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Customer Pain Points: How to Identify and Address Them

Customer with a pain point sitting in front of a laptop looking sad
A customer pain point is an unmet need or frustration that's waiting to be solved. [Adobe/Studio Science]

When you get to the heart of customer pain points, you can tailor the right solution and close the deal.

If my years in sales have taught me one thing, it’s to never assume I know what’s really keeping a customer up at night. Customers are diverse, and their pain points are more varied than you’d think.

If sales were like video games, customer pain points are all the obstacles that stand between a player and the next level. To overcome these obstacles, customers come to sales professionals for solutions. Getting to their heart of their challenges allows you to recommend the right products or services to help. But getting it wrong can lead to missed opportunities.

Learn to understand the unique challenges and aspirations of your customers by asking the right questions, listening carefully, and drawing from your knowledge and experience.

What you’ll learn:

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What is a customer pain point?

A customer pain point is an unmet need or frustration surfaced during the sales process that’s waiting to be solved. Pain points can be anything from operational hurdles, like approval red tape, to financial constraints and technological limitations.

It’s important to think about customer pain points broadly. They may include emotional, logistical, or even physical hurdles and often shine a light on deeper and more complex issues within a business like trust, transparency, or ethics.

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4 types of customer pain points

Understanding the different types of customer pain points is a crucial part of personalizing your solutions. In my experience, pain points usually fall into these four categories.

1. Financial pain points

These are often the most immediate and pressing for customers because they can impact their bottom line. Financial pain points include the costs associated with a product or service and the expected ROI.

  • Example: A client, exploring new software to manage their operations, is having trouble accepting what it will cost to implement. They see the high-cost software solution as a financial burden unless its value can be clearly demonstrated.

2. Productivity pain points

These are any issues that stall efficiency or generally make the customer’s life harder instead of easier. Productivity pain points, also called friction, make tasks more challenging or hard to complete.

  • Example: I once worked with a trucking company struggling with lost loads due to theft. This delayed delivery of goods and kept internal workers from completing their tasks.

3. Process pain points

These are issues related to the customer’s internal procedures and workflows. Sometimes, customers’ outdated or inefficient processes make it difficult for them to operate smoothly.

  • Example: An equipment rental company recently implemented a paperless reservation and payment system, but it doesn’t support e-signatures. Their customers can fill out forms and make payments online, but they must come into the office to hand-sign rental agreements before picking up their equipment at a separate warehouse.

4. Support pain points

These pain points refer to a lack of support or guidance on how to use a product or service and can negatively impact customer experience. This can result in a hit to company reputation and, perhaps, lost business.

  • Example: A financial firm bought new software to support their accounting department, but the company that sold it to them doesn’t have a robust customer support team and isn’t easily reachable for troubleshooting. Recently, they stumbled on a major training issue and they don’t know how to move forward. Until the financial firm gets the support it needs, it can’t use the software and business processes are held up.

So how do you figure out which pain point you need to address? By using the Four Fs Framework.

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How to identify customer pain points: The Four Fs framework

To better identify and understand customer pain points — and align to the types noted above — I use a strategy I call the Four Fs: First, Finest, Failure, and Future. You can use this strategy to understand a customer’s current business challenges or to gain insight into the shortcomings of the product or service a prospect is currently using.

First: Talk with your customer to understand what’s bothering them.

You’re trying to pinpoint the challenges they’re having in achieving goals. To do this, you first need to know what they want to do. For example, do they want to improve efficiencies or boost sales for a certain product? Once you know what their goals are, you can start digging into what’s preventing them from getting there.

Finest: Ask them about the best experiences they’ve had with a product or service they’re currently using.

You could also ask about an internal process that works really well for them — discovery interviews or launching new initiatives, for example. Understanding what they value most can highlight what’s working well and reveal even more about their business goals.

Failure: Discuss moments where they felt let down or faced challenges with a product or service they were using.

Ask about what’s currently failing them or standing in the way of business goals. Apart from learning what’s going wrong, you want to understand how this impacts business more broadly. This information helps you pinpoint specific areas where a service or product is falling short so you can tailor your pitch and recommend a better solution.

Future: Finally, ask about their long-term goals and how adopting a new product or service would help them get there.

Looking ahead lets them know that you’re invested in their future growth and that your solutions can help them adapt and keep up with change.

Using the Four Fs in customer interactions provides a helpful framework for discussing and identifying pain points. This approach has given me a deeper understanding of the customer’s journey, allowing me to tailor solutions that are effective and empathetic.

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Use empathy to support the Four Fs Framework

Creating a list of customer pain points is one thing, but if you want to get to the heart of these issues, you need to understand your customer’s world. What’s their industry like? What are their day-to-day experiences like? Are their pain points symptoms of deeper issues? As you dig into the Four Fs framework, dive deeper into the cause of their issues using these steps.

1: Ask questions to uncover root issues

Ask customers what’s going on with their business on a broader scale. Discuss what’s going well, what’s not, what goals they’re trying to reach, and what’s standing in the way. Find out specifics, like what’s hurting sales, slowing processes down, or otherwise keeping them up at night. Beyond issues with their product or service, understanding their business or industry landscape can open your eyes to bigger problems you may not have known about, for which you may have a good solution.

