I’ve always been the type of person who really wants to like reading, but only manages to read 1-2 books per year. I’m hoping this year will be different… ‘Fingers crossed’
In January 2022 I purchased and read the book SPIN Selling by Neil Rackham. The book is considered by many, the Bible of sales. Over the course of 12 years, Neil analyzed over 35,000 sales calls from 200 of the largest companies in the world like IBM, Xerox, and Citicorp.
The book does not focus on the old-school “always be closing” mentality- but rather on asking SPIN questions- Situation, Problem, Implication, Need-Payoff. I was relieved when I discovered the author wasn’t pitching uncomfortable pressure tactics, but instead, a structure on how to best discover your customer’s pain points, and then help solve them.
Neil says that before every sales meeting you need to decide what success looks like- and usually that is in the form of an advance. An advance is anything that moves the sales process forward. This might be actually closing the sale, but could also simply be booking a second meeting with a more senior decision-maker at the company. An advance, however, is not simply having the customer say “Thanks for coming today- this was helpful. Why don’t you follow up with us in a few months?” Calls that end like this are not successful calls. We need to set advancement targets for each sales call, and then track and analyze the results.
So let’s break down the SPIN questions:
- Situational– These types of questions are background type questions and are purely fact based. “What computers are you currently using?” “How long have you been using XYZ software?” The author shows statistically that the least amount of time should be used asking situational questions as they can bore the customer. You should do as much research as you can ahead of time in order to minimize the number of situational questions you ask.
- Problem– Next we move on to the problem questions to attempt to uncover any issues the customer is having. Good salespeople will find themselves asking problem questions that sound like “Are you satisfied with your present equipment?” “Does this machine give you reliability issues?”. You will want to prepare these questions ahead of your sales call so that you are prepared to find the customer’s pain points. Problem questions are much more strongly linked to successful sales calls than situational calls.
- Implication– This is where the magic of SPIN selling really takes off. In this level of questions, we probe deeper and help the customer identify the true cost of the problems they’re experiencing. For example, a customer may have machines that are hard to operate. Your job is to ask implication questions so that the customer can take a step back and realize that the hard to operate machine is actually leading to, staff turnover, recruitment costs, increased training cost, over time, production bottlenecks, reduced production throughput, quality issues, customer complaints, opportunity cost, etc. Think of this as the deep dive section of questions.
- Need-Payoff– With need payoff questions we start asking questions about solutions vs. the previous steps where we asked about problems. We ask questions like “How do you think a more reliable machine would benefit you?” We are getting the customer to tell us the benefits of an ideal solution to their problem. Throughout the sales process, it’s helpful to consider yourself primarily as a problem-solver.
In a nutshell, this is the SPIN Selling method.
After you’ve completed these questions you’ll want to move into relating the benefits of your product with the exact problems the customer identified during the call. A customer won’t care that your product has low voltage LED lights if what they need is less production downtime. The customer WILL care that your production software will reduce their downtime by 10% within 7 days of being installed.
Conclusion: If you’re in a role that involves any sort of sales responsibilities, or even if sales interests you slightly, I would recommend this book. SPIN selling offers a concise strategy for honest selling. I enjoyed reading this book and at only 159 pages you can get through it pretty quickly- nice for someone who’s trying to read more books this year!