How to Handle Every Customer Response With SPIN

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform summary of "Spin Selling" by Neil Rackham. Shortform has the world's best summaries of books you should be reading.

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What is a customer response? What can it tell you about a sale?

The customer response is simple: it’s the part of the sales interaction where customers respond to your sale. The customer response is extremely important, since it helps you evaluate your sales technique, adjust, and get to a commitment.

Types of Response

There are several types of customer response, and your handling of that response will depend on which one it is. Here are some common customer responses.

#1: Customer Response to Features

One type of customer response is the response to features. When the salesperson presents a lot of product features, customers often respond with concerns or objections to the price. In other words, emphasizing features increases price sensitivity.

This works if you’re selling a cheap product with a lot of features like a $10 watch. In fact, features have long been used to sell inexpensive merchandise because of their link to price sensitivity. The way it works is that when you list a lot of “amazing” features, the customer expects a high price and is pleasantly surprised and more inclined to buy when the price turns out to be low.

However, with high-end products, the price sensitivity created by listing features makes people less likely to buy; seeing the features makes them question whether it’s worth the price. That’s why an ad for a cheap watch lists dozens of features, while an ad for an expensive one omits features and instead creates an impression of style.

When you’re presenting a lot of product features but the product isn’t selling, you don’t need training in handling objections—you need to stop emphasizing so many features.

#2: Customer Response to Advantages

Another type of customer response is the response to advantages. As previously noted, citing advantages—or showing how product features can help the customer—has a positive effect on small sales, but the effect diminishes as sales grow larger. The fact that advantages often generate objections may partly explain this. 

It’s a matter of putting the cart before the horse. Research indicates that emphasizing advantages at the wrong time triggers customer objections

Here’s how the customer response sequence goes: the sales rep asks a problem question, the customer responds with an implied need, the seller cites an advantage—and the customer objects to the cost. From the customer’s perspective, his problem is minor compared to the seller’s proposed solution.

That’s because the sales rep tried to show how her product’s features could help without first magnifying the customer’s implied need. The customer, using the value equation, didn’t feel his problem was worth the cost of the solution, and therefore he objected to the price. Had the sales rep first built up the value of solving the problem, she’d have prevented the objection.

By contrast, in small sales, where the cost of meeting an implied need is low, the seller doesn’t need to build up the need, or value of the problem, to get a sale.

The answer to objections in large sales isn’t learning techniques to handle them. It’s using SPIN questions to build up the problem, and thus the value of solving it with your solution. When the size of the problem aligns with the cost of the solution, objections are less likely to come up.

Objections can never be eliminated entirely. Customers may have needs your product can’t meet or a competitor may offer a better product. No technique from a training class will prevent objections stemming from these issues.

The key to handing customer response is to avoid triggering unnecessary objections because research indicates that the higher the percentage of objections in the customer’s response, the less likely your call will succeed.

#3: Customer Response to Benefits

Research indicates that the more benefits sellers present—that is, the more they demonstrate how the solution addresses the customer’s explicit need—the more positively customers respond. This isn’t especially surprising. The customer has expressed an explicit need or want. When you show how your product can give him what he wants (present a benefit), he’s naturally going to be happy. This type of customer response can be helpful in learning the customer’s needs.

Developing needs and value before you offer the benefits of your product forestalls objections, but even better, it inclines the customer to support or approve of your solution.

Here’s the sequence: The sales rep develops the customer’s need with implication and payoff questions, the customer states an explicit need, the rep responds with benefits—and the customer reacts with agreement or approval.

By improving your probing skills, you can prevent more objections, which will help you sell more successfully.

Customer responses can be very informative. They help you adjust your approach and help you get closer to closing the sale. Whatever type of sale you’re working on, pay close attention to the customer response.

How to Handle Every Customer Response With SPIN

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  • What the SPIN in SPIN Selling stands for
  • How to demonstrate real value to the person you're selling to
  • How to get commitment from your customer to close the sale fast

Carrie Cabral

Carrie has been reading and writing for as long as she can remember, and has always been open to reading anything put in front of her. She wrote her first short story at the age of six, about a lost dog who meets animal friends on his journey home. Surprisingly, it was never picked up by any major publishers, but did spark her passion for books. Carrie worked in book publishing for several years before getting an MFA in Creative Writing. She especially loves literary fiction, historical fiction, and social, cultural, and historical nonfiction that gets into the weeds of daily life.

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