“How Much Does It Hurt?”

I was in the doctor’s office for a check up the other day and was fascinated with the “Pain Chart” on his examining room wall. It was one of those simple things doctors use to help patients describe the magnitude of pain they are experiencing. I’m sure you’ve seen them, typically a 0-10 scale ranging from “Ouch,” to “PUT ME OUT OF MY MISERY!”

My doctor explained the chart to me. He said that it’s really difficult to get people to describe their pain. They can describe where it is, they can describe a little bit of the nature of it—naturally, assisted by a lot of good probing (figuratively and literally) from the doctor. However, they have difficulty in describing how much it hurts. He said the charts start providing a context to help the patient describe the amount of pain they are experiencing. He said, “I know they hurt, but I don’t know how much they hurt or how it is impacting them.” He also said, that as he went through procedures, patients could continue to describe the amount of pain they were experiencing, using the same context.

One of the most important things he described was that everyone experiences pain differently, what I might describe as a “10″ (I’m basically a whiner when it comes to pain), my wife would describe as a “2″ (My wife has a very high tolerance for pain–witness her living with me such a long time). Understanding how the customer perceives pain is critical to the doctor’s ability to treat the patient–not just in diagnosing and treating the problem but in helping to effectively manage the patient experience and the pain they perceive. But he was adamant, “The patient is always the person that describes and quantifies the pain they are experiencing.”

It’s useful for us to think about things in a similar way in sales. We need the customer to tell us how much it hurts. Different customers will have different perceptions of their current circumstances. They’ll have different tolerances for the problems or challenges they face. Customers must be able to describe the “pain” they experience. We need to get them to quantify it in some way beyond, “we have problems.” We need them to articulate for themselves whether it’s a 1 or a 10 — except they might express it in different terms–perhaps financial terms, in terms of opportunity missed, and so forth. We can’t tell them the pain they are experiencing, we can only get them to describe it through strong questioning, and probing. We can guide them to discovering where the “pain” might be, we can question, test, analyze to help them understand what’s causing the pain.

While we may look at them, thinking their problems are huge or they are missing opportunities, until they describe how much it hurts, they are not likely to take action. We cannot tell them, “you have a huge amount of pain.” Until the customer says, “This is no longer tolerable, I need to do something about it,” we can’t move forward.

How are you getting your customers to explore and understand their “pain,” challenges, opportunities? How are you getting them to tell you how much it hurts?

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