about 15 minutes walking him through the Buying Facilitation Method questions, it became apparent that there was a 3-year-old Union problem that involved the previous CEO, one of the Union reps, etc. etc. that prohibited them from making any changes. In other words, they could not go forward with an electronic banking solution before they managed the union problem.

The Identified Problem was that the competition had just introduced electronic banking. This bank was losing market share as a result. My clients dedicated all of their efforts to define and resolve the bank's 'pain': focus groups of customers and their needs; market research on the size of the market; appropriate pricing; a study of the current technology used by the bank and what would need to change to add something new – and how the tech and customer service teams would have to change to add this new functionality.

But union? Managing a historic fight between union reps? No way to get there.

I happened to tell this story recently at a talk I gave in London. There was a salesperson sitting in the front row who got quite annoyed.

“Excuse me,” he said. “Obviously the salespeople didn’t do a very good job. Any good sales person would have found out about the union problem.”

Before I had a chance to answer, someone from way in the back stood up. It was my client from the consulting company! I had no idea he was there, nor could I see him from the front of the room.

“Actually, I was one of the Senior Partners on this deal. We knew the technology needs, the user needs, the software and tech team needs. We knew most of the “C” level people. We had been creating small software solutions around the proposed implementation. But there was NO way to get to the Union problem from where we were. We were selling a technology solution into their pain of being behind the rest of the banking field. They needed our solution, liked our services, and trusted us. We didn’t know it but that was not their buying criteria. Their buying criteria included managing their internal union issue. We were able to get the union reps in a meeting the next week, and were able to resolve their concerns and move forward immediately.”


Sellers assume that if the buyer is facing an obvious challenge, they are in some sort of pain. But ask yourself this:
1. why haven’t they handled this pain before now?
2. why aren’t they choosing you (or another vendor) more quickly to resolve the pain?
3. what issues have created the pain that continue to create and recreate the pain on a daily basis, that haven’t been resolved?
4. what is within the buyer’s status quo that would need to be resolved before they are ready to resolve their pain?

I had an old car when I was living in Taos, NM. I desperately needed a new car. But before I’d buy a new car, I wanted to build a garage so the snow and nasty winter weather and spring mud wouldn’t destroy the car. And, because it was winter, and the ground was frozen, I couldn’t build a garage. Showing me a car ad wouldn't have solved my 'pain' of having no garage.

There is an entire system that creates and maintains any status quo. In the Consulting/Banking story, the Union was the real culprit. In my car story, it was about the garage, not the car.

Some sales trainers and neuromarketers call this the ‘unconscious’ motivation behind the pain. But I disagree: it’s all very conscious. The truth is, all systems seek homeostasis – the need to remain stable. And change leads to the unknown – instability at its best. And before any system will allow something new to enter, and bring with it the possibility of disruption, it will fight to continue to do what it’s done, including consider less-than-adequate vendors, or internal fixes, or even doing nothing, rather than face the wrath of disgruntled staff, or angry vendors, or changing long standing policies.

Buyers need to choose a fix that will create the least disruption. As an outsider, you can’t see these historic internal systems and policy and people issues that have slowly, through time, generated the Identified Problem: You only see the existent Identified Problem (the tip of the ice burg), and erroneously assume you can understand how it can be resolved because of your history with similar situations and your product knowledge. Even when you gather data meticulously to understand what you believe to be the buyer’s pain, your questions are biased and ignore huge, important elements within the system that you have no way of knowing need to be addressed, and which offer push back if threatened.


Here is the sequence that buyers must go through before they can consider resolving their Pain:

1. what are all of the elements that created/maintain their status quo (and developed their Identified Problem) and need to be managed differently to design an appropriate solution? And what made it possible that this Identified Problem has not been resolved yet?

2. how can the people, policies and relationships that hold the Identified Problem in place know that an internal/familiar fix can’t resolve the issue and that it’s necessary to seek an unfamiliar resource?.

3. what are the internal checks and balances that hold the Identified Problem in place that need to be reconfigured before anything new enters the system and would throw the system out of whack?

As a seller, you’re an outsider, and an outsider can not manage all of these elements: you can’t understand them, won’t be able to find them, and won’t have the insider’s knowledge or political clout to be able to effect change within them.

That brings me to my other annoyance: Sellers assume that if they 'understand the buyer's pain', they can position their solution effectively and persuasively. The assumption is wrong because:

1. someone from the outside can never design another person’s decision – especially when the ‘other’ is a Company that has several people in relationship with each other through time. An outsider has no idea how these relationships manage current decisions.

2. information does not help people decide until/unless they are in their final states of decision making. Think about all of those car ads your flip through. Unless you’re already in the market for a new car, you won’t stop long enough to read/view the data. And, so your buyers don’t know how to take in the data you offer them until/unless they have already figured out how to design a systems-based solution to manage all of the issues that currently holds the Identified Problem in place.


My belief is that when you enter a buyer’s system, and assume that you can understand their pain, offer a solution, and advise them on their options, you can only address that part of the ice burg that you can see. But if you want the sale to move forward efficiently, you must take the additional – and initial - step of helping the buyer design an internal solution that manages all of their status quo that has held their Identified Problem in place.

Sales is a two phase process, and until now, it has only managed the second stage of solving their problem with the seller’s product. There has never been the capacity to help buyers manage their internal elements that will get caught up negatively in change when the new solution gets added to the status quo.

Let me suggest that if a seller enters into a relationship with a buyer and assumes:

  • the buyer has his/her own solutions;
  • the seller will never understand the full range of systems issues that created or maintain the status quo;
  • the buyer must first figure out how to recognize all of the elements that created their Identified Problem before they will know how to design/seek a proper solution (hence the length of the sales cycle);
  • the seller can lead the buyer through all of their internal issues and Facilitate their discovery of where they are at and what needs to happen for them to design a solution that manages their internal elements (see: and Buying Faciliation: the new way to sell that influences and expands decisions).

When you support a buying decision, your job is merely to assist buyers addressing all of the internal elements that created/maintain their status quo and teaching them how to design a solution that manages the system of people, policies, relationships, initiatives, that have kept the problem in place ‘til now. Then, your product (and price) will be folded into a solution. You won’t need a proposal, you won’t worry about price, you won’t face objections, all of the necessary decision makers will be involved from the first or second call, and you’ll be differentiated from the competition.

I reiterate my favorite question: do you want to sell? Or have someone buy?



Are you a small training company (or large corporation) seeking to add new content to your sales training offering? We are going to be running a 7 day Train the Trainer program to license people to train the Buying Facilitation Method-based material in our Facilitating Buying Decisions program. The program will be held in Austin, TX from March 5-12. There will be a complete program flyer and sign up link in early January. In the meantime, feel free to contact us with questions.


Buying Facilitation/Facilitating Buying Decisions will be offered in partnership with American Higher Education, India, in New Dehli starting 31st January. While we are awaiting appropriate links to their site, please contact Rachna Nazir at


We are in development with a pocket tool that will bring Buying Facilitation and the Facilitative Questions to your pocket, so you can have access to the questions, the statements, and the responses necessary to manage gatekeepers, objections, sales recovery, and prospecting. Stay tuned. Call if you have interest in being a Beta site for us.

As always, we’re here to serve you.

Copyright 2006 by Sharon Drew Morgen. All rights reserved.