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Why The Best Sales People Sell Aspirin Not Vitamins

The most successful sales people, and the most successful companies for that matter, are those who seek to find and alleviate pain. Aspirin alleviates an immediate pain; vitamins enhance your health and provide longer term benefits. That’s not to say there isn’t any value in vitamins – there is. But people aren’t running out in the middle of the night because they ran out of vitamins. If the headache is bad enough you can bet they’ll do whatever it takes to relieve the pain.

A sales person’s biggest competitor is almost always the status quo. And disrupting the status quo is one of the hardest things to do. Why change something that’s fine the way it is? If your offering only improves a process that’s already working well you’ll have an uphill battle ahead of you. Have sales been made this way? Yes, of course they have. But that scenario is a far less common one.


The fact is that most B2B sales are made because of a big, burning problem. Something that’s creating a significant obstacle to doing business is extremely manual and time consuming, or creates risk if it isn’t addressed. In this type of scenario people will be more receptive to a proposed solution, or will seek one out themselves.


One of the biggest challenges sales leaders and their reps face is long sales cycles. In order to tackle that challenge head on, problems and risks must be addressed. It’s easy for decision makers to drag their feet on a solution that will make things “better” or drive an “ROI”. Why? Because they have more pressing PROBLEMS that require their immediate attention.

If the pain or risk is big enough, people will want to move quickly to address the problem. If they don’t, the existing problem may only get worse, and a desired output will suffer as a result.


In economics and decision theory, the concept of loss aversion focuses on the tendency of people to prefer avoiding losses as opposed to acquiring gains. In the context of a business environment pains and problems create losses. Those losses can come in the form of lost time, lost opportunity, lower output, etc. All of these eventually result in one thing: a loss of money.

There is an element of personal motivation that comes into play as well. No one wants to be the individual responsible for a problem that has a significant and negative impact on a business. More importantly, they don’t want to be the person who does nothing to fix the problem.

Studies have suggested that loss aversion has a psychological effect that’s twice as powerful as potential gains. And ultimately, B2B sales is still about selling to people.


Most competent sales reps can sell to a recognized pain or problem that is creating a high sense of urgency. They’re essentially a glorified order taker in this scenario, simply validating that your product will solve the prospect’s problem.

On the surface this may seem like the ideal scenario. The prospect is acutely aware of the problem, and is actively looking for a solution. And now they have come to you for help. The problem with this scenario is that they’ve also started speaking with several other solution providers. You’re in a situation where features and price will be overly scrutinized; even worse, you may yourself responding to an RFP.

The best sales people and the best sales organizations are the ones who are able to identify and exploit big problems that lay beneath the surface. Identifying the unrecognized pains and problems before your competitors do creates not only a strong competitive advantage, but also a sense of urgency where one may not previously have existed.


Effectively selling to pains and problems relies on strong messaging and thorough discovery work.

A thorough approach to the discovery phase is paramount as it will allow a sales rep to fully understand the severity and consequences of an already recognized pain. Furthermore the right line of questioning will allow the sales person to venture down a path that will uncover new problems and issues that the prospect didn’t realize existed.

As a follow on, strong, impactful messaging will effectively speak to the importance of addressing the pain(s), and doing so ASAP. In addition to emphasizing why your offering is the appropriate solution for the problem in question.

There are many companies and sales organizations who have been very successful selling products that don’t alleviate pains and problems but yet are sold on the premise of getting an organization to an even better place. But the ability to find a strong problem < > solution fit and show your prospects how your offering will address their most pressing problems will in the long run create far more compelling business cases and better disrupt the status quo.

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