Everything you need to know about using questions in selling can be found in Professor Neil Rackham’s timeless book, SPIN Selling™. His work stands today as the only time in history that University PhD grade research was conducted to analyse how business-to-business (B2B) sales people interact with prospects and customers in the field. In the 1980s they observed 35,000 sales calls done by 10,000 sales people in 23 countries over 12 years and employed 40 researchers. The body of work was peer reviewed and validated. Nothing before or since comes even close to matching the level of transparency and integrity in the research data and findings.
The undertaking was massive and resulted in a selling framework that Huthwaite took to market before being acquired recently by Miller Heiman who are now the largest B2B sales training organization globally. When the research was originally conducted, people thought that the key to sales success was asking open questions rather than closed questions; but the study surprised everyone when they found this not to be the case. Instead, there were four types of questions employed by sales people and it remains the case today. The first type of question sales people use are Situation questions (fact-finding or discovery). The second type are Problem questions. The third type are Implication questions (exploring and deepening the pain). The fourth type are value or benefit questions but that would have created an acronym of SPIV or SPIB. They decided to go with the acronym of SPIN with the N standing for ‘Needs payoff’.
Neil Rackham remains a luminary in the field of professional selling today and SPIN is an evergreen framework for driving sales conversations with prospective customers. Even Matt Dixon and Brent Adamson who wrote The Challenger Sale invited Neil to write the foreword and also contribute within the body of the book (page 82). Here is the SPIN model with some annotation by me in red.
If you need a framework for helping your team have better conversations in the field, I suggest you combine insight selling or Challenger (Corporate Executive Board) concepts with SPIN. Lead with insight to earn the right to ask questions and then use the SPIN framework to structure the conversation. Importantly, don't jump from S to N which is a common mistake made by many salespeople. Leading sales people take the best from various methodologies and create a ‘mash-up’ that they combine with digital and physical selling techniques. It’s not about old school solution, value or insight selling versus new school Social Selling 3.0… it’s combining them all together that creates amazing results.
If you want SPIN selling training, contact Miller Heiman / Huthwaite. Don't deal with people who steal or imitate their IP or have inferior question based approaches. To Neil, thanks for your personal support with my own book and for all you continue to do in professional selling, including your tireless work in making selling a profession recognized through university qualifications.
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Main Image Photo credit: NeilRackham.com