Is this a new trend in marketing-speak?

Twice in the last month I’ve opened documents from clients asking me to think about what they call their “pain points.” Having worked extensively in the rheumatology and pain management areas, my first thought was that they were asking me about physical pain, as in “Ow, my shoulder hurts!”, or “I have a headache.” But that didn’t seem right; I was confused.

No, I was told, the term “pain points” is meant to raise the question, “What keeps our customers up at night? What do they worry about?” Although that is certainly an important question, one that goes to the heart of serving customer needs, I still find the term confusing. As a writer, I traffic in clarity, striving to make every document as clear as possible to its intended audience. That imperative is especially important to the medical writer, who must often present  complex concepts in an accessible manner. Don’t these life science companies understand that use of the term “pain points” may cause confusion, particularly in a medical writer’s mind?

Other questions come to mind: From where did this term originate? Is it specific to the pharma/biotech/device space, or did it arise in another industry? How commonly is it used among marketers? Did they learn about it in business school? I happen to have an MBA in marketing, although I earned it in the late 1980s (that shows how old I am!), but I don’t recall ever hearing the term “pain points” in business school.

More to the point, wouldn’t “worry points” be more accurate? Wouldn’t that be less confusing? Or am I really out of touch?

What do you think?