It sounds like a fancy way to sell a thread spinning wheel, or maybe a stationary bike, but no. SPIN selling is a sales methodology that can be used for even non-spinning items.
So what exactly is SPIN selling, and what’s the best way to use it in your organization?
Table of Contents
- What Is SPIN Selling?
- SPIN Selling: The Book
- The 4 Stages of SPIN Selling
- The 4 Possible Outcomes of SPIN Selling
- Is SPIN Selling Too Old?
- Examples of SPIN Selling Questions
- Additional Tips for SPIN Selling
What Is SPIN Selling?
I wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve heard of SPIN selling before – even if you haven’t used it.
It’s actually one of the oldest sales methodologies still in modern practice. And it helped to set the stage for an entire generation of sales strategies to follow it.
The basic idea came from SPIN Selling, a 1988 book on sales by Neil Rackham. Based on data gathered from 12 years of research and 35,000 sales calls (all before the age of the internet), this book emphasizes the importance of establishing yourself as an advisor – rather than just trying to pitch a product over and over.
So why is it called “SPIN” selling?
SPIN is an acronym that identifies the core stages of questioning that a salesperson must go through to land a deal.
In the SPIN methodology, questions are everything; they’re what allow you to learn more about your target customer, build trust, be seen as an advisor, and eventually close the deal.
SPIN stands for:
What is the situation this customer is currently in? What tools are they using and what goals are they trying to achieve?
You’re a problem solver – so what’s the problem? Here, you’ll ask your prospect about the failure points of their current tools, stressors they face regularly, and the challenges in their future.
The problem exists. But how bad is it? What are the consequences? Here, you’ll ask your prospect to examine monetary loss, productivity loss, and other negative side effects from the core “problems.”
The goal at this stage is to gently guide your prospect to the right conclusion. Asking something like, “would your life be easier if you had a different tool that could [x, y, and z…]?” can help you close the deal.
SPIN Selling: The Book
There’s only so much a 2,000-word article can do to summarize a 216-page book.
If you want to dive deeper into the world of SPIN selling, or if you have unanswered questions about how to use the methodology efficiently, I highly recommend that you read the book in its entirety.
Here’s a brief rundown of what it includes:
- Sales Behavior and Sales Success. This section covers some of the basics of the sales philosophy, including the need to prevent (rather than overcome) objections, the need for questioning, and the cultural overvaluation of “closing.”
- Obtaining Commitment and Closing the Sale. What does it take to close a deal? You need to get the right commitment. This section covers the four ways a sales call can end.
- Customer Needs. Identifying customer needs is the most important stage to getting to a sale; this section explains how to do it.
- The SPIN Strategy. This section covers the main types of questions in the SPIN methodology and how to use them.
- Giving Benefits. Features, advantages, and benefits are necessary to persuade your prospect – but how you use them matters.
- Preventing Objections. How do objections arise and what can you do to prevent them? This section explains how.
- Opening the Call. An odd choice for a late section, this section is all about how to open a call – and start a good relationship.
- From Theory to Practice. You’re not going to turn into a sales superhero after just reading this book. How do you go from theory to practice?
The 4 Stages of SPIN Selling
In the book, Rackham describes four main stages of SPIN selling:
The opening is all about introducing yourself to your prospect. This should be a warm and gradual process; instead of immediately launching into a pitch about why your product is the best on the market, simply establish some rapport and trust.
Once you’ve got the prospect in a conversation, you can begin investigation. You can’t effectively sell a product to someone you don’t even know, because you don’t know what they want, what they need, what they’re willing to pay, and so on.
Only through discovery and asking questions will you be able to learn more. This process will guide you on the remaining stages of the selling process.
3. Demonstrating capability.
Once you’ve established trust with your prospect and have learned a bit more about them, you can begin to demonstrate the capabilities of your main product. What are the features, advantages, and benefits?
Features are descriptive elements that make your product functional and unique; they tend to be most heavily considered by end users, rather than decision makers.
Decision makers are more interested in advantages, which make your product better than the competition, and benefits, or bottom-line additions of value provided by the product (see: value selling).
4. Obtaining commitment.
From there, you’ll need to overcome objections to obtain commitment for a purchase. Oftentimes, objections fall into one of two categories: value or capability objections.
Value objections stem from the prospect’s belief that your product isn’t worth the money or won’t provide a suitable ROI. Capability objections stem from a belief that your product isn’t going to help them solve their biggest problem (whether that happens to be true or not).
In the SPIN methodology, the most important way to deal with objections is to prevent them from arising in the first place.
