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Why Doesn't My Software Sell?
Why Buyers Buy and Why They Lie

An associate, Steve Kraner, was asked on another Web site "why doesn't my software sell?" I thought his answer was so great that I have quoted it several times, and finally I asked him if he would write a version that I could use here. Here is what Steve wrote.

I have often been asked, “Why doesn’t my product or service sell?”

Actually, it’s more often, “Why don’t these people buy? Are they dumb?”

Simplify your business to a chain with two links. One is your product/service and the other is selling skill. One is the weak link that fails.


The problem could be WHAT YOU SELL. Solutions in search of problems will fail. People need to have a personal and compelling reason to change. I get a lot of FREE SOFTWARE in the mail. Do I rush to put the disk in the computer and load it? NO. I have better things to do than crash my computer. Even if it's free and in my mailbox - I have to have a REASON before I will try it. I use those CD's as coasters in my office, and used a couple to scrap ice off my car.

The most powerful REASONS are:

A. Pain - Something I currently experience and want to get away from.

B. Fear - A future pain I want to avoid.

C. Gain - A future state that I see as better and that I personally want to attain. For example, I want washboard abdominal muscles, like those guys in the magazines. I do crunches and sit ups like mad. I finally got frustrated and sought advice from guy who owns my gym. He said, “Steve, I’ve seen you work out. You work hard and I’ll bet you have washboard abs. You just have a little laundry on the washboard!” (Like most consultants - he was not very helpful – was he?)

Of the three, pain is by far the most compelling. However, entire industries are based on the idea that people will make changes and investments to avoid fear (insurance, Y2K, disaster recovery and off-site backup). People will also make personal sacrifices and spend money to attain a gain. Look at all the money spent on memberships at gyms, abdominal machines, liposuction, miracle bras - etc.

To succeed, figure out what pain you can fix with your solution. Then figure out who might have that pain. If you cannot clearly state the pain, fear or gain that your product/service addresses, and who might have it, then the product is the problem. You are a solution in search of a problem and that's not viable.

Steve’s Rule of Market Viability

The size of markets depends, not on the elegance of the solutions that are available, but on the pain, fear or gain that is their basis.

Abdominizers don't really work - but people do really want washboard abs – therefore it’s a billion dollar industry. Become a PAIN SEEKING MISSILE.


If you know who might have the pain, fear or gain, then HOW YOU SELL might be the problem. To sell it, you have to:

#1) GET TO the people who have the pain, fear or gain.

#2) GET THEM THINKING ABOUT about the PAIN - NOT your solution.

#3) Then get them to OPEN UP AND TALK TO YOU about the pain. Like a Doctor, seek first to understand and diagnose - then to properly prescribe a solution where it's clearly needed.


If you can do all that, you'd clearly be selling the product.

Easy to say. Hard to do. The reason good sales people make a TON of money is that a free market rewards contribution. It's a hard job and most people can't do it.

As you approach people, style is important. For example, what’s the difference between ‘unsolicited advice’ and ‘help?’

Don’t just keep reading. Stop, think, and answer that question before you read on.

If you have trouble understanding the difference, think of your mother-in-law. If that doesn’t work, you can borrow mine for a week.

You can be correct and, at the same time, not be helpful.

One specific technique I suggest, if you haven't already tried it, is to start the conversation with a third party story. Gently suggest that, "Sometimes your colleagues tell me that they have a problem with XYZ - do you ever see that?"

There are three rules of pain (fear or gain).

Rule #1 Everyone has pain.

Rule #2 Everyone wants to get rid of pain.

Rule #3 No-one wants to admit to their pain.

We can and often do lie to ourselves.

It’s not just buyers – it’s basic human nature to hide pain. First we hide it from ourselves. Then we, by default, hide it from other people. All living creatures seek pleasure and avoid pain. Humans have at their disposal tactics that other creatures don’t. We can avoid pain through exercise of our intellect and imagination. Denial, avoidance and suppression keep pain from entering our consciousness, so we can avoid feeling it.

White lies and other things buyers do.

Prospects don’t walk around broadcasting their problems and fears. On the contrary, they do everything they can to hide them from view. They wrap their pain in protective layers of denial and rationalization. If you’ve been in sales long, you’ve heard these tactics in action.

Generalizing – “I might be interested.”

White lies – “I’m just looking.”

Questions about your product or service – “How does your product scale?”

Minimization – “We’ve done it this way for years, I’m sure we can live without it.”

Intellectual smoke screen – “We’re conducting a thorough review of our options before we decide if we will move forward.”

The end result is that buyers aren’t open and honest about their pains, fears and gains with the very people who are most able to help them. In disguising their pain from sales people, they hurt themselves.

How sales professionals can help (and get to the bank along the way).

As a salesperson you must be a master of carefully penetrating the buyer’s defenses, so you can help them discover their hidden pain and take action to fix it. The challenge for the salesperson is to keep the buyer feeling O.K. throughout the process.

A surgeon uses a scalpel to get to the problem. A psychiatrist uses carefully selected questions to do the same for patients. The salesperson’s tools are the same. Ask the right questions in the right way and you’ll help your prospect reveal the problems you can fix.

Rules for finding pain:

1) Ask questions, with sincere interest and caring curiosity.

2) Keep them focused on the problem. They may try to divert the conversation by bringing up unrelated topics, changing the focus to price, skirting the issue, etc.

3) Don’t stop until they have convinced you (not the other way around) that the pain, fear or gain is important to them – protecting their self-esteem along the way.

If you like what you have read, you might want to check out Steve's company's Web site.

Sandler Sales Training

Copyright © 2002 Charles Mills