Contrast the Pain and the Gain: How to Use Benefits to Sell and Motivate

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Motivation involves gain and pain

Psychologists have shown that people go to great lengths to avoid loss, even passing up the opportunity for rewards. This article will explain how improve benefits propositions by recognizing the motivational power of avoiding loss.

Improving Your Benefits Propositions by Contrasting Gain and Pain

This suggestion will increase the receptivity of the stakeholder to your benefits proposition:

Contrast the Gain and the Pain

The Pain is something that is associated with loss. Ask yourself, “What does the stakeholder fear losing?” The answers might be pain is loss of face, image, status, organizational status, or reputation. When writing a benefit proposition, you use a verb like avoid, mitigate, or minimize (see prior posting).


For a business development executive…

This strategic initiative will allow you to build business relationships in this strategically important market, AND will dissuade competitors from making reckless claims about your company.

For a Chief Information Officer….

This portfolio management initiative will allow you to assure you are prioritizing projects correctly, AND help you mitigate criticism from requestors who have unrealistic expectations for delivery time.

For a critical supplier executive…

Our strategic sourcing initiative will allow you to better forecast demand for your product, AND help you manage your supply chain’s component pricing.

Notice that I capitalized the word ‘and’ in each of the propositions to heighten the contrast between pain and gain. This helps people to recognize the unacceptability of the status quo, and the vision.

Two Useful Questions

Few business people would admit to fear (it makes them look weak), so you probably won’t directly ask a stakeholder the question, “What do you fear losing?” However, if you listen for clues and develop some empathy you can find some useful ideas.

Here are two questions that I regularly ask during discovery and requirements capture:

  • What is your pain?
  • Who else has the pain?

When I ask those questions,  I commonly hear, “That’s a good question, and I’ll need to think about it.” A few days later, or in a follow-up email, I will ask again.  Here is one success story,

“Greg, I thought about your ‘What is your pain?’ question, and my answer is that my staff needs to have better tools and insights for managing stakeholder expectations.”

It was rather easy – from that point on – to design a solution that met her expectations.

The second question has also proven to be quite valuable.  It encourages the stakeholder to think of others (for example, their boss), that might have a different perception of problems (the pain), opportunities, and priorities.

Both the Carrot and the Stick

The idea of contrasting pain and gain in the benefits proposition is really a variation of the carrot and stick analogy. We should always try to find positive motivators, but sometimes the threat of pain or loss is what really secures the commitment to a new way of doing things.

How have you used this idea of contrasting pain and gain?


About Greg Githens

Author, How to Think Strategically (2019) Executive and leadership coach. Experience in driving change in Fortune 500 and mid-size companies through strategic initiatives and business transformation. Seminar leader and facilitator - high-impact results in crafting and delivering strategy, strategic initiatives, program management, innovation, project management, risk, and capturing customer requirements.
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5 Responses to Contrast the Pain and the Gain: How to Use Benefits to Sell and Motivate

  1. Pingback: Strategic Initiatives Case Study – Domino’s Pizza Turnaround | Leading Strategic Initiatives

  2. Pingback: Three Templates: Strategic Initiative Benefit Propositions (Part 2) | Leading Strategic Initiatives

  3. Pingback: A Powerful Idea for Your Strategic Initiative: Program = Brand = Trust | Leading Strategic Initiatives

  4. Pingback: Path Finding and Way Finding | Leading Strategic Initiatives

  5. Pingback: A Template for Strategic Objectives (Benefits Propositions, Part 3): A.D.V.I.C.E. & Business Drivers | Leading Strategic Initiatives

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