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The Sandler Pain Funnel: Complete Breakdown

July 25, 2022
Jonathan Costet

Jonathan Costet

Sales Management

“People love to buy, but hate to be sold to.”

It sounds nice, but that doesn’t really solve our dilemma as salespeople because, obviously, it’s our job to sell to people.

So, this leaves a pretty big question on the table: How can we sell to a prospect without them feeling like they’re being sold to?

One answer to this question is the Sandler pain funnel, a method of establishing need and urgency with prospects that feels more like a consultative interview than it does a sales pitch.

In this guide, we’ll explain how the Sandler pain funnel works and illustrate the sales methodology in practice with an in-depth example.

What exactly is the Sandler pain funnel? 

The Sandler pain funnel is a systematic series of open-ended questions designed to emphasize a customer’s pain point (in relation to the product or service you sell) in a consultative manner.

It’s part of the Sandler Selling System, a sales methodology developed by David Sandler that seeks to discard the push, high-pressure sales tactics of the past in favor of a more buyer-centric, conversation-based process.

The Sandler sales process is broken down into seven core stages:

  1. Bonding and rapport
  2. Upfront contract
  3. Pain
  4. Budget
  5. Decision
  6. Fulfillment
  7. Post-sell

Sandler selling system

The pain funnel sits within the third stage.

The overarching approach is pretty straightforward: sales representatives ask a series of questions (starting broad and becoming more specific) that reveal the true pain points potential customers hold.

Okay, but why? Let’s find out.

Sandler pain funnel — what’s the point? 

Rather than focusing on selling your solution, the Sandler pain funnel forces you to focus on building a relationship with the buyer, and uncovering their biggest challenges.

It’s a more consultative style of selling, better suited to longer sales cycles with high level decision-makers. When you use the Sandler pain funnel with potential buyers, you position yourself as a trusted advisor rather than “just” a salesperson.

More than that, though, you force customers to confront their truest pain point, something they may not have really dug that deep into.

This part of the process is the key to the Sandler sales methodology to uncover pain points that you can use to guide the rest of the sales process.

How the Sandler pain funnel works 

The Sandler pain funnel is a series of open-ended questions that gradually get more specific.

Three level sandler pain funnel

So, you’ve got to start broad.

A few questions to kick off the pain conversation might be:

  • What is your goal for [Operational area] this [Year/Quarter/Month]?
  • How are you currently tracking against [Business goal]?
  • Do you mind if I spend a few minutes getting a better understanding of your business?
  • What are you focused on as a business right now?
  • What were you hoping to accomplish during today’s call?

Here, we’re looking for our buyer to give us an indication of a pain point. We want to know, “Why is it that we’re talking today?”

Once you identify a specific pain point, ask:

  • Can you walk me through [Operational area] process from [first step] to [business outcome]?
  • Can you be more specific? Maybe give me an example.
  • Why do you suppose this is happening? 
  • How long has that been a problem?

These are surface problem questions. Next, we’re going to dive into impacts:

  • What is the impact of this problem on your company?
  • What does that look like in dollar terms?
  • What have you already tried to solve this problem? How has that worked?
  • How effective is your current solution, on a scale of 1-5?

Notice how we’re developing the pain. We’ve brought it to the surface, then started to look at business impacts. Finally, we’ll dig into the emotional ramifications of the pain point:

  • Does your current solution produce any bottlenecks? Who is impacted?
  • What happens if we don’t address this [Pain/challenge] now?
  • Have you given up trying to deal with this problem?

Sandler pain funnel questions 

Let’s explore a few pain questions you can use in your own customer interviews.

Remember, the idea with the Sandler pain funnel is to gradually progress from broad questions to more narrow ones, so some of these questions will only be relevant further on in the process.

Sandler pain funnel questions

Need more examples? Get these 28 Sandler pain funnel questions. They’ll sharpen your Sandler skills and boost sales methodology adoption. 

Sandler pain funnel example 

The Sandler pain funnel is not a series of specific questions that sales reps must use in each and every call. Instead, you should adapt your approach to each prospect and their current situation.

While the example below is pure fiction, you can use it to guide your own sales conversations and as a framework to follow.

Sales rep: Brian, do you mind if I confirm a few items about your organization before we get started?

Buyer: Sure.

Sales rep: Great. How big is your team? How many employees are you looking to provision with NumberOneSalesCRM?

Buyer: We’re currently a team of 14. 7 SDRs, 4 Account Executives, and myself, the Sales Manager. But we have plans to double that headcount in the next 12 months.

