“Problems cannot be solved at the same level of awareness that created them.”
– Albert Einstein
In 1900, journalist L. Frank Baum published the book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. It was a literary masterpiece that has captivated and entertained millions of people for generations. But few people realize that The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, perceived now as only a children’s story, was not just a fictional work of genius, it was a critique of the American economic system. Taking great literary license, Baum satirized the monetary debate over the use and manipulation of gold and silver by large banks, politicians, and financiers.
In his expose, every character in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is allegorical. Dorothy represents the average American citizen (the name Dorothy is a verbal anagram of the most notable American citizen in 1900, “Theodore” – as in Theodore Roosevelt). The tornado represents the economic storm about to hit America. The Munchkins represent small-minded Americans easily manipulated by religious superstition and simplistic political platitudes. The Lollipop Guild represents unions. The scarecrow, the American farmer. The tin man, the American factory worker (frozen without the use of John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil). The cowardly lion represents politicians. The wicked witch of the west; “big business” that hounds American citizens. The monkeys represent child labor (legal in 1900). The march on Oz was a recreation of the 1894 march of Coxey’s Army that demanded the government print more greenbacks. Emerald City represents Washington D.C. where people are ruled by the Wizard of Oz and required to wear green colored glasses attached by a gold buckle. The Emerald Palace represents the United States Congress. The yellow brick road; the gold standard. Dorothy’s magical silver slippers represent silver dollars (in the movie Dorothy wore ruby red slippers as the first film created in Technicolor). Oz is the abbreviation of “ounce,” the gold ounce, of course. And the Wizard himself? He represents the president of the United States of America, a fraud who is secretly controlled by the bankers of Wall Street; “the man behind the curtain.”
Baum’s allegorical tale was a clandestine effort to help expose corrupt politicians in bed with the financial wizards of Wall Street and Washington as frauds and crooks. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is a literary masterpiece and, read correctly, is one of the most insightful social, political, and economic satires ever written.
“If I Only Had a Brain” – Ascertain-Pain Questions
Similar to an economist reading The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, cerebral sellers search for the deeper meanings and issues involved in sales. They don’t just accept things at face value. Instead, they attempt to ascertain the veiled and sometimes camouflaged consequences of the problems their clients face. Like Baum’s financial and political expose, in sales there is always more than meets the eye. This is why cerebral sellers don’t stop their investigating efforts at the surface. Once they recognize a buyer’s needs or problems, they go to the next level by helping buyers see the negative consequences of doing nothing to fill the needs or solve the problems.
Successful sellers analyze and develop problems into pains that warrant actions. Pain justifies purchasing decisions. The more pain a seller identifies, the more pain a seller can resolve. And, the more pain a seller resolves, the more power they have to win a sale.
Training participants frequently ask what the difference is between problems and pains. There is a critical yet fundamental difference. Problems are described in logical, cognitive terms such as, “My computer is broken.” Pains, on the other hand, are described in fervent, emotional terms such as, “It is extremely frustrating working late because of computer failures.” When buyers use emotional words such as “frustrated,” “upset,” “disappointed,” “irritated,” “concerned,” “worried,” etc. you know you have hit the “pain vein.”
Pain is the consequence of an unfulfilled need or unresolved problem.
“If I Only Had a Heart” – Building the Negative Impact of Unresolved Problems
Ascertain-pain questions serve a dual purpose. First, they help buyers see the negative impact of identified problems. For example, if a company is using an archaic computer system that is slow and cumbersome, a salesperson would use ascertain-pain questions to identify the impact that might have on productivity, i.e., the pain. Using ascertain-pain questions, the salesperson would inquire about reliability, lost data, software incompatibilities, upgrade limitations, backup issues, high maintenance costs, profitability, lost business, downtime, inconvenience, etc. In other words, questions that emphasize the negative impact of problems.
The second purpose for asking ascertain-pain questions is to define the cost of the problem. When sellers put a price tag on the pain or problem, that price tag enables buyers to prioritize the problem then make a rational, informed choice between continuing to incur its cost and investing in the solution. Putting a price tag on the problem is the best way to emphasize the value of the solution. It also speeds up the sales process. The higher the cost of the problem, the faster a buyer will act to eliminate it.
“If I Only Had Courage” – The Consequences of Doing Nothing
Sometimes the cost of doing nothing can be more than the price of the proposed good or service. When buyers make a purchase, they must balance two opposing factors – the seriousness of their needs or problems versus the cost of the solution.
In sales, needs, problems, and dissatisfactions drive buyers to act. The cost of an existing need or problem is the catalyst that accelerates the sales cycle. The more pain a prospect feels, the greater the need for the purchase. This is why ascertain-pain questions are so effective. They help buyers see the consequences of doing nothing to fill needs or solve problems.
Used appropriately, ascertain-pain questions also have fear appeal. The fear appeal represents the negative effects of not fulfilling the need or solving the problem. For example, if you don’t change your oil every five thousand miles, your car engine will wear out more quickly. If you were selling oil change services, you would emphasize the costs associated with failing to change the oil in a car engine – the costs of repair, a new engine, being stuck on the side of the road on a family vacation, etc. You get the point. By asking ascertain-pain questions, sellers build an awareness of the consequences of not adequately addressing needs or solving pending problems.
Pain is “The man behind the curtain”
As in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, in sales, needs and problems represent the surface elements of a sale. But, beyond the obvious, there are deeper issues motivating people, i.e., the pain. Pain is the “man behind the curtain.” This is why high-income sales people consistently follow up need-problem questions with ascertain-pain questions that identify the negative consequences of the problem(s), the impact of the problem(s). They ascertain the pain. Cerebral sellers know that the more pain prospects experience, the more money they are willing to pay for products and services to solve and eliminate those pains.