Exactly 5 years ago yesterday, our home town was hit by Hurricane Michael, a powerful category 5 storm with winds over 200 mph. The roof shingles were completely peeled off a large portion of my house, causing rain to penetrate into almost every wall.  We had to gut the house and rebuild it from the studs out. We were not even close to having the most damage in my area. Only a few miles away, a 19 foot tidal surge washed away some houses leaving only a few pipes sticking out of the ground, even taking the cement pad. Just a few blocks away in both directions, neighbors had the entire second floor ripped off their houses, and their belongings scattered over several miles. It took us almost a year to get our house repaired and move back in. Some of my neighbors had to tear down their house completely and live in campers for over two years before having a house again.

One of the after effects of this storm is how close I became with many people who had before that been casual friends. I knew most of my neighbors before the storm, and I was even “friendly” with many of them, but very few were real friends. Since that day 5 years ago however, almost all of us who experienced having to rebuild our houses, partially or completely, have become a pretty tight bunch. Even the ones I don’t hang out with often have become people I trust and like. I’m sure the psychology world has a name for this effect. I just refer to it as “veterans of shared pain”. Like war buddies, the men and women who dealt with Hurricane Michael have an understanding of common pain that creates a link or bond of sorts.

Common pain. That’s the power behind creating understanding and trust. It is easy to see other people as adversaries or competition until you identify common pain. I instantly connect a little with other Chicago Bear fans. The common pain of fandom for a team that has performed poorly for several decades immediately allows us to relate to each other.

Your prospects often initially perceive sales people as adversaries, even enemies, and rightly so. Experience has taught them that many a salesperson is just out to make a commission and isn’t looking out for them at all. Until the sales person finds common pain. The sense that the salesperson in front of you understands your struggle creates trust, usually very fast.

A sales person once shared what happened to her within weeks of a company sales training that had been strongly focused on understanding and confirming the pain of their prospects. We had taken the whole team to a lodge in the hills above the Hudson valley in New York, and for three days focused on learning and practicing a sales process that was pain focused.  When she got back to her market of Atlanta, she went on a sales call and the prospect’s initial reaction was to get defensive and hostile. The owner of the restaurant literally grabbed her by the arm and was walking her out the door, when her new training kicked in. She broke away from his hold and asked him the following:

“Do you know why I do what I do? Why I walk into restaurants and try to talk to owners and run the risk of getting walked out?”

Caught off guard, the prospect said no. She proceeded to explain the pain that many local restaurants face because of advertising costs, not getting the tax breaks that large chains get, and the lack of budget challenge they faced. She made it personal to her, and shared an example of a local place she loved that had gone out of business because of these challenges.

What followed was a 180 by the prospect. He piled on to the pain she had shared with a “not only that, but….” statement. Within a minute, he asked her to sit down while he went and made them coffee. They met for almost an hour and he ended up signing up and buying. She had created trust in an instant because she had found common ground around the pain. Understanding her “why” and sharing it with the client had created trust. As the great author Simon Sinek states it: “People don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it”.

She shared that story on a team call the following week, as a testimonial to what the training had done to her sales approach. Many sales people know they need to create a relationship with clients, but miss the mark by trying to become friends through the use of just being friendly. But true trust does not come from being friendly. It comes from shared and common experience, and even more so from shared pain. I had dinner with a friend of over 30 years last night. We are not friends because we went to college together 30 years ago. I’ve lost touch with dozens of my college “friends”. We’ve stayed friends because of the shared pain of some of the experiences of our lives, and how much we can relate to each other.

Understand the pain your clients face, and make it your mission or “why” to solve that pain. Communicate that effectively, and you’ll win trust more often and faster than you can imagine.