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What is the Sandler Pain Funnel and How to Use it?

What is the Sandler Pain Funnel and How to Use it?

Anirban Banerjee
Anirban Banerjee
January 17, 2023
5 min read

Doctor Morgan beams at little Michelle as she totters through his door, led by her mother. He says gleefully, “My little princess. It's been so long! Look how tall you’ve grown. Almost three feet, I reckon!” 

Michelle lifts her tear-stained, snot-streaked face to him and says sulkily, “That’s because I was well, Doctor Morgan. No pain, no doctor, no YOU!” And then, she starts bawling. She knows he's going to give her something awful-tasting.

Michelle might be only a kid, but she’s right. No pain, no doctor.

No pain, no purchase

Michelle’s spontaneous little maxim makes sense in sales too. No pain often means no purchase. 

You buy mosquito repellent to avoid the pain of mosquito bites and malaria in tropical places. You purchase accounting software to avoid the pain of a supply chain leak. You purchase an antivirus to avoid the pain of viruses and stolen client data. Pain drives purchase.

Sandler’s pain funnel is aimed at teaching you how to empathize with your prospect’s pain points. And then, talk to those pain points as you guide them through the sales process and make your pitch. In this blog, we’ll delve into the pain funnel and Sandler’s pain funnel questions. 

What is Sandler’s Pain Funnel? 

Sandler’s Pain Funnel is part of the Sandler Selling System, which like a lot of sales methodologies, positions the salesperson as a consultant or collaborator rather than a mere seller. 

The Sandler Selling System has seven stages:

Stage 1: Branding and rapport building

Stage 2: An upfront contract

Stage 3: A pain points discussion

Stage 4: A budget discussion

Stage 5: The purchase decision

Done and dusted

Done and dusted right? Why do we need two more stages?

You’ve brought home a deal. You’ve won a sales conversion. 

But this is the Sandler sales method, and you’re not just a seller. You’re a consultant. So there’s also:

Stage 6: A fulfilment discussion 

Stage 7: Post-sell servicing 

The pain funnel, which comes in at Stage 2, is a series of questions that attempt to gauge the prospect’s pain points. 

Your prospect 

You can use the pain funnel as a lead qualification tool to know whether there really is a good fit between your product and the potential customer’s needs. You can use the information gathered in the process to create your sales pitch and show specific points of value. 

Sandler’s pain funnel is not to be confused with the sales funnel

Here’s a look at what Sandler’s Pain Funnel looks like:  

Pain funnel questions and stages 

Sandler’s pain points questions checklist is known as a funnel because of the way questions are structured. All the questions are open-ended, but the ones you begin with are especially broad. You could compare the process to casting a wide net and closing in on a target gradually. 

Some sales leaders and salespeople like to divide the funnel into three levels. Whether you go with using three levels or not, you need to ask the series of questions in the order recommended. Here is the checklist of pain funnel questions stacked according to these three levels. 

Special bonus: We’ve also talked about exactly what information you’re trying to glean – and for what purpose – through each question. Overall you’re trying to become a trusted advisor, but there are smaller goals to achieve at each question.

Let’s start at the top of the funnel. 

Stage 1: Questions around the prospect’s surface problems

Tell me more about <insert prospect’s problem> 

What you’re trying to accomplish: A general understanding. Maybe phrases and concepts that you need to Google. 

Can you be more specific? Could you give me an example? 

What you’re trying to accomplish: You want a more thorough understanding here. You are also looking to develop a framework on which to build your problem-solution-led sales pitch

Stage 2: Questions around the reasons for the prospect’s problems

What do you think is the cause of this? 

What you’re trying to accomplish: You want to identify how the prospect believes his problems will be solved. 

Your new catchphrase 

After all, they are his problems; he deals with them hands-on. 

You also get key information for your sales pitch. Eventually, you can say, “You feel like X is the best way to solve this problem, and our solution can help you achieve X in this way.” 

Besides, by not asking this and diving directly to recommend a suggestion, you come across as arrogant. 

For how long have you struggled with this problem? 

What you’re trying to accomplish: You’re leading up to the next question. You are also trying to evaluate the intensity of your prospect’s pain. 

What solutions have you already tried? Did any work? What worked/ did not work in prior solutions? 

What you’re trying to accomplish: You’re trying to find out what you’re up against. Is your prospect using your competitor’s solution? If yes, what do they like about it? What do they not like about it? 

Now you know what not to pitch to Skeletor

You want to know all this in order to explain how your solution will be different (and if it can even be different). If your competitor’s product is frustrating your prospect, is your product different in that specific way? 

If not, you’re selling them the same can of worms. How very seller and un-consultant-like. David Sandler would be so disappointed. 

Stage 3: Questions around the impact of the prospect’s problems 

How much has this cost you?/ How much do you estimate/ guesstimate this has cost you? 

What you’re trying to accomplish: This gives you an idea of how to position your cost to value argument. You might, during your sales pitch be able to say for example, “Your problem cost you USD 100,000. You can avoid this revenue lost by investing USD 8,000 per annum to subscribe to our solution.” 

Sounds like a fair trade for the keys to the solution 

How do you feel about how much the problem has cost you?

What you’re trying to accomplish: You’re trying to find out what emotion you’re speaking to and whether your product’s price is even going to work for the prospect. For example, if the prospect is fine having spent USD 10,000 to solve their problem, if only the solution worked, you know what their budget is. 

How does that affect you?

What you’re trying to accomplish: Here you are trying to find out two things 

  • One, what emotions you are dealing with
  • Two, what your solution’s KPIs will be

Picture this. The prospect says that they spent USD 8,000 on a prior solution, and they are disappointed that it did not work, so now they are worried about trying out similar solutions. Now you know that your best bet is probably going to be a product demo. You know that you need to deliver some proof that your solution will deliver as promised and actually solve the problem. 

