Be Bold with Benefits but Subtle with Pains

  • Written By: Bob Riefstahl
  • Published: November 3 2003


"Bob, what's their compelling reason to buy?" asked Terry my boss. "I'm not 100 percent sure" I replied. I think..." She interrupted me with "When you know, I'm willing to look further at the deal and we'll have a strategy session to determine the appropriate resources. I can't give you resources on this opportunity unless you can answer that question.

My mission was clear. I had a good idea of what the prospect's problems or "pains" were but I needed to go back and verify my assumptions with everyone I interviewed. Over the next three days I contacted the prospect and spoke with all the people I'd interviewed and validated their pains. I summarized my findings with my boss and she helped me assemble a team for this opportunity. Their pains could be summarized as follows:

  1. The number of days it took to collect money had increased 22 percent over the past three years.

  2. They couldn't consolidate their reporting because the figures came from four different software packages.

  3. They couldn't close their books until the 13th of the following month because of accounting software problems.

I got the approval for resources and quickly assembled the team for a strategy meeting. "We've got to show them their pain or they'll never spend the money for new software" I told everyone. "Why not have some fun with this." said Sharon my pre-sales consultant. "I heard that it can be real effective to dramatize their pain. We could start out the demo with a short skit. Bob, you could be the CFO sitting behind a desk looking tired and frustrated because it's 8:00PM on the 13th, you still don't have the books closed and you have six sets of reports on your desk that don't match." Bill, my technical consultant on the deal added, "Yeah, and I walk in with a cash crisis because all of your money is tied up in accounts receivable!" I loved the idea! Why not be dramatic about their pain? I discussed it with Terry and she wasn't convinced. She's worried that it could be too unprofessional. "So, you are 100 percent sure this is going to be a winner?" she asked. "Well, I can't ever be 100 percent sure but I think it's worth a try." She replied "OK, go ahead but be careful not to appear unprofessional."

We practiced the skit several times until we had our lines memorized and our timing correct. We had props like sample reports, broken pencils, and even an old coffee cup.

The demo opened with our skit in front of fourteen people including the CFO. It lasted a total of ten minutes. Nobody laughed, smiled, or even seemed to care. The CFO left shortly after we introduced ourselves. Three weeks later we were informed that they had selected a major competitor's software. Why? Two reasons. First we committed one of the worst selling crimes of all time. It's called "look at how bad you are!" You often commit this crime when you take a frontal attack on a prospect's pains. Second, while we thought we might win a Tony Award for our theatrical performance, we appeared as if we just performed in a dreadful school play!

Analysis of What Happened

"Look at how bad you are!" It's true that prospects often justify their purchase because you show them how your software solves their pain. However, very few people appreciate being told how badly they really operate. To make matters worse, we dramatized it! The lesson here is that instead of being bold about their pain (the negative), you should be bold about your benefits (the positive). For example, with this prospect we would have improved our position if we would have discussed or demonstrated how our software would have helped them collect money faster rather than blatantly telling them in a theatrical performance how bad their cash flow problems are due to poor accounts receivable collections.

Drama is for Broadway and your school variety show—I'm not an actor. If you're reading this, you probably aren't either. There's a reason for that. We aren't very good at it! When we try and be dramatic with prospects it looks like we are amateurs. Isn't that a terrible first impression to make with your prospect?

Instead of being a bad actor with this prospect, I would have been much better off by opening with a story from my past. It should be a true story that is woven into a theme and revisited throughout the day by everyone on the team. It should subtly address their pains but allows us to be bold with our benefits. If the story is true, it comes from the heart. It has passion and believability. It's realistic and relevant. It works!

Perhaps something like this "If you don't mind, I'd like to start out the day by telling you a short story. I don't know if you know this about me, but I have two boys that are ten and eight. As they have gotten older, our activity level has increased because of sports, school, choir, and everything else they are involved in. On some days, it's hard to just get out the door. For example, they are still young and don't always remember where they put their shoes. It can take twenty minutes to find their shoes! Do you know what I mean? (Heads nod, people smile). This little problem of finding their shoes cascades into disastrous consequences on our schedule. So, beginning last month I instituted "the tub". At every doorway into the house we now have a tub where they deposit their shoes when they walk in the door. With this simple change, I've eliminated the "I can't find my shoes" problem.

In your world the "tub" might be a better way to consolidate reporting so that your financial reports can be ready on the 5th of the month or improved accounts receivable collection tools that help you improve your cash flow. We want you to know that just because we sell sophisticated software, we don't overlook the obvious when it comes to problem solving. We will work together with you to solve your most pressing challenges.

For this story I might bring a small tub as a prop. Throughout the day the team will revisit the tub whenever one of our software elements solves one of their problems. But, we'll always focus our attention on how good they can look rather than how ugly they are.


Don't insult your prospect with risky frontal tactics that tell them how bad they are. Don't try and be an actor to engage your audience. Be yourself, a professional with a beneficial product. You can engage your audience with stories from your past that are relevant to the subject at hand and help you make your bold benefit statements. Prospects need to justify their purchase—they just don't need to be insulted in the process.

About The Author

Bob Riefstahl has been demonstrating software for over twenty years. As a partner with Demonstrating To Win! LLC, Bob conducts training workshops and provides consulting and professional speaking services to technology companies around the world. To learn more about Demo2WIN's products and services, visit their website at

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