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By: Rhoan Morgan on March 14th, 2019

How To Turn Your Customer’s Pain Into Gain

Is your product or service a vitamin or a painkiller? This contrast is a common metaphor among startups, but one that companies across many sizes, industries, etc. should consider.

As we welcome David Priemer, Founder and Chief Sales Scientist at Cerebral Selling back to the podcast, we’ll dig into a vitamin strategy vs. painkiller strategy and help listeners understand how to achieve success with the right approach.

Check out David Priemer’s original article: “Want to sell someone a band-aid? Cut them.

If you missed the previous episode with David, listen to it here.

About Our Guest

From his early days tinkering with test tubes and differential equations as an award-winning scientist to leading top-performing sales teams at high-growth tech start-ups, David Priemer brings a lifelong passion for uncovering the hidden insights in the world around us, to his practice as the founder of Cerebral Selling. Often referred to as the “Sales Professor”, David helps organizations supercharge revenue growth, people development, and culture by combining the core principles of science, empathy, and execution.

If you’re unable to listen, check out the full transcript below:

Rhoan Morgan: Welcome to another episode of Revenue Rebels. I am really excited today to have a guest back with us for a second interview. David Priemer is founder and Chief Sales Scientist of Cerebral Selling and he’s joining us today to talk about how specific framing of marketing and sales messaging can increase engagement and conversion rates. Welcome back, David.

David Priemer: Hey, pleasure to be back. Thanks for having me again.

Rhoan Morgan: Really glad to have you on the show again. I’m excited about this topic. And for listeners that haven’t had a chance to listen to our last conversation, can you take a minute just to tell us a little bit about your background.

David Priemer: For sure. So you know, as a seller, most sellers tend to get in sales these days by accident and I am, just like everyone else, an accidental seller. I started my career over 20 years ago as a research scientist. So as a very curious person I got into sales by accident at the turn of the dotcom boom and over the next 20 years spent my time across four amazing startups. Three of those startups ended up getting acquired. One company, which I helped start in 2008 was acquired by Salesforce where I spent five amazing years learning how those sales machines were built both operationally and culturally at scale before realizing after all that time that what I really loved to do the most is teach the art and science of modern selling, which is what I do today through my Cerebral Selling practice.

Rhoan Morgan: Awesome. I love how you frame it up with being an accidental seller. I can relate to that a lot and I think a lot of people can. And what a fantastic background to bring to the table with the folks that you’re working with every day. Glad that you can join us and share some of that with us.

During our last episode, we talked about inside sales and where it should within the organization. So to our listeners, if you haven’t listened to that yet I really recommend you go back. It’s on our website, it’s on the SLMA site and listen to that one. It was a really great conversation. David shared a lot of great stuff. Today we’re going to dig into the topic of messaging.

Rhoan Morgan: David, I really like how you talk about this on your blog post titled, “Want to sell someone a band-aid? ‘Cut’ them first.” And I love that title. It caught my attention right away as I was going through your content. You frame this with the concept of vitamin versus painkiller selling and I’d love if you can tell us a bit more about the approach, just general high level. Walk us through that.

David Priemer: Yeah, for sure. Well the idea when people say vitamin or painkiller selling, people typically buy things to do one of two things, to take some kind of pain away that they’re experiencing or to move towards a gain. So if you think about if you have a headache, you go and take your Tylenol, your Advil, and that kind of takes the pain away. That’s the painkiller approach, versus a vitamin which is, “Hey look, I feel okay now, and I want to make sure I feel okay next week as well. I’m going to take a vitamin just to make sure that I feel better next week.” So that’s really the main difference. We buy things for pain and gain, and so the question is, when you are positioning your solution, when someone says, “What do you do?” what direction do you go in? So that’s the premise.

Rhoan Morgan: I know you’re working with clients on a myriad of topics and challenges that they’re working through. I assume several of them have come to you with this concern as well. Or perhaps you start working with them and you uncover that this might be one of their major gaps or areas of issue, right. How do you help companies do that gut check to determine which approach they’re using now?

