The first widely used sales model was developed in the 1920s, and it established the basic ideas of traditional selling, such as using open and closed questions, presenting product features and benefits, handling objections, and using standard closing techniques (such as creating artificial time urgency).
However, in the 1990s, the traditional sales model started becoming less effective as sales grew in price and complexity. SPIN Selling by Neil Rackham created a new model for larger sales, based on research into what top salespeople were doing differently to make major sales.
Rackham, founder of Huthwaite International, a sales research and consulting firm, found that winning major sales requires asking customers different types of questions, rather than just open and closed questions. Further, the techniques and strategies effective in small sales can be a hindrance in large sales.
Rackham developed and extensively tested a new model for major sales, SPIN Selling, which uses a questioning method capsulized by the acronym SPIN: S-Situation, P-Problem, I-Implications, and N-Need-Payoff. SPIN Selling is about how to apply this method.
Sales models have continued to evolve in the 32 years since the book was published in 1988; a variety of models are now debated, taught, and practiced. But SPIN selling principles are still core sales practices, and the book has become a classic and a template for successful selling.
Rackham’s research found that large sales require a more sophisticated conversation with the customer because they’re different from small sales in key ways:
Despite the differences between small and large sales, all sales calls have basic similarities. There are four typical stages:
1) Warming up/Opening: The opening is how you introduce yourself, establish connection, and start the conversation. Sales training often teaches that the customer’s impression in the first few minutes of the call is critical to the sale. The opening may have a bearing in a brief one-call interaction, but in large, protracted sales, your opening is less important than what you do in the next stage: the investigating stage.
2) Investigating: In this stage, you ask questions to get information. You’re trying to better understand the customer and discover her needs. Sales reps in large sales ask a greater number and type of probing questions than reps do in small sales, because the stakes are higher.
3) Demonstrating value: Once you understand the customer’s needs, the next step is to show how your product or service can help. In larger sales, where you’re often selling a broader solution, you need to show how your solution solves the customer’s specific problems in a way that makes it worth the cost.
4) Getting commitment: To be a success, a sales call must end with a customer commitment.
In small sales, the customer usually commits to buying the product, while in large sales, she may agree to another meeting or to provide access to a decision-maker. Such intermediate steps are called advances because they advance the sale by moving the customer toward a decision.
Traditional sales training emphasizes the commitment stage—the closing—as the most important, and it advocates a variety of high-pressure closing techniques. But in a major sale, investigating is the most important stage.
Huthwaite researchers found that successful reps in large sales spend the most time on the investigating stage and handle it differently from the traditional approach.
In traditional sales, reps emphasize product features and use standard techniques to address objections and close a sale. In contrast, successful reps ignore traditional techniques and instead focus on asking four different types of questions in a certain order, the SPIN sequence. Here’s how to use this process:
1) S-Situation questions: Start by asking fact-finding and background questions, such as, “What do you see as the company’s biggest growth opportunities?” Asking too many of these questions can impose on the customer’s time and patience, so use them judiciously.
2) P-Problem questions: Once you understand the customer’s situation, ask questions that explore problems or issues your product or solution can solve—for instance, “Are you concerned about meeting your clients’ quality standards with your aging equipment?” Less experienced reps don’t ask enough of these questions.
3) I-Implication questions: Asking good situation and problem questions may be enough to win a small, uncomplicated sale. However, you need to go further in large sales and ask more sophisticated questions that explore the implications or ramifications of a customer’s problem—for example, “How will this affect your fourth-quarter results?” or “What will this mean for your...
Unlock the full book summary of SPIN Selling by signing up for Shortform .
Shortform summaries help you learn 10x faster by:
Here's a preview of the rest of Shortform's SPIN Selling summary:
The first widely used sales model was developed in the 1920s by E.K. Strong, and it was practiced with few changes for the next 60 years. Strong’s sales model established the basic ideas of traditional selling, such as using open and closed questions, presenting product features and benefits, handling objections, and using closing techniques.
However, in the 1990s, the traditional model started becoming less effective as sales grew in price and complexity. SPIN Selling by Neil Rackham created a new model for larger...
For over 60 years, sales organizations preached and practiced the conventional wisdom that traditional selling methods worked in all sales. Standard techniques and skills included:
Sales training placed particular emphasis on asking appropriate open-ended and closed questions during the investigation stage and on making a forceful closing. But Rackham’s field experience and research showed that some of these traditional techniques were a bad fit for large sales because those sales had different characteristics.
Closing—seeking a commitment from the customer—has long gotten more attention than any other selling skill.
It’s obviously important—if you don't win sales, you don’t have a business. But all closing isn’t the same. It works differently in small sales than it does in large sales. Traditional closing techniques that may be effective in small sales backfire in large sales.
The adage on closing is that “The ABC of selling is Always Be Closing.” Many books and articles on selling have the word “closing” in the title. Standard techniques have included these types of closes:
In sales, a need is defined as a want or problem stated by the customer that the seller can address. Salespeople discover, develop, and address customer needs in the investigating stage of a call. This requires both questioning skills and an understanding of how customer needs develop.
Customer needs develop differently in small and large sales, and they require different sales approaches to gain commitment.
