Separation of Purse and Pain: The Little Known Sales Obstacle Sabotaging Your Big Opportunities

by: Angelique Rewers

Remember when you were a teenager and you wanted to buy that new pair of shoes?  Or that fancy new snowboard? If you had a part-time job and your own money, no problem. But what about those pricier purchases — like say, a car — that required you to go to your parents for the money? 

If your parents were tired of driving you around town, they might be more than happy to fund the purchase. On the other hand, if you had an older brother or sister who was chauffeuring you around town — and your parents weren’t the least bit inconvenienced by you not having your own form of transportation, they wouldn’t have a great sense of urgency in purchasing yet another vehicle for the household. In fact, they would be perfectly content leaving things the way they were. 

This is a perfect example of the separation of “purse and pain.” Your parents control the purse strings. And you, the 16-year-old driver without a car, is the one experiencing the pain of being reliant on someone else to get you where you want to go. No matter how much a used car salesman tries to sell you that bright yellow Jeep Wrangler, it doesn’t matter. He’s talking to the wrong person.  

This is the same trap that all-too-many experts fall into when they engage in conversations with professionals inside of companies who they “know they can help.”  

Let’s pretend that you’re an executive coach who finds him or herself in conversation with the senior director of a department who is facing a daily barrage of bickering among her team members. 

The senior director is elated to meet someone like you who can help her eliminate this daily frustration. The more she starts to imagine what daily life could look like if she worked with you, the more excited she gets — and the more excited you get thinking you have a red hot opportunity on your hands. (In the sales world, we call this “happy ears.”) 

Here’s the problem. While the senior director may have purchasing authority on lots of other things, when it comes to bringing in an executive coach, this senior director isn’t holding the purse strings. Human resources is holding the purse. 

So after a number of “really great conversations” with the senior director, you and she decide the next step is for her to speak with human resources to get your team coaching program approved. 

The senior director schedules the meeting and goes to speak with her colleague in HR. (You see where this is going, right?) Of course, human resources is NOT experiencing the pain that she’s experiencing on a daily basis. They don’t have any idea of the real impact it’s having on her projects or her budget. In fact, her colleague in HR is under the impression that this so-called “bickering” is just part of the normal course of the workplace — not to mention that it’s her job as “the boss” to deal with it.   

And because this senior director who has been so excited to work with you has absolutely ZERO sales training, the chances that she’ll be able to “convince” HR of anything, let alone hiring you to coach her team, is slim to none. 

In other words: Game over. 

What’s fascinating to me is that most small business owners who focus on selling to companies where there is often a separation of purse and pain run into this problem somewhat frequently — yet they almost always approach the situation with the same failed strategy over and over again. 

This is one of the key areas that we focus on when we work closely with our clients because it’s almost inevitable that they’ll run into this scenario on a regular basis. The solution is a lot more involved than can be captured in a single article, but here’s a big tip I can share with you here. 

And that is this: Never “hire” your prospective client as your sales person — which is exactly what you’re doing when you rely on them to go “sell” the idea to the person or department inside their company controlling the dollars. Nearly 100 percent of the time this is the approach they will suggest to you. And if you allow them to take this route, you might as well forget about the opportunity.