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  • Writer's pictureNadav Efraty

Chapter 1 - The Situation and The Pain

Every prospect has a specific situation with a certain combination of a role, duties, tasks, requirements, objectives, challenges, implications, use cases, tools used. Every prospect also has various needs and pains but given the complexity of driving a corporate buying decision and the typical resource limitations, most prospects are not actively looking to acquire new capabilities.

Some prospects, however, are actively looking to acquire new capabilities, either because they are committed to changing their situation for various reasons, or because they are forced to change it (e.g. because of new regulatory requirements).

Prospects that are willing to take a call with a seller may do so as a way of keeping their finger on the pulse of innovation, but typically, they will take a sales call because they are considering or already committed to changing their status quo, and they are now assessing and evaluating their alternatives. 

The seller must quickly understand the prospect’s situation in order to direct the discovery journey in an effective way. The first questions should typically be related to the reason that brought the prospect to take the call – their use cases, needs and pains and the compelling event that is driving this.

Note that chances of winning are the highest when the prospect must make a change, lower if there’s a commitment to make a change without a strong compelling event, and lowest when there’s no clear commitment nor urgency to make a change. Hence, sellers better target and focus on Ideal Customer Profiles of buyers that are compelled to make a change, if such cohorts could be characterized. 

The discovery journey in all those scenarios is similar – starting from the situation, understanding the unique combination of tasks, objectives, challenges etc. of this certain prospect, getting to needs and pains and then drilling in to better understand what is causing those pains, what are their implications and impact, how could they be mitigated, which capabilities would be needed and so on. 

This entire time – the focus is on the prospect (or buyer) – it is not about the vendor and not about the offerings. Just about the situation and pains of the buyer.  Buyers want to partner with and buy from those who have the expertise to understand the root causes of their pains and cure them, generate value and help the buyer to succeed. 

Note that whether the buyer can clearly define needs and pains or not, the seller has an opportunity to direct the discovery journey into the areas that seem critical for that buyer and aligned with the unique capabilities of the seller, based on the seller’s hypothesis on the buyer’s needs. The buyers often have certain pains or needs, but the seller can guide the buyer to the conclusion that the root cause of those pains, the pain behind the pain, is different, and that addressing that pain behind the pain is the only viable thing to look at – not the band aid the buyers were initially thinking of.

Buyers could come to a meeting with certain notions and needs just to realize that to achieve what they really want, they should focus on completely different capabilities and priorities.  Note, however, that the seller should never try to force the buyer into the wrong solution - in certain cases the conclusion of the discovery is that what the buyer needs is not aligned with the seller’s offering. In such cases, the seller should openly share that with the buyer and help navigate the buyer in the proper direction. This is not just prudent to the buyer – it will save the seller a lot of time.

This kind of discovery is beneficial for the seller, but even more so for the buyers, who are getting new insights and better understanding of their situation, pains and how to get to a better future.

The sales deck for this stage of the sales process is not designed to pitch an offering – it is designed to guide the discovery, give new views and insights that will help the buyer better understand the situation and the root causes for the typical buyer’s pains. It will also demonstrate the seller’s domain expertise and insights that could become an asset for the buyer and drive success both in acquiring the capabilities and later in using them.

The objective of the first meeting is to come out with clearly uncovered pains and the compelling event which may force the change. Without clear pains and ownership of the buyer on changing the status quo, there is no shot at a sale. The seller could still pitch the offering for marketing and educational purposes, but an opportunity should not be opened. 

At the early stage of the sale, many sales organizations focus on the 3 whys:

  1. Why buy? What are the needs or pains?

  2. Why now? What is the compelling event that creates urgency to make the change?

  3. Why us? What are the certain differentiated capabilities that make us the right choice? 

Note that from the 3 whys, why now is typically the hardest to pin. Uncovering some buyers’ pains (why buy) that are uniquely addressed by the seller’s offering (why us) is typically easy. The real challenge is getting to the top of the priority list of buyers, so they will commit to making the change now and not at some point. Unfortunately, this is where most opportunities die – buyers want them but cannot get them prioritized. Strategies for getting buyer organizations to prioritize the purchase are discussed in the next chapters.   

With various offerings, use cases, buyer personas, pains, drivers etc. it is often hard for the sellers to always ask the right questions that lead the buyer in the discovery journey – Sales organizations try to support the sellers with playbooks, coaching and enablement. Because of this wealth of situations and playbooks, most of the sellers get overwhelmed and default to pitching instead of discovering, thereby greatly reducing their productivity. The best solution could be to put the leading sales leaders and domain experts on every sales call, but this is not practical. A practical solution could only come in the shape of technology that guides the sellers during the execution of the sales process rather than occasionally in enablement sessions. This tech should navigate all the complexity of the various situations, hiding it from the sellers and only highlighting the most critical questions that are relevant in every specific situation and stage on the discovery journey.

Another effective approach is to turn the unstructured stories about situations and pains etc. into repeatable structured categories. Use drop-downs and pick-lists in the CRM rather than free text fields to identify the various aspects of each buyer’s situation and make it easier for your sellers to run the process and easier for your leadership to understand the status, forecast and improve the process.  

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