The best pain funnel questions, asked at the wrong time, will lose you a deal you might have won if you’d asked them in the right order.

Popular sales training company Sandler uses the term ‘pain funnel questions’ to describe the questions a sales person should ask. I’m going to show you today that their questions are good enough. If you master these good-enough questions, you’ll go a long way to succeeding in sales. And if ‘good enough’ is good enough, then have a go at mastering pain funnel questions. But if you want to excel, and to align Sales with Marketing, then you’ll also need to master one more skill. More of that in this week’s show.

Pain funnel questions from Sandler

Here are the questions straight from


Just read through the list of questions. These are not simple, as clearly they’re not yes-no questions. They’re open questions. That’s great, but they’re really quite probing questions. They really are good questions. They’re similar in a lot of ways to challenger selling, and simply mastering these questions will help you succeed. But let me point out a small flaw in these questions. It’s a small flaw, but it’s also critical. Here it is.

Situation, gap or need?

These questions explore the gaps the target business faces, the implications of those gaps, questions about what is needed to fix those gaps, and some hygiene questions. All of these are good, but they’re not all the same thing, and they’re probably not for the same meeting. In gap acknowledged, if we draw a little from the SPIN methodology, you’d know that there’s the problem and the implication. Problem questions like, “Have you given up trying to fix the problem?”, and “How committed are you personally to resolving the problem?” Great questions, and they’re all about the problem.

Then, “What lessons came out of the experience?” and “How much did it cost you and how did that make you feel?” These are really implication questions. Then, we move into, “What have you tried before to fix the problem we’re discussing?” Again, it’s a good question because what you’re trying to flush out is what they think they need, why it didn’t work, so you can reshape the need. Great questions, but they’re all about the need, and there’s also some general hygiene questions. “Is there anything else I should know that would be helpful?” It’s just a good question to ask in almost any meeting.

Work out the progression and stick to it

I have no issue with any of these questions. They’re brilliant, but they’re potentially brilliant for different meetings, not the one meeting, and certainly, not blended in that order. Let’s take a lesson also from the conceptual selling from Miller Heiman, another sales training company. They asked the questions, “What concept do you think the buyer has right now?”, “What concept do you want to get them to at the end of this meeting?”, and “What do you need to ask or show them to get them to that new concept?” I would align to that same idea. Clinically separating questions that get to the heart of the problem and questions that uncover and agree what’s needed to solve that problem, clinically separating that is just critical.


Don’t let the conversation drift into a blend of these issues backwards and forwards. You know, you’re taking me down a path, and then I’m back out again and down a different path. Take them on a continuous journey, and frankly, know what that journey is, know where you’re trying to take them with each question. You’re trying to move them constantly forward, not down holes and back up again. What we really need is a framework for asking the right question in the right order, and I’ll share that with you now.

Own the concept

As you might have gathered, I like these questions, but I am siding with Miller Heiman on this one. Ask yourself before the meeting if you can, what problem does this buyer already believe they have? Do they already agree that they have the right problem, the one that I can solve better than the other guy? If they do, then I can move on to need agreed. If they have a different concept, either of whether there’s a problem at all or what the problem is, I need to go back. Because if the buyer is troubled about the wrong problem, I am going to lose eventually, and I’d rather lose now.

Why it’s important to focus on the right problem

If you want a bit more content on asking the right questions about the right problem and why it’s important to focus on the right problem, we’ve got other blogs that I want to share with you about that topic, but let’s for the moment, say you know what problem you want them to be troubled about, and the question is, are they already? If they are, move on. If they’re not, go back and do it again, so you’re meeting now is to get them to the right problem.

Next, ask whether the other buying influences, the other key buying influences, the high influence, high degree of influence, buying influences are also at that same point. If they’re not, do not progress. Go get them to that same point. You need all the buying influences to believe that they have the right problem. Surface it, make it evident to them…

Then, ask the question, does the buying influence that I’m meeting with now agree that they have the need that I can meet uncommonly well? If they don’t, there’s simply no point in proposing, and so my pain funnel questions, if that’s what you want to call them, need to be around getting them to agree the right need, the need that I can meet and the other guy can’t. If I’ve already got my buying influence to that point, have I got my other buying influences to that same point? If not, get a sponsored meeting from the person who does agree to go meet with others. You need all the buying influences to, firstly, as we’ve already talked about agree to the problem, the right problem, and secondly, agree to the right need.

Final thoughts

If they think they need something other than what you do, don’t propose. Get them to the right understanding of what they need, remember you’re the expert, the right understanding of what they need well before you propose, so the questions need to move the buyer from where they are now to the right point, and the right point might be a progression of the journey or it might be a revisit of the same stage because they’ve reached the wrong conclusions. Long story short, you need to ask the right pain funnel questions to get the buyer to the next stage in a buyer’s journey. And the journey doesn’t end after that first killer meeting.

  • In your Funnel Plan, map out the buyer’s journey
  • Choose tactics for every stage from finding names to closing deals
  • Design both the strategy and the tactics together – Sales, Marketing, Finance and Ops
  • Don’t have a Funnel Plan? Get a free one at, or click on the little I on your screen


Lots more lined up for next week. Until then, may your funnel be full, and always flowing.

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