A customer’s need to buy a relatively inexpensive item can develop quickly, with little or no input from a salesperson. For example, you might be walking through an airport, and a $15 gadget in a store display catches your eye. Within a few seconds of looking at it, you feel a need to buy it. There’s very little time between the development of the need and your commitment to buy the gadget. Similarly, in a small sale, asking one or two problem questions that highlight a need may be enough to motivate the customer to buy a relatively inexpensive item immediately.
However, a customer's perceived need for a bigger-ticket purchase takes much longer to develop. A sales rep uncovers and “develops” the need by exploring a problem the product will address, and creating an...
"I LOVE Shortform as these are the BEST summaries I’ve ever seen...and I’ve looked at lots of similar sites. The 1-page summary and then the longer, complete version are so useful. I read Shortform nearly every day."Sign up for free
For many purchases, it takes a while to make up your mind to act. You go through a process of need development that starts with a hint of dissatisfaction with the way things are. The steps after that are:
Think of a time when you went through this process recently. What did you become dissatisfied with? What first caused you to be dissatisfied?
The four question areas of the SPIN strategy—Situation, Problem, Implication, Need-payoff—are the key to converting a customer’s implied needs into explicit needs in a large sale.
Situation questions are intended to gather facts and background information about the customer’s situation. They’re the first questions asked during a sales call. They’re aimed at getting to know the customer personally and learning about the business and how it operates.
Situation questions are the easiest and most straightforward questions to ask, so they tend to be overused by inexperienced sales reps.
Situation questions are necessary in most sales, especially early on, because you need to understand the customer’s business. But research indicates their value is limited:
When considering purchases, people typically use a value equation: they weigh the magnitude of their need or problem against the cost of the solution. Put another way, they ask themselves, “Is my problem or need big enough to warrant paying this much?”
Think of a situation where you considered replacing something, but decided the cost was greater than your need or desire to have a new version. What factors did you consider in deciding against the purchase?
After the investigating stage of a sale where you ask SPIN questions, the next stage is demonstrating value. This stage, also referred to as demonstrating capability, is where you present your solution. In a major sale, some ways are more effective than others.
For the last 60 years, sales training has advocated using features and benefits to demonstrate value, or describe your products and services. The conventional wisdom has been that features are facts or characteristics about a product; they aren’t persuasive. Benefits are the ways features help the customer, and they’re a compelling way to present your solution’s value.
But research indicates that:
Conventional wisdom has held that facts/features are neutral, neither helping nor hurting sales success. Examples are: “The cost is $20,000,” “We have two models, basic and enhanced,” or “This computer has X amount of memory.” Facts play out a bit differently in small and large sales—**research has...
With Shortform, you can:
Access 1000+ non-fiction book summaries.
Access 1000+ premium article summaries.
Take notes on your
Read on the go with our iOS and Android App.
Download PDF Summaries.
Typical sales training in handling objections contends that reps should welcome objections as a sign of customer interest, and the more objections a rep gets, the more successful she’ll be. Hence, most sales training focuses on teaching reps techniques for handling objections. (This sales training focus is second only to teaching closing techniques.)
But research on objections tells a different story. It shows that:
Using features, advantages, or benefits prompt different customer responses. Here’s a summary of the typical customer responses:
|Raises concerns about price
In the SPIN sales method, reps ask four types of questions during the investigating stage of a call: Situation, Problem, Implication, and Need-payoff questions. Practice the sequence by thinking through a previous sales meeting or one you're planning for soon.
Picture a customer you've met with or will meet with. What problem questions are most appropriate for this customer?
How you should open a sales call—that is, how to introduce yourself and start the conversation—depends on whether it’s a small sale or large sale. They take different approaches to get the call off on the right foot.
In discussing openings, this chapter focuses on how to approach initial meetings with new customers, as opposed to opening calls in an ongoing sales process.
Most older sales training asserted that first impressions could make or break a new customer interaction. But research indicates first impressions carry less weight than once thought. Of course, a professional overall appearance is important, but small details matter less. The impression you make in the investigating stage is far more crucial to sales success than your initial interaction is.
The reason first interactions matter less than people think is that in the early stages of meeting someone, you’re getting so much information that you immediately forget some things—sometimes even the person’s name.
Certain details, such as dress, may matter more in small sales, but a great outfit and opening line aren’t going to significantly boost your chances of success in a large sale.
Successful SPIN selling requires a commitment to diligently practice the skills. This chapter is not only about what skills to practice, but also how to practice.
Everyone has the ability to learn new skills by following four principles.
People who are seeking to improve their skills often try to change too much at one time. For instance, after reading this book, you might resolve to eliminate closing techniques, ask more problem questions, ask implication questions instead of jumping into offering solutions, avoid presenting too many features, and so on.
But to learn difficult new skills, you need practice one new behavior at a time, not a half-dozen. So choose one new behavior from the book, and keep practicing it until you’re comfortable with it.
Expect new behaviors to be awkward when you first try to implement them. For instance, if you’re trying to learn to ask implication questions, they’re going to sound contrived when you first start asking them. You might even be tempted to give up and try another new skill. But you have to...
The best sequence for learning a new sales skill is: pick one skill to work on, choose a low-risk call where you can practice it, and try it at least three times.
What new selling skill from this book would you like to implement and why?
One way to improve your selling skills is to review your sales calls after the fact to determine what worked and what you can do better the next time.
Try this with a recent sales call. Did you accomplish your objectives? How so?