2: Actively listen to what they say and build rapport

Really listen to their answers. Rather than float possible solutions or offer your own perspective, just listen to their frustrations. This is a chance for you to gain valuable insight and build rapport with your customers. Only interject to ask for clarity or more details when needed. Repeat key points back to the customer once they’ve finished to confirm you’re both on the same page. For example, you might say, “If I’m understanding correctly, X, Y, and Z are your biggest concerns right now. Is that right?” This gives your customer a chance to validate your assumptions and shows them you’re engaged.

3: Do your own research to help illuminate a solution

When a customer expresses a pain point, it’s important to know if it’s an industry-wide issue or something specific to their company. Is it a new, one-off problem, or something more endemic to the company’s history? Your customer won’t always have all the answers. Doing additional research can shed more light on the situation, including asking your sales support and IT teams — teams that nurture and support customers daily — for their perspective. You can also poke around on social media or use social listening tools to see what customers are posting about online.

4: Don’t make assumptions about pain points

Experience and intuition are great tools for a salesperson to have, but be careful not to let them spill over into assumption territory. It’s easy to assume you know what’s causing your prospect pain, only to then lose their business because you got it wrong. Let the prospect tell you what’s really going on and ask questions to get clarity so you don’t make the same mistake I did.

I once worked with a brand manager for a pharmaceutical company, helping to drive physicians to their products. From my perspective, it was a great success. But the brand manager was unhappy. This was puzzling until I realized his frustration was not with our performance but came from deeper issues within his own company’s processes and market positioning.

Long story short, I was working hard to give him the best value for his marketing spend that I could. But it turned out that his yearly bonus depended on spending every last cent of his marketing budget! I thought I was saving him money, but I unintentionally created a pain point for him. Had I asked more questions initially, instead of assuming that saving money was his priority, we could have avoided this pain altogether.

Customer pain points aren’t always obvious. Sometimes, they’re deeply embedded in a business’s operations or industry’s environment. The key is not to assume anything. You won’t know unless you ask, and you won’t know what to ask if you don’t understand the landscape. Listen to your customers and do your own research to gain a true understanding of their challenges.

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How to address customer pain points

To successfully address your prospect’s pain points, you need to understand and act strategically. It’s about getting to the core of what’s standing in their way and offering solutions that resolve their immediate issues and align with broader goals.

Try these tactics to get right to the core of the pain and help resolve it:

  • Look beyond the obvious. Have meaningful conversations that go beyond the surface and identify the root causes of problems. This way, you can offer more tailored solutions.
  • Think toward the future. Have discussions that pave the way for a future partnership. A great way to do this is by acting as a trusted advisor. If you build trust with a prospect by offering relevant solutions and valuable, helpful resources, you are more likely not only to make the sale but to build a long-term relationship they can keep relying upon as time goes on.
  • Spot trends. If your prospect mentions multiple pain points centered around the same team or process, this could point to something deeper than a surface-level problem. Look for ways to go beyond product offerings to help solve their issues with training, consulting, or even strategic advice on issues like resource allocation.
  • Look for opportunities to solve multiple problems. Sometimes, solving one problem eliminates another at the same time. Look for opportunities where your product or service can offer more than just one benefit to a prospect. This ups the value and your chances of closing the deal.

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3 examples of solutions to customer pain points

To get a better idea of how the above solutioning can work, take a look at these three examples:

1: No budget (Financial pain point)

Your prospect says: “I’m intrigued, but I just don’t have the budget right now.”

The solution: Offer flexible, cost-effective options. Tailored pricing models, scalable solutions that grow with customer needs, or bundled services that offer more value for their money are all options. Empathizing with your customers’ financial constraints by creating flexible solutions can help them maintain operations now and plan for future growth.

2: Slow workflow due to low headcount (Productivity pain point)

Your prospect says: “With last year’s layoffs, our sales team lost a ton of manpower and our workflow is suffering.”

The solution: Help optimize the remaining workforce. Consider offering automation tools that handle routine tasks, AI-powered coaching tools that support selling motions, or project management software that enhances team coordination and efficiency. The goal is to streamline processes, maximize the productivity of team members, and maintain (if not improve) operational efficiency.

3: No-patience customers (Support pain point)

Your prospect says: “Younger customers have no patience! If it takes them more than a few seconds to find what they’re looking for, they give up and go to a competitor’s site instead.”

The solution: A revised customer support approach. This can include implementing AI chatbots for immediate responses, updating your FAQ page and site navigation so customers can get the info they need quickly, sharing informational content on social media, and other proactive customer service strategies. The goal is better, more efficient customer support, which can boost satisfaction and loyalty.

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Take the time to understand the real issues

Every customer is unique, and so are their pain points. Digging beneath the surface to identify the root causes of customer challenges can lead to truly effective solutions. Don’t assume to know what’s bothering your customers — ask them!

Follow the four Fs, take the time to listen and empathize, and you can solve immediate problems while laying the groundwork for long-term relationships built on success and trust.

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Cherilynn Castleman, Managing Partner/Executive Coach, CGI Sales Coaching & Training, LLC
Cherilynn Castleman Managing Partner/Executive Coach, CGI Sales Coaching & Training, LLC

Cherilynn Castleman has helped Fortune 500 clients as a global sales executive for more than 20 years. Currently, she serves as managing partner/executive coach for CGI, a sales training and coaching firm; and chief learning officer of the National Association of Women Sales Professionals. She empowers women across the sales sector and prides herself on changing mindsets as well as instructing and inspiring others to action.

More by Cherilynn

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