Robert Bell: Ease Their Pain

advice from optical sales consultant Robert Bell

How to use the strongest human motivators to increase sales

This article originally appeared in the May 2015 edition of INVISION.

"Well, here’s your chance to try the opposite … If every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right.”— Jerry Seinfeld to George Costanza

Last month, I said that the biggest obstacle facing salespeople is they try to move their average patients in a positive direction. Because selling is based on the Law of Motion, moving average patients in a positive direction proves to be futile. The harder you try to push them in that direction, the more they resist. (For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.) The educate-and-persuade process is irritating and awkward for patients and it’s frustrating as hell for you! Well, isn’t it?

Right now, most of us are trying to move that average patient in the positive direction by making two very big assumptions: 1) We assume, because we’ve told them of their needs, they actually heard us and understood those needs and 2) We then assume they want to hear all about the products that will save the day, so ... we tell them. This is how most of us have been trained to “sell,” yet it doesn’t seem to work to anyone’s advantage. The remedy? Do the opposite.

The opposite of telling is asking. But there is a secret to asking questions: Only ask specific questions (for which your patients have answers) and make sure those questions cause movement. To create questions that cause movement, we have to discover what motivates.

Two of the strongest human motivators are “seeking pleasure” and “avoiding pain.” Of the two, which do you think would be a stronger motivator?

If I told you I would treat you and your entire family to the finest gourmet meal at the best restaurant in town, order the best wines and have the chef make his world-renowned dessert just for you, that would be pleasurable, right? But then I tell you the only catch is the maitre d’ has to smash one of your fingers with a ball-peen hammer before you sit down to this fine meal. “How would you like your steak cooked this evening?” (Whack!) or “Did you spot a McDonald’s down the street?”

As much as we enjoy pleasure in our lives, avoiding pain is the overwhelming human motivator. So we need to develop questions that uncover pain. This is the first step in systematically bringing patients in that negative direction on the pendulum. We need to develop these “pain questions” based on the following template: How do you use your eyes in a particular situation?

If we start to ask questions that cause movement in a negative direction, questions that uncover someone’s pain, do you think your patients/customers would ultimately want to avoid that?

What’s going to happen is this: Your patients start to become aware of their own pain. Once that happens, they are going to hang on every word you say to help them make that pain go away.

For example, you may want to ask emerging presbyopes, “Do you ever find yourself taking your glasses on and off when you’re trying to read something?”

Here’s your homework assignment: For every product you sell, develop and write down specific pain questions. How? Look at each benefit of each product and develop the pain questions on that basis. Try to paint a real-life picture with these questions. For instance, “When you’re taking your kids to practice in the afternoon, do you find yourself squinting a lot, or shielding your eyes while driving directly into the sun? Does that feel safe?”

Next month, I’ll show you how to combine pain questions with four simple follow-up questions that will bring your patients all the way to the negative side of the pendulum ... to the point where they enthusiastically swing positive with your expertise. How enthusiastically? Would you like to hear your patient ask, “Well, don’t I need progressive lenses in my polarized sunglasses, too?”

Robert Bell believes in “uncommon sense,” inside-out thinking and challenging the status quo of traditional selling methods. He created the EyeCoach Selling System specifically for ECPs. He is also co-director for Project Homeless Connect-Vision Volunteers in San Francisco. Email him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..