How to uncover true pain points with the Sandler Pain Funnel questions

The Pain Funnel was invented as an element of the Sandler Selling System. This popular sales methodology rests on the premise that sales reps act more like consultants than traditional, pushy salespeople when engaging with prospects.

Sandler Selling is customer-centric, and the pain funnel reflects that. It's not a pitch. It's not abrasive or in-your-face. And its endgame isn't always to make a sale. In most cases, the pain funnel is used to identify whether a solution suits a customer's needs and if a sale is viable.

If a seller determines a customer is a good fit, they use the information they gathered through the pain funnel process to conduct a well-informed, more concentrated, effective sales effort with their prospect. 

The funnel's primary purpose is to reveal the pain a prospect is dealing with by way of an increasingly specific line of open-ended questioning. Questions start broadly and whittle down to more personalized and immediate — hence the funnel imagery.

Start with “warm-up” questions 

Do you mind if I confirm a few items about your organization before we get started? 

1. How big is your team? How many employees are you looking to provision with [Product/Service]? 

2. Does your team currently use [Complimentary product]? What is your existing process for [Operational area]? 

3. What prompted you to evaluate a solution like [Product/Service]? When are you looking to bring on a partner for [Product/Service]?

 Opening the pain conversation Current situation: 

4. What is your goal for [Operational area] this [Year/Quarter/Month]? 

5. How are you currently tracking against [Business goal]? 

6. Do you mind if I spend a few minutes understanding your business better? 

Open-ended questions: 

7. What are you focused on as a business right now? 

8. What were you hoping to accomplish during today’s call? Probing questions: 

9. Typically, when I speak with executives like you, I sometimes hear that they are frustrated with… 

10. Most of our customers are currently using [Product/Service] to solve these main challenges… 

11. I’ve been speaking to companies in [Industry], and the problem areas where most seem to be struggling are…

Pain Funnel Sales Technique

The entire premise of the Sandler System's Pain Funnel rests on digging deep, teasing out real answers from prospects, and letting them come to conclusions that they might not have even considered.

You can't get there by dominating the conversation, drawing quick conclusions, and tying up a conversation when you get any semblance of resistance. Successfully leveraging the pain funnel takes patience and thoughtfulness.

All the pain funnel questions are open-ended, and getting the most out of them often means embracing silence and giving your prospect some space to put some of their thoughts into words.

The pain funnel is also strategically organized. The order of those questions isn't arbitrary. That doesn't mean you have to rigidly adhere to the order or only ask the questions listed above — as with any sales strategy, you have to have some wiggle room to improvise, read the room, and adapt accordingly.


Level 1: Surface Problems

12. Can you tell me more about [Operational Area]?

13. Can you walk me through [Operational area] process from[first step] to [business outcome]?

14. Can you be more specific? Maybe give me an example.

15. Why do you suppose this is happening?

16. How long has that been a problem?

Level 2: Business Reasons

17. How is [Challenge] presenting itself as a problem to the business?

18. What have you already tried to solve for this? How has that worked?

19. How effective is your current solution, on a scale of 1-5?

20. How does solving [Problem] bring you closer to[Strategic objective]?

21. How much do you think this has cost you?

Level 3: Emotional Impact

1. Does your current solution produce any bottlenecks?Who is impacted?

2. Who else in your organization is aware of and affected by this issue?

3. Is the organization committed to fixing it now?

4. What happens if we don’t address this [Pain/challenge] now?

5. Have you given up trying to deal with this problem?


1. Is there anything else I should know that would be helpful?

2. Am I missing anything before we move forward?

Any purchase is pointless if there's no pain behind it. There has to be some kind of need or interest motivating a prospect, and as a salesperson, it's up to you to bring it to light and offer a solution to put it to rest. To get there, you often need to get your potential customer talking, applying the Sandler Selling System's Pain Funnel is one way to get there.

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