SPIN Selling: The Ultimate Guide

SPIN Selling is a well-known sales technique that provides a research-backed framework for working and closing B2B deals. It is based on a set of questions designed to gain the trust of prospects to increase the chances of success of your sales process.

This sales technique is based on a major study conducted in the 1970s by Neil Rackham. At the time, the findings of his research surprised most sales professionals because they were counterintuitive to traditional sales training most companies were conducting.

That is why Neil Rackham created the SPIN methodology, to teach salespeople a new way to sell their products or services, based on real-world evidence highlighted by his study.

In a nutshell, the SPIN model teaches that understanding the needs of your potential client is the key to making a sale. It provides a clear guide for conducting sales meetings that emphasize active, customer-focused listening.

At Sales Odyssey, we do our fair share of selling, and we know that “SPIN Selling” is still relevant in 2020. In this article, we are going to prove it to you, and show you how to use it to close more deals.

Understanding the SPIN selling method

The book SPIN Selling focuses on the results of a project conducted by Neil Rackham in the 1970s and 1980s. That study lasted 12 years and spanned 35,000 sales calls.

In that book, Rackham argues that salespeople must abandon traditional sales techniques. Rather than pushing products or services, they need to build value, identify client needs & pain points. Ultimately, the sales rep should become a trusted advisor to the customer.

A sales technique resulting from a study conducted by Neil Rackham

SPIN SELLING, Le Best seller de Neil Rackham

In the 1970s, Neil Rackham began a large research project on sales techniques, funded by major companies (IBM and Xerox in particular).

For more than ten years, his team of thirty people analyzed 35,000 sales calls from different countries.

The purpose of the study was to validate the effectiveness of the traditional sales techniques of the time.

After compiling and analyzing the results, Neil Rackham leveraged the Insights from his study to develop the Spin Selling Method. The book he wrote to share his method quickly became a bestseller.

The sales methods of the time were not suitable for all sales

Neil Rackham shares a great story in the first chapter of the book. He met with a VP of Sales to report on his findings. The VP's preconceived ideas about what made sales rep successful were completely off. The VP completely dismissed the findings of the study and kicked him out.

This is what Neil Rackham’s team found out:

  • The conclusion of the sales meeting is NOT the most important step.
  • Asking a lot of open-ended questions does NOT lead to increased sales.
  • Being able to handle customer's objections does NOT necessarily lead to a sale.

Neil Rackham demonstrates that while the above findings may be true for "small sales" (i.e., those priced below $109), this was not the case for "large sales", like B2B Sales.

These complex sales require much more than a phone call and do not rely on aggressive selling techniques or marketing. It is all about the customer, and his own journey towards making a purchasing decision. He will make his own mind, but the sales rep’s role is to provide the right information at the right time to convince the decision-makers and get their trust.

This is what the SPIN method is all about.

By focusing on people's real needs and asking relevant questions during the discovery phase and throughout the sales cycle, salespeople get better conversion rates!

The four main types of SPIN Selling questions

Questions are the foundation of SPIN Selling. Asking the right questions at the right time enables you to understand your client and better serve him. Rackham and his team found that every question must have a clear purpose and that the order in which you ask those is strategic as well.

To this end, the book provides a methodological framework for implementing this approach.

SPIN is the acronym for the four types of questions that must be asked by a salesperson to a prospect in order to establish a relationship of trust in a sales process.

The SPIN questions are:

  1. the "Situation" questions
  2. the "Problem" questions
  3. the "Implication" questions
  4. the “Need-Payoff” questions

The “Situation” questions

SPIN Selling starts with the situation questions. They allow us to establish an initial connection with a prospect and get details about his or her context.

For instance, they provide answers about processes & tools currently used by the prospect, as well as the prospect's responsibility within his organization.

The goal at this stage is to gather facts, figures, and information about the client.

Here are examples of situational questions:

  • What is your role at [company]?
  • Who is responsible for [X]?
  • What is your process for [X]?
  • Who is your current provider for [X]?

Now that you can discover key details about your prospect with online searches, many situational questions are no longer relevant. Not only can they test buyers' patience, but these questions also leave less time for the most important ones.
Do your research before the call so that you can ask as few “situation” questions as possible.

The “Problem” questions

Problem questions will highlight the explicit and implicit needs of the prospect to uncover a major problem to be solved!

The idea is to understand the current challenges and difficulties of the prospect and identify potential areas of opportunity.
They may be unaware they have a problem, or maybe they did not know a solution existed.

Often, salespeople with more experience are more comfortable conducting this type of interview. For example, you can try to find out:

  • How long does it take to do [X]?
  • Are you satisfied with the equipment/tool [X] that you are currently using?

We recommend using the Meddic sales technique to identify all of the elements you need to qualify your prospect at this stage.

The “Implication” questions

Once you’ve identified an issue, figure out how serious it is.

Implication questions reveal the depth and magnitude of your prospect’s pain point while providing you valuable information for customizing your message and instilling urgency in the buyer.

According to Rackham, prospects should have a new appreciation for the problem by the time you’ve finished this part of the conversation.

In the section devoted to these issues in the book, the author highlights an example of a sales conversation powered by “Implication” questions.

Rather than asking point-blank to the customer if he is interested in a new machine, the salesperson asks relevant questions. How do you train your employees to use your current machine? What are the training costs involved? Are you satisfied with your current machine?

