SPIN Selling Review
- SPIN Selling was born from extensive sales research that found the sequence, types and quality of questions asked by the seller to the buyer were very influential in determining whether the salesperson lost or won the sale opportunity.
- It is a sales methodology that applies four types of questions to develop needs and build value that aligns with the seller's unique differentiators.
- This method is best suited for business-to-business large account sale opportunities, characterized by purchase complexity, multiple stakeholders, purchase committees, high sale value, and long duration sales cycles.
Rackham is a behavior psychologist, and his sale methodology was created from 12 years of research and analyzing over 35,000 sales leads in more than 20 countries. The study looked at 116 factors that impact sales performance and found the factors that most effect sales results were quite different for small and large sale opportunities. Ultimately, the research and resulting sales method focused on the factors that most drive large sale opportunities.
The research found that top sellers rarely pitched their products. Instead, they led with strategic and purposeful questions to gain key information and proactively guide the conversation. The research also found that in successful sales the buyers did most of the talking. The key to establishing rapport and getting the buyer to do most of the talking is to ask specific types of questions in a particular sequence.
Rackham's research also found that top-performing sales reps rarely, if ever, pose random or low-value questions. They know they have a limited period before the prospect becomes fatigued due to too many questions. They also know that the period is lessened if the buyer perceives the questions to be of marginal value, so top sellers carefully plan and use their time in the most efficient manner.
Questions are the foundation of this sales methodology. SPIN is an acronym for the four types of questions sales reps should ask their prospects.
The first line of questioning is designed to understand the prospects situation. These questions surface facts and provide context.
The key to successful questioning begins by doing customer research ahead of the sales call. It's critical to pose only relevant questions that discover needed information and guide the conversation toward a planned destination. Most sellers ask more situation questions than they recognize. To avoid this, pre-planning is needed. Good selling starts with good planning.
Top producers never ask questions that could have been answered with some research done in advance of the meeting as this irritates the buyer and leaves less time for more important questions.
The research found that the more Situation questions asked in a sales call the less likely it was to succeed. It also found that the more senior the buyer, the less likely they are to answer factual questions. Senior buyers have less time and patience, and many don't suffer fools well. It's important to recognize these types of questions deliver no benefit to the buyer.
The goal is to advance through situation questions quickly and apply the information to guide the next types of questions, starting with Problem Questions.
The second line of questioning is designed to surface and explore the buyer's pain.
The salesperson is essentially a detective that uncovers and clarifies problems. The seller must drill past symptoms to uncover root causes and transform implied needs to explicit needs.
Implied Needs are customer comments that share problems, constraints or dissatisfactions. Explicit Needs are customer comments sharing what they want or need. Less successful salespeople don't differentiate between the two. More successful sellers recognize that implied needs by themselves are not material in the buyer's decision-making process. But if they can be converted into explicit needs, they can be used to improve the win probability.
Research findings that guide the Problem Questions include the following:
- The research found that inexperienced sellers asked fewer problem questions, while more successful sellers asked more and asked them earlier in the meeting.
- Most problem questions generate implied needs. Less experienced salespeople treated these needs as buy criteria. The more successful salespeople recognized they are not buying criteria unless than can be converted into explicit needs.
Problem questions require advanced planning. This is best done by working backwards to first identify the relevant problems that the seller's solution resolves, and then posing questions so the buyer identifies these problems.
This method also advises that after you identify a problem it's important to continue revealing and clarifying it until you and the buyer share a thorough understanding.
The goal of this stage is to identify several problems that the buyer needs to fix. At the minimum, there must be at least one problem to move forward with the sale opportunity.
Here are some examples of problem questions:
- What's standing in the way of achieving your goal?
- What's the impetus of this problem?
- Why is this problem important?
- Why fix this problem now?
- Who owns this problem?
- What's been done so far to try to fix this problem?
- What obstacles did you incur in tackling this problem?
- How will you solve this problem?
- Are there other problems related to this problem?
Advanced preparation is key. Sellers are advised to create a short list of high impact problems that are likely to be relevant to the buyer and are solved with the seller's solution.
The third line of questioning is designed to magnify the problems and delve into the consequences of not solving the problems.
The goal is to identify the effects and depth of each problem with the aim of increasing the buyer's motivation to change.
This is frequently the most challenging part of navigating the discussion. It's difficult to raise these types of questions on the fly so planning them in advance is helpful. One recommended technique is to imagine the buyer objecting, by saying "so what, I have these problems, but they aren't that serious."
Sellers expand upon the problems by asking follow-up questions. They commonly ask "what if" questions, investigate how one problem may lead to other problems and try to measure the business or financial impact. Smart implication questions will trigger the buyer to identify the effect, consequences and impact of the problem going unchecked.
SPIN Selling research findings that guide the implication questions include the following:
- It is important to avoid offering a solution until the problem is amplified and agreed to by the buyer. Top producers resisted the urge to quickly respond to buyer problems with their solutions. Instead, they held back and further investigated the sources of the problems, related problems and the implications of the problems. The top salespeople did not bring up their products or services until much later in the discussion.
