You may have preference – but are they powerful

Do you know the difference between who cares and who matters in a sales process? You should, if you want to win complex sales on a consistent basis

Your solution impacts many different people in an organization. It is incumbent upon you to take inventory of every one of those people and understand how your solution is going to change their life. Consider these people stakeholders and I suggest that you need to associate a level of pain you will be solving for them to begin to understand who actually does have the power in your sales process. The Complex Sale has created what we call a food chain of value to assign a level of pain to an individual stakeholder.

Strategic Pains

Strategic pains impact the organization’s survival and prosperity. They are of greatest interest to high-level executives, like the CEO and other Chief Officers. If you can peel back the “onion” of pain all the way to the strategic business problem of a senior executive, and then demonstrate a Strategic benefit which will solve that executive’s pain, you have gone all the way to the top of the Food Chain of Value. This leverage not only gives you competitive advantage, but also increases the odds that the deal will be as big as possible.Examples of Strategic pains include: competitive advantage, increased market share, speed to market, survival, global expansion, growth, mergers and acquisitions, government regulation.

Political Pains

Political pains are those that impact an individual in the client organization politically and become critical to that individual’s standing or image. Political pains are of potential interest to anyone, but the more powerful the individual to whom you can demonstrate Political pain, the better. When the issues involve the emotional and political agendas of top executives, cost justifications can often go out the window.

Examples of Political pains include: peer respect, recognition, satisfied boss, promotion, job stability, retirement, unions, alliance relations, influence, reciprocity, personal agendas, power struggles, stock options, bonuses, lower risk.

Financial Pains

Financial pains are impacted by those solutions that will deliver a high return on investment for your client. They are generally of interest to high-level executives. Demonstrating a Financial benefit to a high-level executive in the client organization is certainly valuable as a proof statement, but not necessarily enough in and of itself. Remember, many of your competitors will also be trying to demonstrate how they will be able to help the company’s bottom line. Therefore, it is important that you deliver your message to the most powerful individual you can.

Examples of Financial pains include: return on investment, significant cost reduction, revenue gains, productivity, cash flow, profitability reporting, earnings per share, stock price impact, investor relations.

Cultural Pains

Companies have personalities, and these personalities are defined at the very top. Culture and values are important to executives because they guide employees to do the right things when managers aren’t there. Cultural issues are of extreme importance to chief executives who are trying to change or maintain the value systems of their organizations.

Examples of Cultural pains include: values, empowerment, change management, employee morale, teamwork, flexibility, innovation, global awareness, competitiveness, risk taking, tradition, diversity, accountability, TQM.

Operational Pains

Operational pains impact the day-to-day technical operations of a company. They are important to the people who actually do the work. Solutions that don’t affect multiple departments or strategic issues are often purchased based on operational considerations, although at commodity prices, since linkage has not been made to higher value pains. If the decision-making process to select a vendor and buy now is at the operational level, then Operational pains may be all you need to identify to win an order.

Examples of Operational pains include: process improvement, time savings, increased production, cost savings, faster throughput, shorter learning curves, fewer bottlenecks, customer response, access to information, ease of use, efficiency, technical purity, integration, functionality.

The Food Chain of Value, therefore starts at the operational and grows to the strategic. Once you have taken inventory of the stakeholders and understand the impact your solution will have on them, the next step is to associate a “level of pain” by labeling the pain operational, cultural, financial, political, or strategic.

You will find that once you do this exercise – that you have placed a hierarchy of stakeholders from the ones that care and the ones that matter – i.e. the ones that can say yes and the ones that can only say no. If you find that the ones that you have the relationship with are all operational and the ones you have no relationship with are cultural, financial, political, and strategic – then you have some selling left to do.

For an even deeper dive into this concept – I suggest that you read my friend Marty Mercer’s blog at


2 Responses

  1. Scott, are you trying to say that all pains are not created equal?! You mean some pains have more impact, are more powerful and can lead us to the powerful people who will actually make the buying decision?

    Of course you are! This idea which seems so simple and obvious once you think about it, is ignored by so many salespeople in so many deals. From my experience, the deals where I have been in most control were the deals where I understood and documented this food chain of value. It was the deals where I kept looking and hunting for higher levels of pain, when I found the people with power and the people who could make a decision for my product.

    Great stuff, keep ’em coming!

  2. Scott, thanks for an excellent way of looking at the pressures/pains within complex sales, and the importance of taking a full inventory of them from all the stakeholders.

    In the last year, I saw a sales team cover all the bases on a multi-million dollar sales with some of the more critical decision makers only to lose the sale because of not covering a maintenance concern that was simmering just out of radar.

    I appreciate your thoughts, and kindest regards …
    Lance Cooper, President
    Sales Manage Solutions

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