Look at those teeth getting white instantly. Buy! 

Have you given up on trying to solve this problem? 

What you’re trying to accomplish: You want to know if your prospect is going to be open to any solutions that you might try to present if you decide to continue to pursue them. This question is also an opening for your sales pitch.

If the prospect says yes, you can say something like, “I might have a solution for you…” 

Sandler’s pain funnel tips

Some sales professionals refer to these as Sandler’s pain funnel rules. Although it sounds a little pedagogical, maybe even a little bit dictatorial, it might make sense to use these Sandler training tips as a rulebook. Or at least a guidebook. 

  • Get hold of about two or three pain points: One is too little to work with (you’re looking to build a case here, after all, and to find a great fit). More than three gets confusing. 
  • Observe for one of four buying motives: 
  1. Pleasure/ goal attained, now
  2. Please/ goal attainment in the future 
  3. Pain solved, now
  4. Pain solved in the future
  • Always summarize and validate: You want verbal confirmation from your prospect that you have understood their pain points and the sentiments around them, correctly. No matter how simple a situation is, it never hurts to verify. 
  • Watch and track this handy list of pain-related words and phrases: 
  1. Makes me mad/ I’m mad
  2. Makes me frustrated/ is so frustrating
  3. I’m worried/ it worries me
  4. I’m upset/ it upsets me 
  5. I’m tired
We know this guy’s pain points!
  1. I’m anxious 
  2. I’m concerned/ my concerns are 
  3. My biggest struggle/ I’m struggling/ it’s a bit of a struggle 

Also, watch for words like excited, obstacle, and goal.  

  • No pain, no sale… remember?

The idea of this tip is: Failing to zero in on the prospect’s pain points means that closing the deal is going to be a tougher nut to crack. Solving pain points is the basis of any good sales pitch. 

  • The problem that the prospect first expresses is usually not the real problem. 

This is not to say that your prospect is hiding things from you, or that they’re not wise enough to identify their own problems. It simply means that, at first, they’ll only give you a surface picture. They might say something vague, “We don’t get access to capital when we need it,” for example.

That’s why, “Can you be more specific,” is a good question. It lets you get to the meat of the problem, to zero in on the true pain. 

This guy’s true pain point is not his back and neck; its 20 bucks
  • People do buy emotionally, but they make decisions – especially business purchase decisions – intellectually. 

This is the big difference between selling silk shirts and SaaS software. Purchase decisions around B2B products are always going to consider cost versus benefit, and both will be expressed by their dollar value. So yes, you need to understand your prospect’s pain, but you need to also be able to attach a dollar value to their pain so as to justify the cost. 

  • A prospect that is (only) listening is no prospect at all

Sandler’s pain funnel rests on this foundation. The whole point of the checklist is to get the prospect to talk.  If you are talking more than your prospect, you’re not using the pain funnel right. 

  • People buy for their reasons, not your reasons: 

And sometimes, they even buy irrespective your reasons. You might think that your prospect needs your predictive analytics tool to find out if they will be successful in new markets. But maybe your prospect just wants to use it to find out if a new feature will be accepted in a current market. 

Modify your pitch and go with the flow! Maybe tell them to also consider the product, or contact you when they’re looking to break into a new market, but base your pitch on how they see value in your product. 

Your prospect when you match your pitch to their pain points 


  • Listen to win (the deal)

It might be tempting to start putting together your post-call email, go through your checklist, order lunch online, or check out a meme from a friend while the prospect rants about their problems. Or maybe start calculating how you’re going to respond to X and to Y and Z while they’re talking. 

But that’s not going to help you win. You’re losing out on valuable ammo for the objections handling phase when you’re not listening. 

Use an AI note-taker or something so that you have full focus to ask follow-up questions during the conversation with your prospect. Then go back to your notes later to figure out how to build a strong sales pitch. 

Or into a sales pitch. Both take strategizing 

Fly down the pain funnel painlessly with Wingman 

Wingman is an AI-backed conversation intelligence tool that lets sales reps focus more on customer conversations, while it does all the back-end heavy lifting.

Wingman comes with an AI notetaker, that lets you put all your energy into asking pain funnel questions, and any tangential questions — instead of tuning out while you’re jotting down the previous hot point. You can also quit worrying about all the items you are supposed to send to the prospect after the call. And all the points they’re promising to get back to you on. Wingman delivers a ready post-call actions checklist to you right after your call concludes. 

Wingman showing up with your pre-call checklist 

That’s not it, here’s how Wingman helps you supercharge your Sandler pain funnel with actionable sales insights:

  • You can also add topics or search by keyword when you’re looking for those pain-related words and phrases that the Sandler sales methodology recommends you look for. Wingman can also give you live, in-call prompts around key objections when the time comes to make a sales pitch.
  • If you struggle to maintain a talk-to-listen ratio that is in line with the Sandler pain funnel tips, Wingman has your back with monologue alerts. These tell you when to take a pause and let the prospect get a word in. 
  • Sales leaders can also look at pain funnel conversations to prioritize leads for the team. You can also review a sales call quickly (Wingman comes with a super-handy 2X speed function) to give your sales reps guidance on how to word their sales pitch. 
  • Sandler training is a great approach, but maybe there are some top-performing reps who use an unnamed sales technique that really works for your product. You can share their winning moves with the rest of the sales team with Wingman’s call recordings. 

Win more deals with Wingman. Get a demo today and see for yourself how Wingman is really your wingman! 

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