- Implication questions are the most powerful of all sales questions because they help the customer see that the problem is serious enough to make a change.
- The research found that top performing salespeople ask four times as many implication questions than their average peers.
- Decision makers typically respond well to Implication questions. They want to know the effects and consequences of existing problems.
Implication questions are effective because they take Implied needs and convert them into Explicit needs. They induce pain and they show the consequences of inaction. Buyers will not buy until the pain of the problem is greater than the cost of the solution.
If the seller is successful in this step, the buyer will have a new appreciation and urgency to resolve the problem. Alternatively, if the buyer is not motivated by the implications, the seller either missed problem areas or the problems are not that serious to the buyer, in which case the seller should politely disqualify the lead.
Examples of Implication questions include:
- What are the financial or business effects of this problem?
Note that implications may include money, risk, time and reputation and all should be investigated.
- What happens if you don't make a change or solve this problem?
- If this is happening, could it lead to an even worse situation elsewhere?
Implication Questions can be designed to increase the size of the problem in the customer's mind.
The final line of questioning is designed to get the prospect to identify how their situation would be different if their problem was solved.
Most salespeople transition from buyer problems to seller solutions. For large sale opportunities making this transition is a mistake, as the seller is then positioning features to the buyer. Features are just facts, which get compared among products, often get diluted and invite objections.
Buyer benefits are much more powerful than product features because the buyer visualizes how their life will be better. Buyers become emotionally attached to benefits. So, the smarter path is to use need-payoff questions to get the buyer to state the benefits from a solution, and then the seller can align their product with those benefits.
Leading questions guide the prospect to self-identify the value of solving the problem and the benefits of a solution. Of course, the benefits cited by the buyer should align with the benefits provided by the salesperson's product or service. The seller's questioning will steer clear of deriving benefits that cannot be solved with his or her solution. The seller must also avoid leading the buyer to benefits that are less than relevant or obviously directed to the seller's solution.
By getting the buyer to confirm their explicit needs and reveal your product benefits, the buyer and not the seller, derive and explain the benefits, and with the seller's help seamlessly transition to the seller's product. If done effectively, the buyer will describe the seller's solution and how it can solve their problem.
Need-payoff questions facilitate the customer describing the seller product benefits in their own words. This is much more persuasive than those same words delivered by the seller. Also, buyer objections are reduced when it is the buyer who conceived the benefits.
There's an old sales quote that says something along the line of selling is not about convincing customers to buy something but about creating the right conditions for customers to convince themselves. That's what SPIN Selling is all about.
The research findings that guide the need-payoff questions include the following:
- The sales studies found that top salespeople ask more than 10 times as many Need-Payoff questions per sale than average performers.
- To be successful with SPIN Selling, it is essential that the buyer identify the benefits.
- When the buyer derives the benefits, the seller shifts from objection handling to objection prevention.
Perhaps the most impactful result of need-payoff questions is that the seller's value and benefits are easily shared and repeated among the buying committee. The final purchase decision is made when the seller is not in the room. It's much easier for buyers to describe benefits than products. When buyers confer and refer to benefits linked to the seller's product, and achieve consensus of those benefits, the seller's product will be the winning sale.
Need-payoff questions are complete when the buyer has described the value, benefits and urgency of solving his problem.
Examples of Need-payoff questions include:
- What does success look like?
- What's the top benefit of eliminating this problem?
- How is the business changed by eliminating that problem?
- How would that benefit help the company?
- How important is that to the company?
- Why is it important?
- How do you measure the value of that benefit?
- What's the revenue impact if you could do that?
- What's the cost savings achieved?
- How many labor hours will this save?
Other questions fall along the lines of "Would this help?" or "Would this have a material impact on your business?." Or "Would X or Y be more helpful?"
SPIN Selling Best Fit
When reviewing sales methodologies, consider SPIN Selling for the following scenarios.
- Large and complex sales with long sales cycle durations.
- Sale opportunities with plenty of information exchange between the buyer and seller.
- Sale opportunities where the prospect hasn't identified their real problems or may not fully understand the implications.
- A consultative or relationship-based selling technique.
The SPIN Selling techniques work well and are easily adapted into other sales methodologies. The types of questions can fold nicely into the qualification and discovery processes for other methods.
Similar to conceptual selling, the SPIN Selling method is less of a rigid process and more of a road map.
Rather than tell the buyer what they need, or simply push a product, the goal is to facilitate the buyer in uncovering and realizing value, benefits and urgency. This is accomplished by asking a series of thought-provoking questions that align or connect the dots with the seller's product or service.
The primary elements to success are the sequence of questions, the types of questions, and most of all the quality of the questions.
It's very difficult to pose leading questions on the fly. Successful sellers will instead prepare in advance by creating a sequence of questions which navigate backwards from the seller's unique value proposition and benefits to customer problems.
That said, questions must remain fluid as customer answers provided in one stage will become the topic of further questions in the next stage. It's also a good idea for the seller to summarize the most salient points and get agreement at the end of each stage. Finally, active listening is needed so that the conversation is perceived as more of a dialogue than an interrogation.
According to Rackham, the first students trained in the SPIN model showed an average of 17% improvement in sales results.