What Is SPIN Selling?
SPIN Selling is a sales technique developed by Neil Rackham, a well-known author and consultant, that helps sales reps understand the customers' needs, build a persuasive case around their problems, and offer solutions.
The SPIN selling method gives sales representatives a framework to ask the right questions from these four categories, giving SPIN its name.
SPIN is an acronym for:
S - Situation
P - Problem
I - Implication
N - Need Pay-off
Over the past decades, SPIN selling has proven effective in improving sales success.
How SPIN Selling Framework Was Created
Neil Rackham, in the 1970s, set out to determine what differentiates the best salespeople from the average ones. After analyzing over 35,000 sales calls over a decade, Rackham and his team brought to light a new approach to winning deals.
He realized that the success of the sales call depends on what type of questions sales reps ask buyers.
At the same time, the timing of the questions also has a critical role. He began categorizing the questions in a sequence and, in 1988, published his findings in a book – SPIN Selling. Eventually, this sales technique came to become part of every sales team's staple.
SPIN Selling Methodology: Questions to Ask
The SPIN selling method foundation lies in the types of questions you ask. These questions are built on each other that can help sales reps reach their ultimate goal of winning the sales pitch.
Let’s break down each category for better understanding.
Many sales reps make the mistake of jumping directly into the sales pitch without knowing about their customers’ needs. Sales reps have to understand the current situation of every individual customer.
Neil Rackham explains in his book how selling is not all about the product. Instead, the focus should be on understanding customers’ needs. The goal is to collect information by asking questions that can help uncover a buyer’s current situation, problems, budget, and expectations early in the sales call.
Situation questions are asked in the initial opening stages of the sales call.
Following are a few examples of situation questions:
- What is your role at your current organization?
- Which tool do you use to solve problem X?
- What is the current process used to solve a particular problem?
- Do you have a solution in place?
- What are your priorities this quarter/year?
- Why did you go to a particular vendor in the first place?
- Did you find any suitable resources for this particular problem?
This helps get a complete picture of the client’s current situation, and the salesperson can then position their offerings effectively.
Also note, the situation questions aren't about the buyer’s company size, products, industry, or any fact-gathering information. You can find this information online. This background information must be researched before reaching out to the prospects.
Problem questions illustrate the issues or the current deficiencies your product will solve. These questions rely on probing the pain points and showing the prospect how their current situation is inefficient.
Sometimes, buyers are unaware of the problems they might be facing. So instead of telling the client what the problem is, ask questions that will help identify their own problems.
Let’s say, you are trying to sell a business phone system, but your ideal prospect is already using one from your competitor. However, you find out that your client has been facing high drop rates with their current system. So the problem question in the situation can be – do you think you are losing customers because of your current system's inefficiency?
Problem questions are for the investigation stage of sales calls.
Following are a few examples of problem questions:
- What’s your opinion of the current process?
- Is there any scope for improvement?
- What are the pros and cons of the current process?
- Is the current process impacting stakeholders?
- How expensive is product x?
- How would you rate your current product?
- Do you feel your current system is reliable?
- How does it affect your team’s work?
Through these questions, the reps must be able to make the prospects realize how the status quo is affecting them and help them prioritize change.
Implication questions allow customers to explain their frustrations. It helps identify the magnitude of their problem – its impact on the company's performance, consumers, investors, and other stakeholders.
Sometimes, the clients may view the problem discovered during problem questions as mere inconveniences. But with the right implication question, you can show the client how this issue still needs to be addressed and instill a sense of urgency in the buyer.
One important tip is not to mention your product at this stage. The call still needs to be about evaluating customers’ needs further.
Following are a few examples of implication questions:
- Is the limitation costing the business?
- How much budget have you allocated to solve the current issue?
- What would be the benefit of eliminating the limitation?
- Is the problem reducing the quality of output?
- How does the ‘X’ problem impact your work?
- When was the last ‘X’ that didn’t work?
- Do you believe you could have saved [amount] if you had automated your [process name]?
- Would saving [amount of time] significantly benefit your [team, company]?
Rackham also says top-performing salespeople ask four times more implication questions than their average peers.
This is the final stage of the SPIN selling methodology, and the questions come directly from your implication questions.
The need-payoff questions should help the prospect recognize the value of solving the identified problems. But the question you ask should assist your prospective customers to determine the answers themselves. You should avoid recommending your product directly.
That’s why do not ask questions highlighting problems that your product can’t solve.
Below are a few examples of SPIN need-payoff questions:
- What would be valuable to the client’s organization?
