Insights and Resources

Pain points – how to target what they don’t know

By Conal McClure

Marketing B2B professional services, relies on pain to motivate and push people to buy whatever it is you are selling. The more you can draw it to the surface of your target audience and decrease their tolerance to put up with it, the more successful you’ll be at triggering and moving them along the buyer’s journey.

If you’ve got your positioning right, all those people should come running in your direction, and hopefully turn into paying customers. A strong position pitches your expertise directly around solving those problems. The better you do this, the stronger your appeal and attraction to your ideal client.

Treat your buyer’s pain points as the raw material feeding your marketing strategy. It should underpin its strategic rationale, define the messaging you lead with, dictate the content you write etc.

Having said that, identifying a strategically significant set of pain points is a non-trivial exercise and few do it well. Before going any further, let me explain what I mean by strategically significant.

First, marketing is far more nuanced than just directly selling your services. One of the biggest obstacles is an overall tendency for buyers to accept their status quo. Even in the face of negative consequences, clearly linked to solvable problems, buyers are often reluctant to commit to take action due to a variety of reasons.

A clever marketing strategy will identify these reasons and raise the level of pain to a point where the status quo starts to get rattled and buyers are compelled to take action. These are the strategically significant pain points; they confer some kind of advantage or leverage in your marketing effort to attract your ideal clients.

I want to draw out two types of pain points or sets of problems you should be thinking about right up front. These are what I’ve referred to firstly as Surface Pain Points and the other is Unaware Pain Points.

Surface Pain Points

The surface pain points are usually somewhat obvious, or at least easily discovered by asking the target audience. They’ll take a minimum effort to figure out and tend to draw on a relatively shallow level of insight. These are also the ones most of your competitors will likely be targeting (for all those reasons just mentioned).

Surface pain lines up directly with your buyer’s perspective.

In theory, this sounds like a good thing as you can match your offer to their desired outcomes, but being too dependent on this approach comes with some significant drawbacks:

  • You are the expert. The buyer’s understanding of their problems is limited, lacks clarity and is possibly misinformed.
  • The buyer doesn’t know what they don’t know. If you orientate your marketing too much around surface pain, you allow the client to control and limit the messaging which in turn diminishes the advantage you have as the expert.
  • If you are in a competitive space, everyone wants the quick sale, tells the client what they want to hear and therefore tries to solve the same surface problems. This just makes cut through in your messaging so much harder.
  • It’s harder to loosen the status quo from this position.

The Unaware Pain Points

In contrast, marketing to the unaware pain points lines up directly with your perspective as the expert.

It’s usually not until you dig beneath the surface and understand the pain causing the pain, that you’ll find the real marketing gold – the intel needed to skip the crowds and sit in the box seat of winning a new, high-quality client.

The deeper your level of expertise in the client’s problem space, the more accurately and insightful your perspective will be into what they really need, not what they thought they needed. You’ll be able to anticipate the things they don’t know yet and predict risks that haven’t even crossed their mind.

Your marketing instead becomes far more educational, helping your target audience better understand the challenges they face, reframe the outcomes they think they need and obtain greater clarity on who is best placed to help them.

Introducing buyers to a new set of problems that were completely off their radar can be one of the most effective triggers to disrupt the status quo. Once the trigger is introduced it often moves the buyer another step along in the buyer’s journey to at least start educating themselves and considering possible solutions.

When I start developing a marketing approach, most of my time is spent trying to unpack these “unaware” pain points and thinking through how they could potentially fit into the buyer journey.

There are 3 types that I find useful to contemplate.

Blissfully unaware

Buyers can be completely unaware of problems when they don’t have any present observable impact. They can be looming problems up ahead. Delaying corrective action now is going to see those problems come to fruition.

They can also be problems that result in the loss of something they never had in the first place. Things like opportunities that are silently passing them by because of an underlying issue, bad decision or wrong priorities due to an inadequate perspective.

Reducing some of the “bliss” should help to loosen the status quo.

Pain that’s misdiagnosed

The pain felt by your target audience is usually rooted in deeper issues than they are aware of. Reframing the problem they thought they had, into a different but potentially more insightful set of problems introduces a different perspective of what a solution might look like.

This kind of pain is particularly powerful as it connects directly to surface problems. You can speak and harness pain they already feel, but also introduce them to different ways of thinking about the problem, seeing it deeper and clearer than they’ve seen it before. We all talk about “light bulb” moments. This is often where they come from.

Again, this ramps up your position as a genuine expert and allows you to start to inject yourself into the solution.

Pain that can’t be articulated

Not being able to articulate a problem can be a strong reason for remaining in the status quo.

How often do business owners complain, “it shouldn’t be this hard”. Or “surely there’s got to be an easier way?” There’s clearly some level of discomfort, a hunch that maybe something is wrong, but it’s difficult to even define what is wrong or whether it’s just par for the course.

Anyone who can pinpoint discomfort and bring clarification to the situation demonstrates not just empathy, but insight and clear thinking that only comes from genuine expertise. If it is a genuine problem with potential solutions you’ve just won yourself another follower who values your perspective.

The Opportunity

In my experience, too many professional services firms seem bent on sabotaging their own marketing efforts. They assume the client knows what they need and spend all their marketing resources positioning around this. They dumb down their expertise into generic services, regurgitate the same content as everyone else and focus on telling their buyers what they want to hear.

When you position around your expert perspective by focussing your marketing on what your target audience doesn’t know, the more opportunity you create to strengthen your position of influence. It’s critical you have a perspective that communicates clearly your approach and thinking to solve these problems.

Do this well, and you’ll gain followers who give you permission to educate them into your way of thinking. Not only does your perspective now start to build a fence around them, making it harder for competitors to gain a position of influence, but they become a better-quality client, aligned closer to how you work and the expertise you deliver.

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Why it’s so hard for consulting firms to market themselves.
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The most common mistakes that consulting firms make in marketing themselves.