Sales rep: Wow, that’s an ambitious goal, I love it. So what prompted you to evaluate a solution like NumberOneSalesCRM? When are you looking to start using the new CRM for your sales efforts? 

Buyer: Because of those growth plans, we really need a better way to manage the sales pipeline. So we’re looking for a solution more or less immediately.

Sales rep: Of course. Okay, so most of our customers are currently using NumberOneSalesCRM to manage inbound sales leads from initial contact through to close. Can you tell me a little more about your sales process?

Buyer: Sure, so right now, we operate on an inbound model also, but if I’m being really honest with you, we don’t have a super-strong process. Once a new lead comes in, one of the salespeople picks it up from a shared email inbox, calls them, and takes it from there.

Sales rep: That makes sense. How do you feel about that process as it stands today?

Buyer: I know we’ve got a lot of room for improvement. We’ve got a somewhat rigid process we’ve been trying to implement, but it’s been difficult to manage.

Sales rep: Difficult to manage? Tell me more about that.

Buyer: Well yeah, because I don’t have any visibility on what my reps are doing. I don’t really know what activities they’re running at each stage, how often they’re chasing up leads, or if they’re even following that sales process.

Sales rep: Hmm. I can imagine that’s quite frustrating?

Buyer: Yeah, it is a little.

Sales rep: How long has this been a problem?

Buyer: For the last year, I’d say, since we’ve been scaling the sales team.

Sales rep: I see. What kind of impact would you say that’s having on your business? 

Buyer: I’m sure it’s preventing us from making a few sales, though I really have no way to quantify that right now. But for sure, it’s stopping me from being able to properly report on performance to my CEO and manage my sales team effectively.

Sales rep: Of course. And what does that mean for you, not having that ability?

Buyer: Well, it doesn’t feel good, let’s put it that way. It makes one-on-ones with my boss pretty difficult. Plus, for our sellers this lack of visibility means they sometimes lose deals they otherwise might have won — causing some of our top sales talent to leave the company.

Sales rep: Oh wow. So it’s not only having a huge impact on business performance and on your job directly, but it’s also preventing you from retaining key members of your team. How do you feel about that?

Buyer: Not super happy, now that I really think about it.

After the Sandler pain funnel: What’s next?

Feel like that last example left you hanging a little bit?

That’s because it kind of does. The Sandler pain funnel, remember, is only one part of the Sandler Selling System.

So, what’s next? How do you transition out of the pain funnel and into the next stage?

First, review and recap the conversation you’ve just had. Summarize (using the prospect’s own words) to show that you understand their situation. For example:

Sales rep: So, if I can just confirm that I understand correctly? As it stands today, you’ve got no CRM solution, and you’re handling lead management pretty manually. As a result, sales processes aren’t being followed, you’ve got little visibility on sales team performance, and to make matters worse, key members of your sales team are leaving. Is that correct?

The answer from your customer should be a resounding yes. If not, you’ve got more digging to do (you haven’t uncovered the true pain yet).

With the recap complete and confirmed, we now seek commitment to change and ask for permission to move the conversation toward a solution:

Sales rep: So tell me, Brian, if we were able to put together a solution that gave you that visibility and insight into rep performance, so you could provide development opportunities where required, and both grow your team and retain them, how motivated would you be to put something like that in play?

Customer: Very.

Sales rep: Great, how about we explore some potential solutions together?

Easy, right?

For more information on budget, decision, and other closing parts of the system, read our in-depth guide to the entire Sandler Selling method

Frame these Sandler questions on the walls of your sales floor

These 28 Sandler pain funnel questions cover everything you need to:

Drive higher adherence to Sandler on your team

Steal top performers’ sales questions backed by data

Understand how to successfully implement the framework on your team

The pain funnel questions are yours FOR FREE. Click here:

pain funnel question examples


The Sandler pain funnel is a powerful method for building trust and rapport with your clients.

When used correctly, you’ll get customers to realize the true extent of their pain and uncover how to leverage it to close more effectively.

Plus, you’ll have more fun holding explorative and consultative conversations, rather than making the same old pitch day in, day out.

If you’re looking for new ways to build stronger relationships with prospects and ultimately, close more deals, Gong’s revenue intelligence platform should be right up your alley.

Our platform uses AI to not only identify high-value deals and prospects who are likely to close, it actually listens in and understands the conversations your reps have with your prospects. That means you can pinpoint issues with struggling reps, and highlight exactly what your top performers do right.

There’s a reason Gong is an official partner of Sandler Training. They know it’s the perfect tool to ensure that your reps actually follow through on the Sandler methods you teach them. Plus, with detailed sales analytics, you can even see the results of adopting the method in real time.

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