David Priemer: Yeah, well I think going back to first principles, when you ask someone, “What do you do? What does your company do?” That’s always a good first place to start. So a lot of people, especially in the technology space, get very enamored with their solution, especially people higher up, the founders and so on. They’re very, very close to it. When someone says, “What do you do,” what do you say? And you can ask yourself that.

You can ask people in your organization and see how the message comes out. And then ask yourself, is that message, if it’s well understood, I mean that’s the first thing, is it more pain centric? Does it talk about a problem that exists in the market that you’re solving? Or is this more of this aspirational message? Are you trying to move towards this ideal state?

So understanding which version of the message you typically use most is actually not that hard. Are you going in for pain or are you going in for gain? But start with that question, and when someone says, “Well what is it that you do?” What do you say? See what comes out.

Rhoan Morgan: And can you share a few examples with us?

David Priemer: Yeah, for example, so my third startup, and I often talk about this … So there’s always a difference between what you actually do and this is where this band-aid, cutting people comes through. And by the way, for those of you listening, I am not advocating that anyone go out and intentionally harm anyone. It’s this idea that, if you want to sell a band-aid you could either look for people with cuts, which is the painkiller approach, or you look for people who are afraid of getting cuts, and those are the vitamin people. And then you cut people. And “cut people,” it’s like a euphemism, a take on the painkiller approach. And it’s this idea that when people have problems in their business or problems they’re looking to solve, we often don’t walk around and consciously are able to articulate those problems.

David Priemer: And you’ve experienced this. I’m not pointing at you Rhoan, but I’d say, we as people experience this. If you’ve ever watched an infomercial on TV or you’re watching the home shopping channel and you’re looking at something, or you’ve walked into a Costco and you see something that you didn’t know you needed before you started the infomercial, and then you walk out with it. And all of a sudden you’re like, “Why did this happen? I was not looking for this thing.” But chances are the marketing, the positioning, the demo, whatever it is that you saw, drew you in and cut you–made you realize that you had a pain that you were not previously aware of. To give you some examples, my third startup, what we actually did, and this is not how I would pitch it, but what we actually did, we were a social performance management platform.

David Priemer: So it was based on this idea that people at work need lots of coaching and feedback and recognition and we provided an online platform to do that. But if I were to pitch that to you and say, “Hey Rhoan, at your company, would you like more feedback and coaching and recognition?” You might be like, “Yeah, I guess, that sounds good, but I don’t know if that’s really high on my priority list.” And so one of the things that we did is that we found an enemy. And this is a really great tactic when you’re trying to figure out the painkiller approach and be pain-centric. We picked an enemy. And our enemy was something called the “annual performance review,” and probably a lot of people out there have had or familiar with annual performance reviews.

Rhoan Morgan: Sounds familiar. Sure.

David Priemer: And people use the word “hate” 80% of the time to describe annual performance reviews. To give you an example, we didn’t go out and say, “Oh yeah, we’re a feedback, coaching and performance solution,” we said, “We are a solution for people who love feedback but hate performance reviews.” And that doesn’t tell you what we actually do, but it tells you who our enemy is. And if you have that pain, I’m now cutting you by telling you that most people like you hate performance reviews. You’re like, “Oh my gosh. Yes. You know what, we do hate performance reviews. Thank you so much–Do you have a solution?” So that’s the kind of thing when we’re talking about cutting and pain centric messages. That’s a good example.

Rhoan Morgan: That’s great. And it also really aligns, I think, with what we talk a lot about around content and content marketing which is being relevant. That’s immediately connecting to a person. I’m sure it’s easier to connect to their pains rather than maybe even everything that’s good in their lives, because maybe people take that more for granted, I don’t know. We talk a lot of about this same concept with our clients when we’re working on content or content marketing. Looking through the content and seeing that a lot of is–and I’ll suggest to our listeners to go and look at your blog post around the sea of sameness–but a lot end up all sounding the same. They’re not well differentiated.

What I’d love to learn a little bit from you is, as you come from the sales perspective, what role does marketing play in helping an organization transform from selling vitamins to painkillers?

David Priemer: The really important thing is that marketing and sales stay very close and aligned on this message because, and this is no knock on marketing, oftentimes some of these messages get conceived in a lab environment where, “Hey look. We haven’t really talked to customers, but we’ve worked up this pitch. We’ve worked up this messaging. It sounds good to us.”

