Painkiller or vitamin? In some ways, this is the essential sales question

Is your product a painkiller or a vitamin?

In some ways, this is the essential sales question and largely determines your approach and eventual success.

Some context

A “painkiller” is a product that serves a critical business need, a problem, a “pain”. So, for example, a company desperately has to move from on-premise to cloud, but they’re not sure how to do so. A cloud offering comes along that meets all their specs and can be implemented in less than six weeks. That cloud offering would be a painkiller. Relief immediate, ROI measurable.

A “vitamin” is essentially a nice-to-have. It won’t necessarily solve a business problem, but it will make some current ways of doing things better or more effective. Even if there’s measurable ROI would you spend time, internal resources and money NOW? Probably not, as long as you have more important bullets on your to-do list.

Which are you selling?

The conventional sales approach

In general, the conventional way we approach and discuss sales works better for painkiller products, because it’s much easier to frame up the story for a check-writing decision-maker. You can say what the product does, how much revenue it will generate/money it will save, and show examples. You overcome the objections with bottom-line context, oftentimes.

But this is much harder when selling a “vitamin” product.

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So what do you do?

There are a few strategies to selling a vitamin product, including:

  • Find a revenue tie: Even if it’s cost savings, a revenue tie will resonate more when selling a nice-to-have.
  • Define a competitive edge: Even if the bottom line tie is shaky, maybe there’s a competitive edge around time management, people effectiveness, priority management, etc. Anything that shows a potential value can work when selling nice-to-have products, even if it’s not something that can be put into a spreadsheet.


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The bottom line on selling nice-to-have products

This is probably the most important concept to remember, so get a pen and write this one down:


If a product doesn’t inherently add immediate value, then the salesperson needs to!


We bang the drum a lot on sales-messaging and product-market fit, and the ultimate reason those concepts are important is because of this. Many products are ultimately “nice-to-haves” for an executive team. The value is there somewhere, but it’s not definable on the reports they pore over weekly. In those situations, the sales principal is the one adding value — not the product itself. And for the sales principal to do that, he/she needs a good understanding of messaging, features, the competitive landscape, the market fit, and more.

If you’re going to define your career selling vitamins, it will be a bit harder than consistently selling painkiller products. But it can be done. Read about our Go-To-Market Strategy Essentials.

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