What do sports coaches and business executives have in common? Both groups of people would, generally speaking, avoid the pain of making a mistake than enjoy the spoils of a major victory. I have seen too many basketball coaches tell their teams to slow the game down with a lead late in the game, only to see the other team comeback to win. I have also seen many business leaders choose the safe route as they watch more adventurous competitors turn their seemingly insurmountable advantages obsolete.
Despite our best intentions, we are hard-wired to value avoiding pain more than enjoying an accomplishment. I was listening to a recent episode of Social Triggers Insider podcast with best-selling author Jonah Halpern. Halpern described research about how most people will avoid betting on a coin flip where they could win $1.25 but lose $1. This is completely irrational, but our emotion is to avoid pain first. It’s the classic “fight or flight” response. Most of the time, we will choose “flight”.
Seth Godin calls this emotional reaction “the lizard brain”, and we are mostly powerless to avoid this. However, we can recognize this phenomenon as we plan to build our small business. When we set our vision, objectives, and strategies, we are often taught to identify the benefits and the positive impact of what we offer our customers. However, should we really be seeking to take pain away from our target market? Here are three reasons why focusing on your customers’ pain is a great way to build a business.
1. People are wired to avoid a negative result – Many years ago, a common business cliche described how “no one was ever fired for choosing IBM.” Information technology buyers knew they would not receive unfavorable responses if they purchased from IBM. If your benefits will help avoid a negative reaction in their own business, that will be a greater motivator than bringing something new and innovative to your customer (you can always work on these benefits after you develop a know, like, and trust factor).
2. People remember their pain more than their great times – I know I am like this. To this day, my most vivid high school athletics memory was when I made a critical error to lose a game. I don’t remember the times we won an exciting game or I played well. Business leaders almost always remember “the one that got away”, and they value anything which will help avoid or reduce a pain point.
3. Pain removed can be a powerful motivating factor – If you can remove a major roadblock or productivity problem with your customers, you will be rewarded. I worked with a client who was on QuickBooks and hated the system. I worked with them to implement Xero, a web-based and easy-to-use QuickBooks competitor. The client loved Xero not because of its great benefits, but because it removed the difficulty of using QuickBooks.
I realize focusing on pain instead of positive benefits can be a somewhat negative way to look at business. However, people want to see their pain go away. They will see a benefit of doing business more productively because a pain factor no longer exists. You may get the opportunity to implement your ideas to really benefit your customers, but you often must start by making the pain go away.
How are you removing pain from your customers’ lives? Share your thoughts below!