But in the light of day, as salespeople are delivering the message to customers, they’re not able to deliver it with high conviction, with simplicity, with the right kind of pain-centric approach. And so my advice, both to sales and marketing, is to stay really close. I mean, marketing is really great as products are developed and released. Typically there’s a product marketing manager who’s responsible for this positioning but they need to temper that positioning with what’s actually happening on the field in sales.

David Priemer: I’ve seen tons of sellers go out there with messages that have been conceived in a lab that customers just don’t understand. Imagine if you’re in marketing–and by all means you should be getting out there talking to customers as well– think about what it would be like to have a casual conversation with a customer where you bring up this pain and your pitch and how you’re positioning it in a way that it’s very simple. It resonates deeply. And it’s something that I also think from an enablement standpoint, is something that everyone on your sales and marketing team and in your organization can very easily, and I would say intuitively, tell the story. So I would focus on not just the message but how it’s going to manifest and be told by your field team.

Rhoan Morgan: Yeah. It comes back to framing out that story, developing the story, creating one that everybody can connect to and identify with. And I agree with you completely that product marketing and marketing have to be out there with sales. And I would suggest even joining in on those sales calls and really being apart of that so you can hear that. And I’d also say, do you use personas when you’re developing this framework of messaging with your clients? Are personas a part of that at all?

David Priemer: They are. And there’s two dimensions to the persona. It’s who are you selling it to, and then what is the product. Because I feel a lot of times people in companies try to create a pitch that encompasses everything they do. And most of the time companies have multiple products. They sell to different stakeholders. And so it’s okay to have a pain-centric or cutting-centric message that is geared to one type of product, to one type of persona, and a completely different set geared to another.

Rhoan Morgan: Yeah. Interesting. The challenge there I’d say is probably when you’ve got a really big buying team or buying unit and you’ve got to send seven messages to a single team and have them all take it as in individual. But I do–I think that it’s important that you’re bringing in the personas. That’s really, I think, very cool, very good. Hey, you know what, as time does continue to move without us being able to stop it, we are at our halfway point in this conversation. We’re going to take a really quick break and learn a little bit more about DemandLab, and that is us and we’re sponsoring this podcast as well, excited to say. I will turn it over to Paul for a quick break.

Rhoan Morgan: Thanks, Paul. Okay, let’s jump back into our discussion with sales expert David Priemer. He is the Founder and Chief Sales Scientist at Cerebral Selling. And today we’re talking about a specific messaging approach to support sales and marketing throughout the organization. So David, let’s jump right back in. Can you tell us a story about some of the successes that you’ve seen in taking the painkiller approach? Elaborate on something you touched on a little bit earlier, but maybe a specific business that you’ve observed or a client that you’ve had. Walk us through the story of their successes.

David Priemer: Just to touch on something we talked about earlier, this idea of focusing on pain versus gain, and the question of, “which should I focus on?” I know we’re talking about pain-centric messages here, but aren’t gain centric messages just as good? And I would say, first of all, they can sound just as good, but the data and psychological science tell us that loss is a much more powerful motivator. And this goes back to Daniel Kahneman’s research and he wrote a book called Thinking Fast and Slow, and actually won the Nobel Prize in economics for this principle called loss aversion. And the best way to describe it is, if you went to a casino and you won a hundred dollars at the casino, you feel pretty good, right. But if you lost a hundred dollars you could feel markedly worse compared to how good you feel.

David Priemer: So that’s why, that’s the science of why we focus on loss and loss aversion. But to give you some examples, there’s one organization I always talk about. They’re a company called Trunk Club, and they were based in Chicago. And they were actually acquired by Nordstrom. And one of the things that they did … I don’t know … Are you familiar with Trunk Club at all? Have you ever heard of it?

Rhoan Morgan: I have heard of it, yeah.

David Priemer: Yeah, yeah. What does Trunk Club do?

Rhoan Morgan: Oh, it’s been so long ago. I think it was a personal shopping sort of experience.

David Priemer: That’s right. That’s right.

Rhoan Morgan: Oh.