In this case, the sales rep transformed the nature of the conversation and changed a “NO” into a “YES”. How?
The client went from thinking "No, your machine is too expensive" (the scale tipping towards not buying, see picture below on the left) to appreciate the merit of the proposed solution because he realized the hidden costs of his current equipment. Because of the seriousness of his problem, the scale tips towards buying the equipment. The cost of the solution is actually worth it for the client.

Spin Selling, les questions d'implication qui permettent un changement de posture

The “Need-payoff” questions

Your prospect is now aware of the difficulties he is going through. Need-Payoff questions should enable the prospect to explain your product’s benefits in their own words for their context, which is more persuasive than listening to you describe those benefits.

At this stage, the client can picture himself using your product/services and benefiting from the solution to the problem highlighted by the previous questions.

These questions prepare your customer to the next stage of his buyer’s journey: the purchasing stage.

Examples of need-payoff questions :

  • Why is it important to change X in your company?
  • What would be the benefits if we changed X together?

Need-Payoff questions can backfire if they’re too obvious. You might come across as condescending.

“Need-Payoff” questions are the logical next step to the previous questions (especially implication questions) you have been asking. Read your prospect’s reactions to your conversation and focus on what matters to him.

The 4 Stages of a SPIN Sale

In his book, Rackham says there are four basic stages of every sale:

  • The Opening Stage
  • The Investigating Stage
  • The Demonstrating Capability Stage
  • The Obtaining Commitment Stage

In the complex world of B2B sales, it might take two months to two years to complete all four stages. Buyers advance from one stage to another by their actions, for instance signing up for a free trial or asking for a quote.

Rackham calls these actions “advances”, you should come up with as many relevant advances as possible. The more paths to the sale, the likelier your prospects will get there.Opening Stage

You shouldn’t immediately discuss your product’s features and benefits -- not only will this overly aggressive strategy turn off prospects, but you will also lose the opportunity to learn valuable information.

The purpose of this opening stage is to capture the buyer’s attention and start to earn their trust. Share compelling insights and ask relevant questions, it will drive a meaningful conversation your prospect will remember.

Investigating Stage

The Investigation Stage is the most important phase of SPIN Selling. At this stage, you are figuring out how your product can help the buyer. You should also be identifying their priorities and their buying criteria.

Demonstrating Capability Stage

Once you have connected the dots between your solution and the prospect’s needs, you need to convince the buyer that connection exists and that it is worth his time and money to consider your solution.

Obtaining Commitment Stage

There are four potential outcomes for every sales call:

  • Order → You sold your solution!
  • Advance → Your prospect moved forward within his buyer’s journey
  • Continuation → The opportunity is still alive but its status has not changed
  • No-sales → The opportunity is dead, you will never sell to this prospect.

You must determine your goal ahead of each sales call, and your goal should be aligned with where your prospect currently stand. Your end-goal may always be to sell, but that should not be the goal of each sales call. It could deter your client from advancing at his own pace.

Successful closing depends on getting the right commitment throughout the sales process.

How to use SPIN Selling in 2020?

The SPIN Selling book was written more than 30 years ago. The book is still relevant but a lot has changed since then. Nowadays sales rep face different issues. For instance, the Situation Questions are not as important because sellers have powerful digital tools.

The end of the Situation questions?

In 2020, is it appropriate to ask future customers about their turnover, their team or their offer? When data can be found online, you should do your research first and only asks questions that are going to move the needle for your prospect. That being said you can leverage the information you found as an icebreaker during your sales meeting, and showcase the interest you have in what they do.

And the beginning of a shift in what Sales is all about

Your prospects are not interested in hearing about the problems they know they have. They want relevant solutions they can implement and answers to their questions! During your sales meetings, bring relevant facts and statistics to inform their decision-making process.

Social Selling is gaining ground

Social media and Blogs are gold mines for B2B Sales representatives.
Look at the articles your prospects wrote or shared on LinkedIn. Look at their Activity Feed, they might be sharing relevant news, or talking about their challenges.
Don’t stop at LinkedIn though, look up the company’s Facebook page & Twitter account. Do they have pages or groups where you can interact with their community and see what they have to say? The more information you get the better your sales process will be and the more interactions you get on Social Media the more likely you are to sell. This is what Social Selling is all about.

Monitor your prospect's e-reputation

e-réputation de votre prospect

Before an appointment, use tools that are easily accessible online :

  • Assess the company’s online presence and gather relevant information to the solutions you sell.
  • Are they hiring? You can learn a lot about what a company does and what they need by looking at the positions they are looking for and the tasks described in the job description.
  • Find who are the current clients of your prospect and analyze reviews. You’ll learn a lot about what your prospects are all about, as well as what they are good at & their shortcomings.

Use a good CRM software to enable your sales team

A CRM tool (Customer Relationship Management) will help your entire sales team determine where your current sales process is lacking. Use this information to refine your sales funnel and get better each step of the way.

What to keep in mind about this sales technique:

  • The SPIN method offers you a framework that is still relevant in 2020 for your sales meetings. Elicit explicit needs and get the prospect to envision how your solution will cater to these needs.
  • When the SPIN method is correctly implemented, it defuses your prospect's objections. How can he contradict a solution that is perfectly suited to the problem he mentioned?
  • If you are looking to recruit a Sales Representative, think about the qualities that make a good Sales Rep according to Neil Rackham’s findings. Active listening & a creative ability to fit solutions with customer issues are the keys to a successful SPIN seller. In the end, the ability to ask the right questions at the right time is what SPIN Selling is all about.
  • B2B companies with complex consultative sales, we recommend you combine SPIN Selling with the Meddic method to improve sales efficiency.

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