• Ed Jaffe

4 Ways to Stop Talking about Pain and Start Talking About Opportunity During your Demos

Make your prospect feel the pain. That'll make them take action...or will it just make them feel pain?


Think back to the last time you made a mistake. A real mistake. One that had some consequences - either personal or professional. Replay it in your mind, and consider the following questions:

  • What happened?

  • Was it intentional?

  • How did it make you feel?

  • How did others feel?

  • How did you respond?

After re-experiencing that mistake, you likely have some combination of the following: dilated pupils, increased heart rate and blood pressure, dry mouth, sweating and faster breathing. Your "symptoms" might be light as you have some distance from the event, but they're there.


Your physical reaction, which is your "fight-or-flight response," is coming from your sympathetic nervous system, and you can't fight it any more than you can fight your hair growing (or, in my case, not growing).

Fight-or-flight is a product of evolution. Parts of your brain that aren't under your conscious control are deciding if you are safe. If we had a chemistry set, we'd likely see some changes in your body chemistry, such as increased adrenaline and glucose. All this happens instantly - it's why, before even realizing what you're doing, you can react to getting cut off on the highway. It's also why, after getting cut off, you have no idea what your passengers said at the time. And, it's why it can take some time for you to calm down and get out of your head - your body is physically incapable of doing so.


Thinking about this mistake brought your body back to when you experienced all of this, which is why I asked you to do so. Really think about how you feel right now, then take a deep breath before moving on. Because I'm going to tell you how we make our customers feel this way all the time.


Fight-or-flight in sales meetings


We often trigger this exact same fight-or-flight response from our prospects and customers. We do it at the beginning of the meeting. Right before we ask for their attention for the next hour, we tell them all the reasons they're bad at their job. We tell them what they can't do, or why they aren't modern, or simply why their jobs are painful. We may think about it as "challenging," but, more often than not, we literally call it pain right to their face:

  • Your pain points are that you can't run an efficient team and you're losing money

  • During discovery, we learned that your biggest pain point is that your systems aren't integrated.

  • The last time we talked, you shared lots of pain points and challenges - let's recap the 3 biggest ones.

  • Your homegrown system is really bogging you down and just can't keep up with your current demands - plus the team just hates it (this one goes over particularly well when the person who built the homegrown system happens to be in the room).

By starting meetings this way, we literally turn off customers. We just told them why they're bad at their jobs. We're a third party expert who has given them a big ol' thumbs down, which gives them reasons to shut down.


And when they shut down, or they go in their head, they start thinking about all the reasons they're bad at their job. Do you know what they're not doing? They're not listening to you. They can't listen to you. It's biology at work.


Sure, they may have told you the pain points during discovery. They may have even called it a pain point during discovery. It doesn't matter. They can say it. YOU can't.


We walk in with good intentions. Our intent is to "challenge" our customer. To make them think. To share a point-of-view. And that's all great, but there are plenty of ways to go about it without making them feel pain. The key is to let the customer off the hook. To validate them as a person, while challenging how they are doing things. Here are ways you can do just that:


Four ways to challenge your customer without making them feel pain

  1. Flip the language

  2. Tell a customer story

  3. Use a statistic or trend

  4. Show empathy


1) Flip the language


Instead of talking in negative language - "pain," "can't," "won't," etc, just flip that language around.

  • Your pain points are that you can't run an efficient team and you're losing money -> We're here to talk about how you can make your sales process even more efficient

  • During discovery, we learned that your biggest pain point is that your systems aren't integrated -> If you could have a more integrated environment, you would be able to save time and reduce all of that manual work.

  • The last time we talked, you shared lots of pain points and challenges - let's recap the 3 biggest ones -> There are lots of ways we could potentially help, but I propose we focus on the top 3 growth opportunities, which are... Did I get that right?

This may look easy, but it's easy to forget in front of an audience as our brain sometimes gets ahead of our mouth. So practice this. Think about some of your own "pain points" and reframe them as opportunities. Will you feel silly? Maybe. But you'll be ready for the next time you have to reframe a client's pain point into an opportunity.


2) Tell a customer story


An easy way to let someone off the hook is to talk about someone else who was in a similar situation. That way you're talking about someone else's pain. Someone else's mistakes. Not your prospect's.


"Recently I was working with a client who was going through some growing pains. Here was the situation..."

You can ask the prospect if what you're saying resonates with them. You can talk about how it's similar to what they're experiencing. Either way, you're not insulting them, because it's about someone else.


Just make sure not to be too hard on the customer in your story as you don't want your prospect wondering what you might say about them in the future if they choose to work with you.


Pro tip: Your story can, if you want, play a bigger role in the demo. For example, your demo segments can incorporate the story. But if you open with this story, make sure to bring it into your close. Close the loop. To do this, talk about the results, maybe share a quote - whatever makes your prospect confident that you succeeded with this last customer so you can succeed with them.


3) Use a statistic or trend


Instead of opening with "you can't do X," start with an open ended question. For example: "60% of CMOs say that it's difficult to integrate data across channels. How does this impact your organization?" Then, let them talk.


Again, you're using someone else's story/statistic to discuss the situation while letting the prospect off the hook. And, instead of telling the prospect why they are bad, you're asking a question and letting them tell you their pain. You can acknowledge it, validate them, and get to your demo. 


Will they feel a bit of the pain in the moment? Sure. But now you're working together as a team to solve it, instead of them looking for a reason to get you out of the room.


4) Show empathy


I normally don't like to talk about myself in meetings, and try to do it as little as possible - because the more I talk about me, the less I talk about the client. I even avoid introducing myself if I don't have to (I ask the sponsor to introduce me, then I just get into the content). But, when I do talk about myself is if I've dealt with a similar situation before. This method is particularly powerful when you come from industry.


"When I was running marketing technology at ACME, one of my biggest challenges was integrating all of our data..."


By acknowledging that you were in the same situation you are letting the client off the hook, because you made the same mistake or had the same challenge. You were in the same boat, you just solved it a bit sooner. That may even be the reason you went to the vendor that helped you solve it.


This tactic has a bigger risk than the others though - you have to find the right balance of how much to talk about yourself and how you talk about yourself. It's easy to come off as arrogant ("oh, it was so easy to solve this problem"), which will make the audience tune out, or to come off as self-deprecating, which can make the audience lose their respect for you.


There you have it - 4 ways you can stop talking about pain and start talking about opportunities, so you can build stronger connections with your clients or prospects and win more deals.



Ed Jaffe is an experienced PreSales leader and certified Demo2Win! Master Coach. His company, Demo Solutions, works with sales and PreSales teams to help them deliver more impactful demos, so they can close deals faster. Learn more at https://demoswindeals.com


Connect with Ed on LinkedIn.

502 views3 comments