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The 3 elements of a Pain Point

The concept of a Pain Point has gained a lot of traction and is very widely used today in business in general and innovation in particular. It’s a powerful concept that captures the essence of what new products and services must solve to be successful: Pain Points of customers. Customers don’t care about products or services per se, they care about their problems – Pain Points – and how products and services can help them solve these.

However, the more widely a powerful concept spreads the fuzzier it becomes. So, what is a Pain Point? Or better: what are the elements necessary to keep the power of the concept of Pain Points? Vendbridge has – almost 10 years ago – defined 3 key elements of what a Pain Point is, to keep it a sharp and actionable concept for innovation. Our CFI Framework is the method to find such Pain Points of customers in any industry – applied over 100 times. The three elements of a Pain Point are:

  1. It must express a need, not a solution

  2. It must be concrete, not abstract

  3. It must be measured quantiatively, not anecdotal

1. Need

A Pain Point must express a need, not a solution


Because the biggest danger in trying to satisfy the satisfaction of customers is thinking within the confinements of solutions. Without realizing it solutions get confused with Pain Points. Here’s an example of a Pain Point from a solution-perspective:

Customers want to order a ride from their homes to another connecting point.

That’s a bad example because it states a solution – a pick-up option. But that is not a customer problem – it’s a company solution. Why – you must ask – should a pick-up option satisfy our customers better? Of course, it can be true that that is the solution to the customer’s problem – but what is the problem?

How to do it better:

Think like this: A Pain Point is an expression of a human need. Needs are not products or services, i.e. solutions. Solutions are what satisfy needs (better or worse). That is the key distinction behind the Jobs-to-be-done philosophy: Humans don’t want products or services, they have needs they want to satisfy. A Job (statement) is the aggregated expression of the relevant needs of a group of customers, e.g. «To get from A to B». We all want that (under certain circumstances) and use products (cars, bikes, feet) and services (Uber, a cab, a train) to get that job done. Thinking like this will make you formulate the Pain Point from the customer’s perspective, not the companies perspective.

So, what needs to be done is some re-engineering: What is the customer problem behind the ride ordering (if there is one at all)?

A better example might be more something like this:

Customers want to walk as little as possible

This expresses a possible customer Pain Point. If that turns out to be one, maybe they are willing to pay to get a ride.

2. Concrete

A Pain Point must be concrete, not abstract


Because customers don’t think and live in abstract concepts like “safety”, “trust” or “convenience”. Customers open car doors, they get scared by noise and honking, they drag around shopping bags and baby strollers (and babies) and so on. The tricky thing is that often abstract concepts that are claimed to be Pain Points of customers are not wrong: they are just not actionable and too general to have a concise meaning.

Here’s an example of an abstract Pain Point:

Customers need travel time accuracy.

This is most certainly not wrong, but what exactly does it mean? Do customers need to know how long it takes to get from A to B? To compare the time it takes to get from A to B in different ways accurately? Do know precisely when they arrive? When they must leave? All of the above? A Pain Point at that level of abstraction might be true but not very helpful to guide action in an organization.

How to do it better:

To improve upon the abstract Pain Point customer research is necessary. One of the key tasks of a Jobs-to-be-done interview is deconstructing such abstract concepts into all the components that – form a customer perspective – something like “travel time accuracy” consists of. Sometimes even customers use such concepts, «Easy» being the most often. Customers regularly will say that a product or service is or must be easy to use. But how helpful is it to know that on this level of abstraction? Dig deeper to understand what «Easy» means in this particular context! So, how could the above Pain Point be improved

A better example might be more something like this:

Customers want to estimate as precisely as possible when they have to get up and out out of the building/place, they are in to catch the preferred connection.

3. Quantified

A Pain Point must be quantified, not anecdotal


Because while anecdotal knowledge of a Pain Point is evidence it is neither proof nor in most cases robust enough for the investment that builds on in. It basically boils down to this: Do you want to focus on a Pain Point that you know 1 person has or on one that 100, 300, a thousand people have? Unfortunately, it is not true that if 3 people have the same Pain Point the other 97 will have it as well. This is a dangerous bias pure qualitative research must be aware of. Just because a sample of 6 has something in common does not imply that the next 6 do as well. You just don’t know. Yes, it depends on the purpose, sometimes knowing that 2 or 3 people have the same Pain Point is enough, but it’s rarely the case. Usually, you want to be more certain.

There’s no example of an anecdotal Pain Point here because everything else can be fine with it. The problem isn’t its form it’s the (low) degree to which you are sure it is relevant in a given market or segment.

How to do it better:

Find ways of quantifying the Pain Point. There are many ways and we have over 10 years of experience in over 100 projects of how this can be done. But there are always other ways from lean approaches to more sophisticated quantitative market research. The point is not that there is a precise recipe to follow, the point is: Get as certain as possible within your means that this Pain Point is as widespread as possible. The more people who have that same Pain Point in common, the higher a solution that address this Pain Point should be prioritized.

3 elements, 1 purpose

A Pain Point must express a need, not a solution

A Pain Point must be concrete, not abstract

A Pain Point must be measured, not anecdotal

These are the 3 key elements of a Pain Point. They all serve 1 purpose: To make full use of the power of the concept of a customer Pain Point to make sure your innovations, strategies or new products hit the nail on their head: fulfilling the needs of as many customers as possible in your market and truly develop things that add value to their lifes.

Get in touch if you want sharp customer Pain Points that will help you truly innovate.

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