- What are the expectations from the solution?
- Would Y make it easier to achieve [result]?
- How important is it to find a solution for your role?
- Would Y solution help to intrigue the stakeholders?
The need-payoff questions depend on the effectiveness of the questions from earlier stages. By this point, the client should already be able to recognize the problem and the need to solve it. This is the ultimate conversion stage.
This is the stage when the sales representative can pitch in. They can advise on corrective action. They can offer solutions, and the sellers can show the value (or payoff) of choosing their product.
The Four Stages of SPIN Selling
According to Neil Rackham, every sale has four stages:
- Demonstrating capability
- Obtaining commitment
The stages of SPIN Selling build off one another as each step leads to another. Every step corresponds to a category of SPIN questions. Depending on the customer and the industry, these stages can happen either in a single sales call or stretch over several interactions.
Stage 1 – Opening
The salesperson should not begin the sales process by pitching the product straightaway – it will only drive your prospect away. The aim should be to gather preliminary information about the buyer’s needs, concerns, motivations, and more to build a relationship with them.
When you show interest in them rather than just viewing them merely as another customer, you will be able to earn their trust.
For instance, you need to close a deal for production software with a new lead. Instead of directly pushing your product at the beginning, use this connect call to gather information.
You can begin by asking questions like:
- Who is in charge of the production?
- Which production software is currently in use?
- What are the current output levels?
- What is the reason for choosing the software?
Stage 2 – Investigating
Investigating is the second stage of the SPIN selling process, where you try to identify their pain points. This is the same as the discovery call – you try figuring out how your product fits in.
By asking relevant questions, you also gain credibility and enable sales reps to pitch their product/service more effectively.
Continuing with the same example from stage 1, the following are the possible questions in stage 2:
- What are the issues with the current production software?
- Has the software ever crashed?
- How costly is the maintenance of the software?
Stage 3 – Demonstrating Capability
The third stage of the SPIN selling process is showcasing the capability.
By now, you must have already built a rapport with your prospect, so you need to show how your product or service will help solve their problem. You can demonstrate your product’s capability in three ways – features, advantages, and benefits.
Features are useful when buyers are only concerned about bottom-line results. It works well for simple products. For example, “This candle is made using soya wax.”
Advantages show how the feature is actually used, particularly useful for small purchases. The advantage of a candle might be, “This candle can last for seven hours.”
Benefits, on the other hand, are about demonstrating how a particular functionality will help the prospect. This gives a reason to purchase a product. Here, the benefit of that candle could be “If you are looking for an eco-friendly wax that also burns the longest, you will appreciate this candle’s making. You can burn this candle without worrying about its implication on the environment.”
Stage 4 – Obtaining commitment
The final stage is where the sales team has converted a lead into an account. The customer chooses the products/services that meet their needs. At this stage, introspect about the sales process and efforts. It is necessary to capture the entire customer interaction journey for future reference as it is an important learning trajectory.
Benefits of SPIN Selling Framework
SPIN selling framework is designed to help sales professionals close more deals.
The sales reps generally have a lot of questions to ask their prospects. However, SPIN selling methodology allows them to structurize their questions in a way that builds off one another. It allows them to better understand their prospects and align their offerings with those of the prospects.
That’s not it. Once you master the art of SPIN selling, it has much more to offer.
- Helps understand their prospect’s pain points so that they can sell better products and services.
- Builds trust as prospects feel that they are in control of the conversation.
- Sales reps face fewer objections because of how they tailor their positioning of the product.
- Helps forge long-term relationships with clients, which creates a high probability of closing deals in the early stages.
- Provides a framework for planning sales activities.
Tips for Better SPIN Selling
Here are a few best practices for successfully implementing the SPIN selling framework for sales teams.
1. Don’t Ask Too Many Questions In One Call
It may look like you want to try to get through all four stages in one call. But depending on the complexity of the product, the SPIN conversation will likely happen over a series of calls.
Besides, buyers might not have the patience to answer many questions in one go. So do your homework, gather their background information, and move without rushing them through the different stages of SPIN selling.
2. Combine With Other Sales Methodologies
One advantage of the SPIN selling framework is that it overlaps with other methodologies. Thus, this technique can also be combined with other methods and provide more tools to create a winning sales strategy.
A sales pitch cannot be a one-sided conversation but should be interactive, where the salesperson listens and asks relevant questions to understand the buyer.
The SPIN selling method provides a framework for sales teams to plan their sales calls. Using the SPIN selling guide, salespeople can bring authenticity to their approach and increase the chance of closing more deals.