What’s the toughest part of selling?
It could be finding the right people to sell. Maybe you find it hard to convince prospects, and overcoming objections is impossible for you.
These problems are a dime a dozen in the life of a sales rep. Even the best struggle sometimes.
What makes excellent reps successful, however, is how they approach the sales process.
The best salespeople have tried and tested sales methodologies to eliminate blockers and make sales predictable. These are Challenger Sales, MEDDIC Selling, NEAT, and others.
In this guide, we’ll be covering one of the more well-known sales methodologies in use today: SPIN Selling.
You’ll learn everything you need to know about the technique, including:
- The history of SPIN Selling
- The different SPIN phases
- Coming up with practical SPIN questions
- Tweaking SPIN to work with modern consumers
Let’s dive into it.
The History of SPIN Selling
SPIN Selling was developed in the 70s by Neil Rackham, an acclaimed author with a background in psychology. His experience training professionals led him to question how sales were made.
- What was the secret behind successful salespeople?
- Could it be replicated?
Rackham analyzed over 35,000 sales calls to answer the million-dollar question. His discovery built the foundations of the now widespread SPIN Selling book.
He concluded that successful reps listen more than they talk. They ask the right questions at the right time—which may seem like common knowledge today.
However, back then, reps were taught to dominate conversations and convince prospects through hard-selling—the total opposite of the SPIN selling method.
Rackham argued that reps should adopt a consultant-like approach in the sales process. People want to feel valued, not be just a statistic to meet sales quotas. This approach meant building relationships, striving to overcome the prospect’s pain points, and providing as much value as possible.
The success of SPIN Selling (not to mention the number of modern sales techniques taking inspiration from the methodology) proves Rackham was right all along.
SPIN Selling is widely-used in high-value deals today and continues to do so thanks to the evergreen nature of its practices.
What is SPIN Selling and Why Does it Work?
Think of a time when an overly-passionate salesman was shoving a product you don’t need in your face. Annoying, right?
Your customers feel the same when you zone in on your product and not them.
People buy when they feel sales reps understand their problems, not because of the solutions pitched to them—and there is solid science to back this up. Behaviors result in hormone production, and those hormones can be positive (oxytocin) or harmful (cortisol). You want to trigger the production of good ones.
A study by the WE Institute discovered that managers who care about others receive higher engagement from employees compared to their less-empathetic colleagues. The same logic applies to sales since salespeople are essentially managing their relationships with prospects when making deals.
SPIN Selling uses this principle to incite trust and confidence among prospects, hence improving the chances of closing deals.
Confidence and trust are achieved by following the four stages of SPIN Selling:
- Situation: What should you know about the prospect?
- Problem: What challenges are the prospect facing?
- Implication: How are the challenges affecting the prospect?
- Need-Payoff: What will the prospect gain if the challenges are solved?
SPIN Selling is effective as it guides sales reps in understanding how and when to ask the right questions. Each stage corresponds to the type of questions to ask when engaging leads. The steps are also designed in a way to help reps uncover pain points effectively.
When done right, your prospects will almost convince themselves to buy your solution.
The methodology does not advocate open-ended questions.
Rackham found no real correlation between closing rates and open-ended questions in his analysis. Instead, sales reps should focus on questions that dig useful information out of prospects. It can even be closed-ended as long it gets the person talking.
SPIN Selling promotes an advisor-like approach when communicating with prospects. Traditional sales mantras like ‘always be closing’ and ‘overcome objections’ don’t matter here. Rackham’s research discovered that expensive deals were likely to fail if the sales rep is an aggressive closer.
Your job is not to pressure prospects to sign a five-figure contract within the next hour. It is to help them overcome problems that keep them awake at night. You should be sharing valuable knowledge and advice to help prospects, even if it means suggesting alternatives other than your solution. The rapport you build from providing value goes a long way in persuading clients to sign the check, particularly in bumper deals where trust is critical.
SPIN Selling fosters stronger client relationships compared to other sales methodologies.
