Sales questions

Questions in Selling: Rackham Has Everything You Need

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.

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website: www.TonyHughes.com.au.

Main Image Photo credit: NeilRackham.com

The Most Powerful Questions In Sales

When dealing with senior executives, never use any form of manipulation. Instead allow them to feel in control and build trust through the way you engage and create understanding with the insightful questions you ask.

Outdated hook and tie-down questions are to be avoided with those in the executive suite at all times. Examples of these credibility destroying behaviors include: ‘If I could show you how to improve your bottom line, is that something you would be interested in?’ or ‘If I can demonstrate that we can meet that requirement, would you be willing to buy from us?’ These types of questions are closed and manipulative – don't do it when engaging at the most senior levels.

People are best convinced for reasons they themselves discover. Although there is a role for insight or Challenger selling for earning credibility, never forget that ‘telling is not selling’. Here are some powerful questions for C-level interactions that you may wish to adapt for your own purposes:

  • I’ve done my homework but there are some questions I think only you can answer – may we cover a few of these now?
  • What is really driving the need to make this kind of investment?
  • What has to be delivered in terms of business outcomes?
  • Where do you see the risks?
  • Who are the most senior people affected by this project; and how will they be impacted and what’s their role in implementing a solution?
  • What is your process and timing for making a decision and having a solution in place?
  • What are the other options you’re considering? Why are these attractive?
  • If we do business together, it is important for me to understand exactly what will make you 100% satisfied. What needs to happen for this business relationship to be successful in your eyes?
  • The meeting today has been very useful, what would you like me to do next?
  • You are very busy and have many people seeking meetings with you, so why did you agree to meet with me today?

Questions possess amazing power. The right question at the right time can create doubt, interest, support, self-reflection, decision or action. Plan every meeting and interaction; especially focus on planning the questions you will ask. Anticipate where the questions will take the conversation and go beyond the obvious of asking open questions instead of closed. Choose your questions wisely as they say much about who you are and how far the relationship is likely to go. Finally, focus on the why and when, rather than on the what and how.

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website: www.TonyHughes.com.au.

Main Image Photo by Flickr: Nana B Agyei