Believe it or not, there wasn’t a whole lot of data out there on sales techniques in the past. A lot of the industry was based on “feel”, “intuition”, and “charisma”. That is until one revolutionary book came along and turned the business of selling on its head in 1988.
And the research-driven techniques this book uncovered are just as effective today as they were 30+ years ago.
Today we’re talking about one of the most influential books in sales history, SPIN Selling by Neil Rackham.
The History of Sales
As the scholars among you may already know, the first sales model that was widely used across markets we developed in the 1920s.
It focused on traditional selling tactics like using open and closed questions, presenting features/benefits, objection handling, and closing. This alone was often enough to win over most prospects.
But as sales grew in price and complexity over the years and particularly in the late eighties, this model alone wasn’t enough to get the job done. And that’s where Neil Rackham’s SPIN Selling came in. This extensively tested new model was built to address the changing sales landscape.
It uses a questioning method that follows the acronym SPIN:
- S for Situation
- P for Problem
- I for Implications
- And N for Need Payoff
We’ll get into the specifics of it all in a sec. But first let’s look at…
Why SPIN Works
Why SPIN Selling works. When it comes to the larger complex sales of B2B businesses today, there are four main differences that sales reps like you need to compensate for.
1. A Longer Sales Cycle
While small sales can be handled in a single call, modern sales require many calls, often with different stakeholders over the course of several months.
2. A Larger Commitment
Small sales don’t require a lot of commitment due to the lower price tag. But more complex deals typically require a larger financial commitment, meaning the rep needs to demonstrate MORE VALUE to make it worth the investment.
3. Ongoing Relationships
Due to the longer sales cycle, more complex deals will naturally create deeper relationships between the buyer and seller. As a result, that relationship (whether good or bad) tends to have more of an effect on the deal itself.
4. Higher Risk
There’s a higher risk with larger deals. If the solution isn’t a fit, there’s more money at stake here. But don’t forget, there’s also a loss of time, respect, and even future advancement on the line.
How to Use SPIN Selling
How can you use SPIN Selling to maximize success with your prospects?
Like so much of sales, success depends on asking the right questions. And SPIN is all about what types of questions you should be asking.
S – Situation Questions
Situation questions. These are the fact-finding and background questions. Questions like, “What do you see as your company’s biggest opportunities for growth in the coming quarter?”
This is where you start the conversation out. They’ll help you build context around the buyer so you can naturally transition into the next stage.
Now before we move on, it’s important that you use these types of questions sparingly as they may eat up a lot of the customer’s time and patience.
Once you’ve built up some context, time to move on to…
P – Problem Questions
Problem questions. These are questions that explore problems or issues your product can solve. Questions like “Are you concerned about your aging equipment’s ability to meet your clients’ quality standards?”
These questions uncover implied needs.
These are the smaller, more generalized customer frustrations. Frustrations like “Our press quality is lacking,” or “our system creates too much waste.”
Your job is to then build those needs into larger, more urgent issues—the explicit needs.
I – Implication Questions
Implication questions. These are the questions that underscore the implications or consequences of an implied need. Doing that opens the door to more urgency and the customer understanding the value of your solution.
Some examples of implication questions might be “how will this affect your fourth-quarter results” or “what will this mean for your biggest customer?”
The goal here is to get the customer to state their explicit needs. Needs like “We have to cut our procurement costs” or “we need a more efficient system.”
N – Need Payoff Questions
These questions lead the customer to link the benefits of your product to their problem.
For example, you might ask, “How useful would it be if we could increase your output by 10%?” or “How would being able to reduce errors help you?”
When you can ask the right questions to lead the buyer to make that connection, you’re going to be in great shape to close the deal.
SPIN In Action
SPIN in action so we can better understand how all these questions flow together.
Here’s what a typical SPIN Selling question cycle might look like.
- The seller asks Situation Questions to gather context around the buyer. That then leads to…
- Problem questions that help the buyer uncover implied needs.
- The seller then develops those implied needs using Implication Questions that highlight the impact of the problem they’re facing.
- Thanks to the impact becoming clearer, the buyer will shift from implicit needs to explicit needs.
- The seller then responds to those explicit needs with Need Payoff Questions…
- Which let the buyer identify the benefits of the solution, contributing to sales success.
As you can see, questions flow into each other and open up the door to the next step naturally.
This open flow makes the transition through the sales cycle seamless, natural, and very effective.
And that is SPIN Selling in a nutshell.