Why understanding customer pain points is key to selling

Since I started in business, my approach has changed a lot. One principle remains unchanged, though: that understanding the customer’s problems, their ‘pain points’ is the key to any successful sales and marketing strategy. 

Why do pain points matter for marketing?

Pain points encapsulate the problems that prospective customers are trying to solve. They include frustrations, inefficiencies and obstacles that stand in their way of growth, delivery and success. Their bugbears. 

Good marketing comes at these pain points from the customer’s point of view, helping them to explore solutions and, through education and information, work out when and if a particular product or service is a good fit. Often, unless a product or service has been set up in an agile way with the starting point – “As a user I want to do X in able to achieve Y ” – businesses may have lost sight of the customer’s perspective and may have got caught up in sales targets. 

This is particularly true where a sales team and management have:

  • Been grafted onto an existing product
  • Developed a blinkered focus on the features of their product
  • A preoccupation with the ‘big idea’ behind a product. 

I’m not saying that sales, features and ideas don’t matter, just that they can cloud a business’ ability to look at what they’re offering like a customer would. 

Pain points matter even more in B2B marketing than B2C, because the B2B buyer is, often by definition, looking to buy a solution to a problem. This is a problem they know, on some level, that they have (unlike the B2C consumer who just needs to be convinced they need the latest piece of tech, or pair of trainers). It’s essential B2B businesses understand their customers’ frustrations and aspirations in order to empathise.


The best way to identify and understand customers’ needs

At ESM Inbound, we do a lot of initial work on creating buyer personas. These are fictional characters that sum up a ‘typical’ customer profile for a business. Often, businesses have a range of personas that represent (broadly speaking) their customer base. 

We’ve stubbornly hung on to this strategy (although some marketers have moved away from it) because we know it works. Not only do buyer personas help our content team understand who the target reader or viewer is, but the process of creating them is a great way in to understanding the target market. We believe they are the key to marketing effectively. 

By doing a deep dive on who the target customer is and what their problems and priorities are, a business (and any agency working with it) is forced to come at a product or solution from an outside-in perspective. This puts customer pain points front of mind. We kick off our process with a pain-point survey. The types of questions we ask include:

  • What is the number one problem your customers are looking to solve?
  • What other solutions are your customers likely to consider?
  • When might a solution other than yours be a better choice for your customer?
  • What is the biggest thing holding back your business growth?

We ask a range of stakeholders in the business these questions – and sometimes even their customers. The results are always revealing.

New customer pain points we’ve noticed

The recent shift to mass homeworking, and the international take up of tech solutions to support this, has created a whole new set of pain points which are becoming apparent. Some of the frustrations, concerns and problems we are hearing about now from customers relate to changing aspects of company culture as a result of lost physical space and team proximity. 

There are also pain points related to emergent security issues with new platforms (thanks to speedy roll-out of Microsoft Teams, Slack, Zoom and other tech to support remote working). As a business, pre-pandemic, we had already been operating on a remote-team basis for a number of years. Using HubSpot and Slack, we had refined our way of working, and (painfully at times) learnt the hard way about the challenges of recruiting and managing a geographically disparate team. This puts us in a great position to empathise with the challenge facing so many of our customers right now. 

Having said that, the unpredictability of the current situation demonstrates the often-cited rule of business: that it’s one thing to account for the known knowns, but the known unknowns and unknown knowns are always there, too – and may throw a spanner in the works at any time. Pain points are constantly shifting, which is why they need to be thought about regularly, and why buyer personas need to be frequently reviewed.

The key to marketing in a way that suits the customer

Any interaction a customer has with your business should be as frictionless as possible, so content must be easy to access and most of all, useful. We’ve learnt through experience how to avoid the inadvertent pain points marketing can itself create:

  • Unclear CTAs
  • Gated content
  • Fiddly forms
  • Lack of clarity about what comes next in the sales and onboarding process
  • Lack of detail around pricing. 

In response to customer feedback, and by drilling into insights from the data we’ve gathered about the way customers interact with our messaging and content, we have worked hard to make things easier for customers. We’ve started using video to demonstrate what happens when they fill in a particular form, as we recently did for a client who had a website that wasn’t generating any leads. We noticed that:

  • The CTA button just said “Get in touch” 
  • It asked the customer to share an email address
  • So we added a message box and the phone number to the contact form
  • We added some text too, explaining: when you fill in this form, one of our people will email you to find a good time to talk.

Once we’d added the new elements, leads shot up. In a similar vein, we recently added Drift to increase the sophistication and functionality of our own site’s bots, making meetings easier to book. As a result, all our qualified leads can access our team’s Google Calendars straight from the bot, booking an appointment to talk to a member of our team at a time that suits them. Bookings have increased as a result.

How customer pain points shape content

By keeping a close eye on the content we’ve created that gets the most engagement, we’ve learnt to focus more at the bottom of the funnel which means talking in an upfront way about alternative solutions and pricing, rather than about ourselves. We also refocused our content to be more ‘behind the scenes’ and ‘what comes next’ focused. 

It turns out, customers want to be educated buyers. They want a good idea of what a salesperson is likely to say in an initial call before it happens. This is an approach we took recently with one of our cyber-security clients. As a result, we were able to produce a lot of content around demystifying their process, explaining to their customers exactly what working with them ‘looked like’. We explained the initial planning and information gathering process, the creation of a security and installation plan, the agreement and the installation process itself.  

In a nutshell, we’ve noticed that where we’ve shifted our approach to make it more customer-focused and intuitive, engagement goes up. Lead generation significantly increases for resources we’ve tailored to make it ultra easy to book a meeting or buy from us. We’re also committed to road testing all the marketing strategies we recommend to our customers, so that we have on-the-ground experience of the features, products and solutions that we recommend.  

Our content includes affiliate links. This means that we may receive a commission if you make a purchase through one of the links on our website. This will be at no cost to you and helps to fund the content creation work on our website.