David Priemer: That’s right. So the idea was, you’re a man, it was for men originally, you go online and you put in your measurements and the colors that you like and all that kind of stuff. What they do is they have a virtual stylist who curates a bunch of clothes for you, ships them in a box, in a trunk, to your door every month. Whatever you like you keep, and whatever you don’t like you send back. But if they positioned that, as, “Oh, what is Trunk Club?” “Oh, it’s a service for men for shopping. We send you stuff in a box.” And then someone would say, “Oh, okay. I guess that’s good.” But what they went out with was a message very, very simple, and very pain-centric and polarizing. They said that at Trunk Club, “what do we do?” “Well, we realized that men want to look good, but they hate to shop.” And so now I’m cutting men, who are like, “Yes, oh my gosh, I hate to shop, but I still want to look good. Now what do I do?”

David Priemer: And I’ll tell you, there’s a lot of clients that I work with that are, what I would call, in the compliance space. So a lot of technologies out there are built on this idea of compliance. Whether it’s let’s say absent management at work, maybe it’s fraud prevention, maybe it’s security, for example. And they sell their products and they say, “Oh, we’re a network security product.” And some people might look at that and say, “Oh well, that’s nice, but I already have network security so I don’t need that.” And so going out with more of a cutting message would be, “Most organizations that we work with don’t even realize how far out of compliance they are. They are so legally exposed.”

David Priemer: And we kind of go on from there, right. So we’re talking about a lot of pain, a lot of legal exposure. And I’m not telling you what I do. I’m not telling you I’m a security company, but I’m cutting you. I’m talking about the pain. I’ll give you an example from my own website. And there’s a lot of different ways that you can pitch with questions and so I’ll give you a couple of quick examples. If you go on my website it doesn’t say, “Oh it’s David and he does sales training and sales education and all the kind of stuff.” It says, “Do you ever wonder why you don’t like talking to salespeople?” And I know that’s a good question because I can be speaking in rooms of hundreds of people, hundreds of salespeople, and I ask them, “Hey, hands up here. Who likes talking to salespeople?”

David Priemer: No one raises their hand. There’s usually a couple sadistic people, but usually, no one raises their hand. These are examples of messages that are polarizing. They’re simple. They don’t talk about what the product actually does, because no one really cares, right. They don’t care what a product does until they know why it does it. And so here’s examples of where you’re talking about pain, pain, pain.

Rhoan Morgan: Yeah. And I see that in the move away from the features and benefits sell sheet, which I don’t feel like I’ve seen an effective one in a pretty long time. I guess they’re effective perhaps later on, but certainly not in the earlier stages. I really like that you’re asking this question to salespeople, right. So are they interested in chatting with people that are doing their same work, and how do those folks learn how to break through barriers that we as humans, regardless of our work, are putting up against having those conversations.

David Priemer: Well I think a lot of this is also just having empathy for your audience. And so it’s this idea that if my job is to build armies of salespeople that you would want to talk to, I need to get you to listen to me first. So I’m up there on stage, or I’m writing a blog post or whatever it is, and you’re deciding in your head, “Who the hell is this person and is this person worth listening to?” And I’d say all sales and marketing people experience the same thing. We get inundated with so many products and emails and phone calls and the whole thing that we’re playing traffic cop in our head. We’re trying to decide what we’re going to expose our brain to. And so if I’m in that environment and I say, “Hey look, who here likes talking to salespeople?”

David Priemer: And I’m doing this in a room full of sales people who just had this all of a sudden epiphany that they don’t like talking to people like them, and I haven’t even talked about any content, now all of a sudden you’re very interested to hear what I have to say. And so there’s a value in bringing people’s problems to them and framing it in this way that allows you to step in with your solution.

Rhoan Morgan: Yeah. Well, hey, we’ve got a few minutes left for this conversation. Could you share maybe a few of the first steps that you recommend to your clients that they should take as they’re starting to evaluate where they’re at and determine what their painkiller message should be?