Customers love reps who care about them.
Put yourself in the shoes of the buyer.
Would you buy from a seller whose demo consists entirely of how ‘disruptive’ the product is or someone who spends time talking to you and understanding what you need?
Choosing the latter is a no-brainer.
This tight bond helps a lot when it’s time to renew the deal or if you’re upselling the prospect. Your good relationship may even land your company a referral to more lucrative opportunities. References are sought-after in sales as they have high conversion rates and cost little to pursue since prospects are already familiar with your organization.
SPIN Selling is an excellent sales framework to work with if you’re selling medium to high-value products. Healthcare, tech, and manufacturing are examples of industries that benefit from this methodology, although any company can reap the rewards of SPIN Selling if they do it right.
The SPIN Selling Cycle
1. Warm up the Prospect
Your first move should focus on making prospects feel comfortable. This stage is where you ask preliminary, opening questions.
You want to acquaint yourself with the prospect and their company. It’s OK to ask broad questions. The goal now is for the client to see you as a trusted advisor for their problems.
Small talk is fine as long as you keep it moderate. Don’t drag a conversation to the point where it’s awkward to talk about the product. Busy clients may also appreciate you being straight to the point in meetings.
How do you warm up the prospect and establish rapport?
The best and easiest way is to find something related to your prospect.
Perhaps you saw a tweet about the prospect’s recent promotion. That could be a great topic to break the ice. You can even talk about someone you know at the prospect’s organization.
“Hey! I’ve worked with John from marketing in my previous job. Do you know him? How’s it like working there?”
The more personal your topic is, the faster your prospect will warm up to you. Explore social media channels (e.g., LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook) to uncover potential conversation starters.
Business websites can also be a goldmine of information if they’re updated. That said, stay away from sensitive or overly-personal matters—you don’t want to come off as a creep.
HubSpot has a great list of questions to build and establish rapport with customers.
2. Investigate Prospects’ Problems
The next step is to identify vital information about your prospect.
This is where SPIN Selling comes into play. By using the four SPIN questions, you want to know:
- Your prospect’s background (company information, facts, current solutions)
- Their organizational challenges
- The impacts of these challenges on the company
- The benefits gained from overcoming the challenges
We’ll analyze the types of SPIN questions later in this article.
The aim here is to connect with your clients on a personal level. Remember the managerial study we mentioned earlier? Your prospect wants to know that you ‘get’ their situation.
It’s not enough to acknowledge the problems. You need to view the challenges from their perspective and understand how it’s keeping the prospect back from achieving their goals.
You want the prospect to talk about their obstacles, some of which they might not even be aware of before your questions. The insights gained from this stage will help you immensely when presenting your solution to clients later.
Don’t rush when investigating. You might miss out on important details if you move too fast.
Let the prospect guide the conversation and move on the next step only if you feel you have enough information or you risk misunderstanding your prospect’s needs—a common sales killer.
3. Demonstrating Capabilities of your Solution
Now you know their problems, it’s time to show why your solution is the best choice for your prospect.
A common misconception is that clients look for best-in-class solutions.
You can have the most advanced product in the world, but if it doesn’t do what your customers want, you’re not going to close any deals. Don’t expect customers to adapt to your product.
A solution is right only if it satisfies your prospect’s needs to a tee.
Demonstrating capability is as simple as matching your solution to your prospect’s challenges. If you’re selling pens and your customer complains about running out of ink, talk about how your product only needs to be refilled once every few years with heavy usage. The feature that solves your prospect’s challenges is the one influencing the sale. Others are just nice-to-haves.
Include social proof when pitching your solution. Trust signals like testimonials, endorsements, and media coverage give you the edge you need to seal the deal.
The best social proof is a referral from existing clients. It’s almost like selling in easy mode since prospects already know how your solution works.
Be careful not to go for the close too quickly, even if the prospect is delighted with your solution. You may require multiple meetings before the prospect is fully onboard, especially if it’s a high-value deal.
‘Always be closing’ will not work with SPIN Selling’s value-based approach.
