SPIN Selling

a fast spin on the sunset afterglowSPIN Selling by Neil Rackham was published in 1988, and while the graphics in the book look a little dated, the content is still relevant.  I enjoyed the book, particularly in his analytical approach and his methodical refuting of many commonly-held beliefs about the "art" of selling.  It is written with a focus on sales professionals, but in today's world nearly anyone might be a sales connection.  And this material can be helpful for just about anyone - whether they are officially in sales or not.

I've heard about SPIN from my P3 colleagues a number of times, but I never quite got what all the letters stood for.  And I had thought that the last pieces of the process had to do with telling the customer how great were the products / services you were selling.  That was a little misguided.  SPIN is all about asking good questions - something I've heard said about consulting in general.  So, SPIN = Situation, Problem, Implication, Needs-Payoff

  • Situation.  Ask questions to help get an understanding of the situation.  Done well, this helps focus on what kinds of problems to uncover.
  • Problem.  Ask questions to uncover problems that the customer is having.  Being well-prepared means you know what kinds of problems to look for.
  • Implication.  Ask questions geared toward having the customer see the implications of the problems that have been uncovered.  The goal here is to make the problem seem larger - often by tying together a number of problems into larger problems.  The customer needs to see these problems as theirs, which is why Rackham talks about having the customer explicitly stating the implications.  They being owning the problem and wanting to solve it.  While each organization is different, these connections often have similar logic.  I could not help think about Current Reality Trees from Theory of Constraints.
  • Needs-Payoff.  Finally, the questions on Needs take the customer from the serious problems they've uncovered to thoughts about the value they would gain if the problem were to be solved.

But SPIN isn't all there is to selling, which is another misconception I had before reading the book.  There is an overall sales process into which this concept fits.  The other element is that SPIN applies to bigger sales that require multiple discussions and meetings before the any contracts are signed and goods / services are exchanged.  (It also applies for some smaller sales, where the cycle tends to be much faster.)

The overall process for a given sales call goes from Preliminaries to Investigation to Demonstration to Commitment.  And even before the call starts, the sellers need to plan ahead as to what they expect to get out of the meeting.  Are they expecting a signed contract or an "advance" to the next step in the sales funnel?  How do they need to frame their questions and the discussion to get to that point.  What are some likely questions associated with advance knowledge about this particular customer?  The SPIN ideas come in most strongly in the "investigation" step - that's where a lot of questions were being asked.  But even in "demonstration," the SPIN ideas come back because the strongest sales connection happens when you demonstrate value against the explicit needs of the customer - needs they've expressed in the Implication and Needs-Payoff questions. 

There is an interesting discussion of common wisdom around "objection handling."  When the book was written, many common sales training methodologies focused on objection handling techniques.  Rackham argues from experience and research that more objections occur when the sales process focuses too heavily on features and advantages of the product / service.  And fewer objections arise when the sales professional looks for connections to explicit needs and describes benefits of the product / service tied to those needs.  These are true benefits - benefits that the customer believes, rather than the generic advantages that the company believes.

The best buy-in comes when the customer sees the benefits for themselves, rather than being told about some feature or advantage by the sales person.  That is the point of the SPIN process, in my current understanding.  This has some connections to change management too, I think.

[Photo: "a fast spin on the sunset afterglow" by Kristian Madsen]

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