David Priemer: Yeah, for sure. You know, one of the biggest things I talk about is this idea of “who’s your enemy?” “Who is your enemy?” And in the band-aid article on my website I talk about this a little bit. Try to be polarizing. I actually have some videos of this on my YouTube channel as well, but “who is your enemy?” And I would say for those of you who are listening, a bad enemy is a competitor. If you’re Oracle, your enemy shoudn’t be Microsoft. That’s a poor enemy. But your enemy could be a status quo process, wasted time, compliance, security. So find out, who is the enemy of your solution. And that’s a really great way to start. And then the second thing I would suggest is thinking about, when you’re doing discovery with a client, you want your clients to have these mini epiphanies. It would be great if all of our clients were looking for our solution and had our solution top of mind, in their top three priority list.

David Priemer: And sometimes we are. Sometimes we get lucky. But most of the time we don’t and so we have to create the need, we have to create the business. It’s not that we are manufacturing it, but we need to awaken the giant within our customers. And so think about what are some of the challenges that your customers have that they don’t either A, talk about, or B, they have but they’re not always aware of. It’s not top of mind. And I’ll give you a funny example. So I run a local sales leadership meetup of high growth sales leaders in Toronto where I live. And I run those meetups. We just had one last night. And one of the topics that came up amongst the group, and this is the trust tree. So we all keep the conversation in the trust tree. A lot of these sales leaders report to CEOs of their companies.

David Priemer: One of the things that comes up is they say, “Does anyone else here have a crazy CEO that you just can’t get through?” And they ask you all these questions that’s like, “what the hell is this person thinking?” And everyone was like, “Yes. Yes. My CEO is crazy and how do I deal with it?” And ironically we have about four CEOs in this group who are very self-aware, thank goodness. But that’s the idea. If I asked a team of sales leaders, “What do you want to talk about when we meet up?” no one would say, “My crazy CEO.” And yet if I were to be in this group of sales leaders and say, “Hey, does anyone else have a crazy CEO?”

David Priemer: All of a sudden people come out of the woodwork. That is an example of, in that environment, cutting people. They’re like, “Yes. It’s a problem I have. I didn’t know I had it,” or, “I had it, but I didn’t know other people have it.” And so the idea of what I call the unknown or unspoken in your customer environments and who is the enemy of your product. These are two great places to start.

Rhoan Morgan: Yeah, that’s fantastic. I love that. “Awaken the giant within, finding the unknown or unspoken,” which again actually makes me think and takes me back to personas. I mean personas the way that they should be done which is actually with some interviewing and very deep understanding of the client, because you can’t guess at something like that. The idea that there’s a challenge because you’ve got a crazy CEO, you can’t guess that somebody’s dealing with that, or even knows yet that they’re dealing with it. So it comes down to learning as much as you can about your audience and your market.

David Priemer: And I was going to say, the reverse is true. So for example, let’s take the men want to look good but hate to shop. If you are a man and you want to look good, but you love to shop, then Trunk Club is not for you. If you love feedback and you love performance reviews, then our product, Social Performance Management, is not for you. So you have to also be prepared, if you’re going to pick an enemy and be polarizing, that some people will just not acquiesce to your solution, and that’s actually okay.

Rhoan Morgan: Yeah. Absolutely. You cannot have every single customer on the planet, I think, I think. But yeah, and you’ve got to be okay with that. Fantastic. Well, David, we’re at the end of our time here. It always goes by very quickly as we’re chatting. I feel like we could definitely talk on another full episode length. Thank you so much for joining us today. It’s so great having you on the show as always. What is the best way for listeners to reach out to you?

David Priemer: Yeah, for sure. I mean the best way is just to go to It’s spelled the way it sounds. And you can reach me through the website or you can hit me up on LinkedIn, but yeah, I would say go check out the website, check out the content. There’s a Contact Me page and by all means, I love giving the content away for free. You don’t have to register for anything. So, by all means, go check it out.

Rhoan Morgan: Yeah. And it’s a fantastic library of resources, so I really recommend that people go and check out the website and look through all the great content that you’ve been putting together for years now.

David Priemer: Great.

Rhoan Morgan: So a big thank you to our listeners for tuning in again to Revenue Rebels. I am your host Rhoan Morgan. You can find me on LinkedIn by looking up DemandLab or searching for Rhoan. That’s R-H-O-A-N Morgan on LinkedIn. All right, now back over to you Paul.