What are pain points?
Pain points are the root causes of specific problems that your potential customers face.
These problems can come from a variety of sources and they represent challenges or obstacles in the lives of members of your target market.
The ultimate goal of any product or service is to solve a specific problem—to alleviate customer pain points. A product that does not resolve a pain point for customers will struggle to find a defined target market and will struggle to make sales.
Understanding pain points, the role they play in the lives of your customers, and how to uncover them is a crucial first step in creating products and services that find commercial success.
Pain Points vs. Solutions
When people consider whether to purchase a product, they are really assessing whether that product will solve a problem they have. If the product you are selling doesn’t provide a solution to a pain point your potential customers are experiencing, they will, understandably, say “this product isn’t for me.”
An exhaustive list of every single challenge we face in our lives, ranging from the colossal to the trivial, would break the internet and wouldn’t be very helpful. Instead, it is much more productive to think of problems in terms of pain points and solutions.
Expressing Pain Points
Despite being considered a fabrication, the quote often attributed to Henry Ford gets right to the core of the difference between pain points and solutions.
“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”
The pain point being expressed is a need to quickly get from one place to another. At the time, before the mass production of automobiles, horses were the solution to that problem. Ford’s cars, at least in principle, alleviated this pain point by providing fast transport that never got tired and did not need food or water.
Similarly, no one who bought the initial MP3 players had expressly asked for them. They used CD players, and if asked what they disliked about CDs may have responded that they took up too much space, they could only hold a certain number of tracks, etc.
These are pain points that were alleviated by the first MP3 players (the solution). As we know, digital music players can hold thousands of songs, do not skip or develop scratches that affect playback, and can be much more cost-effective than purchasing new-release CDs. This ability to provide a solution to distinct customer pain points rendered the previous solution (CDs) obsolete in much the same way that CDs had replaced tape cassettes and vinyl records.
Identifying Pain Points
If providing solutions to pain points is the root of a successful product or service, how do you uncover the pain points of your potential customers?
Easy: ask them.
The best way to narrow down your audience and identify your target market is through the development of a customer avatar. A customer avatar is a fictional person that represents your ideal customer. The creation of a customer avatar is an ongoing process and one that requires you to gather information about your customers while continually updating your avatar to represent changing tastes.
Back to the fictional Ford quote—someone who walked up to Ford and asked for a faster horse wasn’t really asking for a faster horse. That person was expressing a pain point that related to the speed at which they could travel between two places.
Economist Theodore Levitt used a different example. He said that if someone walks into a hardware store looking for a one-quarter-inch drill bit, the need for a drill bit isn’t their pain point. What they are expressing is a need to make a hole that is one-quarter inch in diameter; the bit is just the solution that is most readily available to them.
Ask Open-Ended Questions
When conducting market research or following up with current customers, ask open-ended questions to help uncover pain points. Keep in mind that people will be asking for solutions—they will not be thinking in terms of pain points or products. It is your job as a marketer or a business owner to determine the best way to respond to the root needs your customers have. Don’t lead the conversation; let your subjects express themselves in their own words.
Look for Patterns
Is there a certain topic on your website that your users gravitate toward? When customers return your products, do they cite similar reasons? What features are you asked about most frequently? By digging into these sources of information you can uncover patterns and discover the root problems your customers are facing. Once you have a firm understanding of their pain points, you are in a better position to speak directly to those pain points with the solution you provide.
Don’t Be a Product in Search of a Solution
Above all, use the information you uncover to guide your product development. A product that does not provide a solution to a pain point is often doomed to collect dust on store shelves. By tailoring your products to the pain points of your target market, you are not only strengthening your unique selling proposition but also differentiating yourself from your competitors.