4. Ask for Commitment
The dream phase of every sales rep—going for the close.
Asking for commitment in SPIN Selling is the easiest stage if you did everything correctly, even if it’s a lucrative, six to seven-figure deal.
Customers feel valued by the fact that your solution is tailored to their needs. They know overcoming their challenges is your biggest priority, leading to greater trust and confidence in your offering.
When should you ask for the commitment?
Look for buying signals from the prospect. Buying signals can come in the form of questions, statements, and even body language.
Ask for commitment if your prospect is saying things like:
- “I’m impressed with your product.”
- “How much will this cost?”
- “When can we start?”
It’s not always about making sales. Scheduling the next meeting, attending product demos, signing up for trials—these are all commitments that progress your sales cycle further.
Be wary of faux commitments like requests for proposals or product brochures.
You should only ask for actions that help you move forward in the sale. Anything else is a waste of your time and effort.
The Four Types of SPIN Selling Questions
Situation questions help you understand your prospect’s background. The information you gather here will set the foundations for the remaining SPIN questions.
Some examples of good situation questions to get your prospects talking include:
- “What solution are you using at the moment?”
- “How long have you been with your current provider?”
- “Who is using the solution in the company?”
- “Why did your organization choose to work with your current solution?”
Avoid asking questions you can easily research online. You don’t want to bore the client to death. Worse, you might even come across as someone who isn’t bothered to do his or her homework—not a good look for your company.
Read up on your prospect first before you sell. Information you can’t find online can then be turned into situation questions if required.
Don’t spend too much time here. Three to five situation questions give you enough info to move forward.
Don’t mention your product now, even if it’s the perfect solution for their problems. Your prospects are not engaged yet at this point, which renders any sort of selling useless.
Let’s look at a real-world example to illustrate how you can leverage situation questions.
Picture yourself selling CRM software. You meet Linda, an executive working at a local corporation. You ask Linda:
- “What CRM software are you using now?”
- “Is everyone in sales and marketing using the same tool?”
- “How long have you been using it?”
- “How much are you paying every year?”
These questions give you valuable insights into how the target company is operating. At this point, you should already have a rough idea of how your solution fits in the prospect’s day to day tasks.
You have essential information about your prospect. Now what?
Seek out your prospect’s biggest challenges.
Customers face challenges all the time. The bigger the organization, the higher the scale of their problems. Put yourself in the shoes of your prospect.
How excited would you be if the issues that made you dread work went away?
You’d be ecstatic!
You want to evoke the same feeling in your prospects, and that begins by asking practical problem questions. Link your questions back to the information gathered from the previous stage. Prospects tend to be more truthful when you personalize your approach, which is why revolving your conversations around them is a good idea.
Let’s go back to our example earlier. What should you ask Linda now?
Some good questions to try would be:
- “Are you happy with your current CRM tool?”
- “Is it easy to use the software? How long do new hires need to learn the system?”
- “How does the software perform when you’re tracking new leads?”
- “Has the tool been reliable for you? Did you suffer any downtime in the past?”
The answer is not always yes or no. Remember, your prospect may not even know their problems exist until you make them aware of it.
One way to identify problems is to detect discrepancies in their statements.
The prospect could be happy with their existing solution, but there’s something not right. Maybe they are paying too much for little in return, or their current solution could be better in some ways. Take note of these minor giveaways—you’ll need them later.
You should spend a good chunk of time discovering pain points. You want to uncover a few problems before moving on. Uncovering problems prevents the all-too-common mistake of prioritizing the wrong pain points when pitching your solution, effectively ending the sale. Take as long as you need to collect enough information to understand the prospect’s concerns truly.
Be careful not to interrogate your customer. You want your prospects to feel concerned, not like they’re being held for a war crime.
The goal of this stage is to make prospects realize how much they’re losing from not tackling their challenges.
Most of the time, it boils down to three things: time, money, or health.
You create urgency when prospects realize they’re throwing away any of the three to their problems.
