Are You Selling Aspirin, a Vaccine or a Vitamin?

For the last 10 years or so, I have been using this concept in a lot of sales trainings and sales presentations.


For the last 10 years or so, I have been using this concept in a lot of sales trainings and sales presentations.

And it seems to hit home, not only for me, but also for the (sales) audience, so I wanted to share it today.

Basically, the concept goes as follows:

Aspirin solves an Existing Pain.

If you have a headache, you will go swiftly to your nearest pharmacy and buy some Aspirin. You won’t discuss it for long, you won’t haggle on price (not that you can anyway in a pharmacy, but you get the point). You have a pain, it impacts you, and you want to get rid of it as soon as possible.

Vaccine prevents a Potential Pain.

Now, while you’re at the pharmacy, the pharmacist might want to sell you a Vaccine. Using FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt), he will try to convince you that you need to buy the vaccine now, so as to avoid
getting sick this winter. You are not sick right now, but you MIGHT be in the future, and the vaccine is the solution to prevent this Potential Pain.

Vitamin provides a Potential Gain.

This pushy pharmacist might also try to sell you some Vitamins. While you feel good right now, the pharmacist tells you that with vitamins, you will potentially feel better. A better, stronger you. Obviously he can’t guarantee it; you have to trust him.

The same categorisation can indeed apply to B2B products or services.

Is your product designed to solve an existing pain, prevent a potential pain or provide a potential gain?

The latter is usually what most B2B products are sold as. The promise of better results. The proverbial “higher ROI”.

Now, obviously, anything that is only “potential”, based on a promise, on something that isn’t real right now, is a harder sell.

Especially in a world where all vendors promise better results and higher ROI.

So, as you can see from the three situations depicted above, there is no need for a drum roll to reveal that selling an Aspirin will have a shorter sales cycle and fewer negotiations around price.

If your solution solves a pain that the business can feel, it is real. Not a promise. And the business will spend money to solve this pain.

Sell Aspirin

The example above used a headache as the pain to solve. The cliché pain. The most obvious one. Because if you have a headache, it impacts everything else. It impacts your ability to function normally. It is the “ideal” case of an existing pain to solve. The easiest one.

But not all pains are as obvious as a headache. Some pains aren’t even completely acknowledged by the sufferer.

Assume you don’t have a headache (despite having read my post so far) and you meet a doctor randomly.
If the doctor asks you, “How are you today?”, chances are you’ll say, “I’m fine, thanks.”
If she asks further, “Are you sure?”, you might still say yes, but you’ll start doubting your answer.
If she digs deeper, she might get you thinking more about it, and you may share that you have a backache that prevents you from sleeping well at night.
Nothing too dramatic – you can still function. At least, that’s what you think.
But the doctor will open your eyes and connect the dots for you, helping you realise that this backache has a negative impact on your sleep quality, which means you are not able to process and retain important information as well as you could (sleep is where that happens), and your cognitive functions are a fraction of what they could be during the day.

Chances are, once you realise and acknowledge that this (underestimated) pain has such a profound impact on your functioning, you will want to solve it as soon as possible.

It becomes a priority.

You will buy Aspirin immediately.

(Not that taking aspirin would be the recommended approach for a backache – except if you ask a GP in the UK – but you get my point.)

Now let’s take a step back. This has now become a priority for you, even though before meeting the doctor, you weren’t even thinking twice about what you thought was a minor issue, not urgent to be dealt with. Thanks to the doctor, who dug deeper and brought in her experience and knowledge, a sense of urgency and an urge to buy have been created.

This is why I advise salespeople to… be a doctor.

Be a Doctor

Now to be a doctor, you need Aspirin (or at least a product/service that can be used as medication to solve a pain).

The good news is that most of the time, products and services can be positioned as Aspirin, even though they were designed as Vaccines or Vitamins.

It is just about positioning it differently.

Start by being a doctor, and help surface pain(s) that could be addressed by your product or service.
Dig deep to find the pain(s).
Because if you can position your solution as Aspirin, versus Vaccine or Vitamin, you will be much better off.

Create value in the prospect’s mind and eyes (see my post “What Is Sales?”) by getting her to see how it can help solve her pain.

And if you can’t find any pain, no matter how deep you dig, you can always position a Vaccine or a Vitamin (depending what your product or service is designed for).

But start with the Aspirin approach.

Leads to a shorter sales cycle, and less price negotiations.
And creates also usually a better feeling on the client’s side, as you helped to solve a pain and make her life better.
In contrast, the Vitamin might not deliver on its promises (no ROI increase), and it might be hard to prove what would have happened without a Vaccine.

All that being said, this concept is not my invention, but I can’t trace the source. I read about it years ago. There is some mention about it here.
Not sure if the Prolific founders came up with it in the first place.
If you know, please let me know.
It is a great concept and credit is due where credit is due.

Hope you find this useful.

Had you heard of this concept before?
Let’s discuss it in the comments.