The 4 Possible Outcomes of SPIN Selling
After a conversation with a prospect, the SPIN methodology recognizes four possible outcomes:
The most successful potential outcome is the customer placing an order – a closed deal. Generally, with B2B sales operations, this happens only after a series of conversations and interactions.
But with cheaper products or in certain industries, you might be able to close the deal in one phone call.
An “advance” is any meaningful action taken by the customer that leads you closer to a deal. For example, they might agree to a live demo next week, or they might be willing to look over a spec sheet for further review.
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Anything that keeps the conversation going can be valuable.
Continuations are sales conversations that end poorly; the prospect hasn’t taken any meaningful action to move the deal closer to a close.
However, there’s still room for potential development with the right follow-up strategy.
4. No sale.
The least desirable outcome is a “no sale” situation, in which it becomes clear the prospect isn’t interested in the deal at all.
This isn’t always the salesperson’s fault; sometimes the product just isn’t a good fit.
Is SPIN Selling Too Old?
SPIN selling got popular in 1988, which is over 30 years ago.
As you might imagine, the sales world has changed quite a bit in the past 30 years. With the onset of email, smartphones, and other high-tech forms of communication, is SPIN selling obsolete?
The short answer to that question is no – and for a very simple reason.
Even though we’re communicating differently now compared to 1988, human nature and the psychology of decision making are still roughly the same.
Building trust, establishing rapport, and asking lots of discovery questions will still set you up for success – no matter what communication channels you’re using or even what products you’re selling.
Because of that, the SPIN methodology remains not only relevant, but popular – and it will likely remain popular for a very long time.
Examples of SPIN Selling Questions
Let’s take a look at some example questions you can use in the SPIN selling methodology.
- How do you accomplish X?
- What process does your company use for X?
- What do you do at this company?
- Who’s responsible for X in your team?
- What tools do you currently use for X?
- Why did you choose these tools?
- Do you have a solid strategy in place for X?
- How much time do you spend on X?
- How much are you currently paying for your tools to do X?
- What are the common failure points for this process?
- Is your product always reliable?
- Are you happy with your current vendor?
- What’s the biggest challenge you face with X?
- How many people are currently working on X?
- How much money did you lose during your last outage?
- How much time do you think is wasted that way?
- If it wasn’t for [challenge], how much time would you save?
- What happened the last time this failed?
- How does this issue affect your KPIs?
- Are you happy with the efficiency of this process?
- How do your team members feel about this tool?
Need Payoff Questions
- What would your team members do if they had more time?
- How can X be simpler?
- What would a better tool look like?
- If you could double your productivity by switching products, would you?
- Would your team like a tool that does [x, y, and z]?
- What does your team need to succeed?
- How would productivity improve if you did X?
Additional Tips for SPIN Selling
Want to get the most out of SPIN selling?
Here are some additional tips for you.
Your questions aren’t going to land if they’re too vague or generic. Modify my examples with more specific information.
For example, instead of “what would your team members do if they had more time?”, ask “would your team members do if they had 5 extra hours every week?”
Customize the questions.
Similarly, it’s a good idea to customize the questions for the specific prospect you’re conversing with. If you just ask the same list of generic questions, rapid-fire, it’s going to come off as insincere and repetitive.
Instead, try to get to know your customer before you talk to them, and come prepared with targeted questions for them.
Yes, questions are a big part of the SPIN selling methodology. But that doesn’t mean more questions is better.
Instead, it’s more efficient and more valuable for your prospects if you adopt a minimalistic approach. Only ask a handful of questions at a time – and make sure they count.
Listen and adapt.
It’s not enough to ask questions and get answers. You have to use those answers to fuel your approach. What are you learning about your prospect?
How can you incorporate that information into your next sales calls? Are you getting any customer feedback that can help you sell to other people?
Establish trust first.
Your first priority in the SPIN sales methodology is establishing trust and rapport. Don’t worry too much about overcoming sales objections, pitching your product, or even closing the sale; these things will come once you’ve established a clear line of trust.
In line with this, it’s important to demonstrate your expertise and authority on the subject. What makes you an expert? How can you showcase this to your client without deviating from your process?
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Jayson is a long-time columnist for Forbes, Entrepreneur, BusinessInsider, Inc.com, and various other major media publications, where he has authored over 1,000 articles since 2012, covering technology, marketing, and entrepreneurship. He keynoted the 2013 MarketingProfs University, and won the “Entrepreneur Blogger of the Year” award in 2015 from the Oxford Center for Entrepreneurs. In 2010, he founded a marketing agency that appeared on the Inc. 5000 before selling it in January of 2019, and he is now the CEO of EmailAnalytics.