This doesn’t mean you should ask blatantly obvious questions. Silly statements like “Will you lose money if your system breaks and employees can’t work?” do more harm than good.
Good implication questions—just like any other question—are personalized to match your prospect while also incorporating the three factors mentioned earlier. They should show customers that you understand their challenges and how they are affecting them in the grand scheme of things.
We can develop effective implication questions for Linda to create urgency with this knowledge:
- “Is it difficult to justify spending this much on your CRM software with your current results?”
- “What happens to leads when the system goes down? Is there an offline mode to work with downtime?”
- “Does training take too long to finish due to the complexity of the tool?”
- “Are you facing pressure from management to follow up with leads faster?”
Sales reps spend most of their efforts on implication questions as they influence sales success the most along with need-payoff questions.
Again, let customers think for themselves. You can steer the conversation to focus on impacts. The implication of the problems, however, should come from prospects themselves for this technique to work.
The prospect should be desperate for a solution if you did everything right to this point.
You may be tempted to go for the sale now. But, there is one last step to address before you go for the close.
Time, money, and health encompass most prospects’ problems. The opposite is true as well—who doesn’t want to live free, well, and wealthy?
Need-payoff questions satisfy this urge.
Grasping the seriousness of their problems is just one part of the equation. You need to convince prospects that overcoming them is the best thing to do for their organization. This phase is where you bring your product to the conversation.
Don’t just say your product will solve their challenges. Instead, talk about how much better their lives would be after implementing a solution. It should feel like a massive weight off their shoulders, especially if the problem has been bothering for some time.
Be as vivid as possible when asking need-payoff questions.
The more you can make the prospect imagine, the easier it is to identify the benefits he or she is looking for. Like the implication stage, you want the prospect to explain why your solution is valuable to them. Adding value makes sales more persuasive without feeling pushy.
Let’s seal the deal with Linda. What need-payoff questions should we ask to convince her of our solution?
- “Why are you looking to cut down costs this year?”
- “What will you do with the extra productivity gained from spending less time on training?”
- “How does faster lead follow-ups influence your turnover?”
- “Would a simpler CRM tool impact how the sales and marketing teams work?”
Extract as many benefits as possible to elevate your chances of making the sale.
Be careful not to ask need-payoff questions your product can’t cater to. You don’t want to overpromise and underdeliver because you will upset your customer and ruin your company’s hard-earned reputation.
And you’re done with SPIN Selling!
Asking for commitment at this point should not be a problem if you asked the right questions.
How to Make SPIN Selling Work in the Modern Age
SPIN Selling was developed in an era where the sales cycle was not as fast as it is now.
You have salespeople closing deals online with overseas customers, which would have taken years for sales reps to accomplish in the 80s. Some deals don’t even involve sales reps with the advent of inbound marketing.
The fact is, prospects have instant access to information today.
A quick Google search is sometimes all it takes to learn about a company and its products. Social networks like Twitter and LinkedIn provide unparalleled access to customer information.
You are expected to do your research before you start selling with the wealth of tools at your disposal.
This modernization requires you to ask fewer Situation and Problem questions.
Since the phases of the sale are shorter than before, your questions should emphasize on discovering ‘hidden’ pain points to keep prospects engaged.
Is there any information about the prospect that is unavailable online or difficult to assume?
The answer could be a good starting point to flesh out your questions.
It’s also more important than ever to demonstrate expertise. By providing value, you cement your image as a trusted advisor in your prospect’s mind, which drastically improves sales success.
Focus on building trust, and you will close deals no matter how much technology advances.
Start SPIN Selling Today
SPIN Selling gives you a value-based framework to manage the sales cycle.
By leveraging the four types of SPIN questions, you help prospects discover their biggest challenges and understand how it’s impacting their lives. Your selling will be less direct and more consultant-like, making it ideal for modern consumers.
SPIN Selling has worked like a charm for decades now and continues to do so in the digital age.
Go through the tips mentioned in this guide, and you will be well on your way to successful SPIN Selling.