Guiding Prospects Successfully Through the Pain Funnel

We’ve been talking about pain a lot in our recent blogs, which leads us naturally to, talking about Sandler’s Pain Funnel. But, I’d like to tell you a quick story first:

It’s 5:30 in the afternoon on a beautiful summer day. Mom hears little five-year-old Jimmy charging up the back porch. He tears open the screen door and roars into the house. He jumps into the kitchen where Mom is busily cooking dinner. Before she can even ask Jimmy if he had fun playing outside, he says, “Hey Mommy, can I have an ice cream cone?”

His mom replies, “You may have ice cream after dinner.” The next afternoon, Mom hears Jimmy running up the steps. He bursts into the kitchen again and asks the same question: “Can I have an ice cream cone?” His mom says, “Jimmy, after dinner, you can have one.”

On the third day, Jimmy comes running in just the same. He looks at his mom and says, “Mommy, can I… ” As soon as these words get out of his mouth, he sees that look on her face. He already knows what her answer will be. So he says, “What time’s dinner?” “In about 25 minutes,” she says. Jimmy says, “OK,” and heads back outside.

So you ask, “what’s the point of the story?” People are taught at a very young age not to lay down all their cards, or not spill the beans. Why? Because you typically don’t win if you reveal your hand too early in the game. In our story, Jimmy was driving his mom nuts with the same question every day at dinner time, until he realized she was at the boiling point and was going to get angry. Jimmy didn’t want to face the pain of making his mom angry, so he changed his question to one that made mom happy. He avoided pain, much like most prospects want to do when you visit.

Most people are raised to avoid revealing their true agenda in potentially difficult situations. Knowing this, we address this issue in the Sandler Sales process, using the patented, Sandler Pain Funnel, a powerful tool used to uncover a prospects true agenda, or “pain”.


The Pain Funnel is a strategically organized set of questions designed to uncover a prospect’s pain. On the other hand, it might also help you discover the prospect doesn’t have any pain. Either way, this is good for you. Why? It allows you to qualify or disqualify the prospect as a true prospect. If they have pain, then you can lead them to resolving or eliminating their pain. If not, you can shake hands and part as friends.

Before we go further in to using the Pain Funnel, keep in mind, the funnel works great by itself, but it works best when you combined with other techniques we use in the Sandler Sales Process, especially with the Sandler Pain-O-Meter and reversing tools. So stay tuned for future blogs on these topics.

Again, the Pain Funnel is a series of questions an expert salesperson utilizes during the Pain Step, either in a face-to-face sales call or on the phone. It includes eight pain questions designed to sequentially bring the prospect closer to sharing their true agenda or pain.

Here’s the 8 questions in order:

1. “Tell me more about that… “

2. “Can you be more specific? Give me an example.”

3. “How long has that been a problem?”

4. “What have you tried to do about that?”

5. “And did that work?”

6. “How much do you think that has cost you?”

7. “How do you feel about that?”

8. “Have you given up trying to deal with the problem?”

You saw earlier in the story about Jimmy, how people prefer not to reveal their hand up front. Many people fear the consequences of unbridled honesty and showing their true colors. So, the Pain Funnel assumes the prospect’s agenda will remain hidden, and helps you bring the truth to the surface. But, you need to be subtle and methodical in your approach when using the Pain Funnel. If you try too hard too quickly, you will most likely hit some resistance. The prospect may feel threatened or vulnerable, and quickly shy away from telling you the truth. So stick to the tried and true questions in the funnel along with the other techniques you learn in the Sandler System and you will surely put your prospect at ease and lead them through the discussion of their true issues and pain.