by: Neil Rackham
Neil Rackham is a best selling author. You can read more about him at his website linked to his name.
The SPIN Strategy
Now we look at how the four SPIN questions–Situation, Problem, Implication, and Need-payoff–can each be used to help in the needs development process.
Situation Questions collect facts, information, and background data about the customers existing situation.
Huthwaite’s research uncovered the following about Situation Questions:
- Situation Questions are not positively reelated to success. In calls that succeed, sellers asked fewer Situation Questions than in calls that failed.
- Inexperienced salespeople ask more Situation Questions than do those who have longer sales experience.
- Situation Questions are an essential part of questioning, but they must be used carefully. Successful salespeople ask fewer Situation Questions. Each one they ask has a focus, or purpose.
- Buyers quickly become bored or impatient if asked too many Situation Questions.
Explanation of the above: Situation Questions benefit the seller.
Do your homework before the call to avoid asking too many Situation Questions.
Problem Questions probe for problems, difficulties, or dissatisfactions. Each invites the customer to state Implied Needs.
Huthwaite’s research found that:
- Problem Questions are more strongly linked to sales success than Situation Questions are.
- In smaller sales the link is very strong: the more Problem Questions the seller asks, the greater the chances that the call will be successful.
- In larger sales, however, Problem Questions are not strongly linked to sales success. There’s no evidence that by increasing your Problem Questions you can increase your sales effectiveness.
- The ratio of Situation to Problem Questions asked by salespeople is a function of their experience. Experienced people ask a higher proportion of Problem Questions.
If you can’t solve a problem for your customer, then there’s no basis for a sale. But if you uncover problems you can solve, then you’re potentially providing the buyer with something useful.
Problem Questions and Experience
To the inexperienced salesperson, even the “safe” Situation Questions seem to make the buyers impatient. Why would we want to risk upsetting them further with potentially offensive questions about problems? However, in most salespeople’s career, they come to a time when they find themselves spending the majority of their time with a customer asking Problem Questions.
Problem Questions in the Larger Sale
In larger sales, it’s Problem Questions that provide the raw material on which the rest of the sale will be built.
A Harder Question
Why should Problem Questions be so much more powerful in smaller sales than in large? Research showed that of 646 small sales calls, the level of Problem Questions were found to be twice as high.
However, the purpose of Problem Questions is to uncover Implied Needs. Implied Needs, as we saw in Chapter 3, don’t predict success in larger sales. Therefore, if Implied Needs don’t predict success in larger sales, neither should Problem Questions.
An Interesting Exception
Rackham highlights experiments carried out by Masaaki Imai, president of the Cambridge Corporation. These experiements studied the link to Problem Questions and success of larger sales in Japan. It is often unacceptable to ask about problems of business people in Japan.
Imai found that there is a powerful link between Problem Questions and success in the larger sale in the Japanese culture.
In small sales you can be very successful if you uncover problems and then demonstrate that you can solve them.
In larger sales, however, it’s clearly not sufficient to uncover problems and offer solutions.
In terms of the value equation the problem won’t be big enough to balance the high cost of solving it.
It’s here that Implication Questions become so important to success.
The central purpose of Implication Questions in larger sales is to take a problem that the buyer perceives to be small and build it up into a problem large enough to justify action.
Implication Questions are a good indicator of success.
It is possible to be successful in small sales without Implication Questions.
Professionals Often Sell Better than They Realize
Many professional people, particularly those who have to ask a lot of diagnostic questions as part of their work, can quickly and easily learn to use Implication Questions to help them sell.
Where Implication Questions Work Best
Implications are the language of decision makers, and if you can talk their language, you’ll influence them better.
A Potential Negative
By definition, Implication Questions make customers more uncomfortable with problems. Sellers who ask lots of Implication Questionsmay make their buyers feel negative or depressed.
Is there some way to get the benefit of making a problem more acute without risking the penalties of depressing your customer?
To develop Implied Needs into Explicit needs, Huthwaite found that seller’s use two types of questions. First, Implication Questions to build the problem up. Then, Need-payoff Questions to build up the value or usefullness of the solution.
Typical examples of Need-payoff Questions:
- Is it important to you to solve this problem?
- Why would you find this solution so useful?
- Is there any other way this could help you?
What’s the pyschology of Need-payoff Questions? Two things:
- They focus the customer’s attention on the solution rather than on the problem.
- They get the customer telling you the benefits.
Need-payoff Questions create a postive effect. This is one reason Huthwaite found that they are particularly linked to success in dealing with existing customers.
Need-Payoff Questions Reduce Objections
When you present your solution, you run the risk that the customer will focus on the areas you don’t solve rather than on those you do.
So how can you gain the customer’s acceptance that your solution is worthwhile, even though it may not solve every part of the problem? Use Need-payoff Questions. If you can get the customer to tell you the ways in which your solution will help, then you don’t invite objections.
Need-Payoff Questions Rehearse the Customer for Internal Selling
In larger sales a major part of the selling–perhaps most of it–will be done by your internal supporters while you’re not there. What’s the best way to rehearse customers so that they sell effectively for you?
In summary, Need-payoff Questions are important because they focus attention on solutions, not problems. And they make customers tell you the benefits. Need-payoff Questions are particularly powerful selling tools in the larger sale because they also increase the acceptability of your solution. Equally important, success in large sales depends on internal selling by customer of your behalf, and Need-payoff Questions are one of the best ways to rehearse the customer in presenting your solutions convincingly to others.
The Difference between Implication and Need-Payoff Questions
Both Implication and Need-payoff Questions develop Implied Needs into Explicit Needs, and because they have a similar purpose, it’s easy to confuse them.
Quincy’s Rule – (named after the 8 year old son of a Huthwaite team member who discovered it).
Implication Questions are problem-centered–they make the problem more serious–and that’s why they are “sad”.
Need-payoff Questions are solution-centered–they ask about the usefullness or value of solving a problem–and that’s why they are “happy”.
Back to Open and Closed Questions
In experienced seller need to understand that the power of a question lies in whether it’s asking about an area psychologically important to the customer–not whether it’s open or closed.
The SPIN Model
Asking questions that are important to the customer is what makes the SPIN model so powerful. Its questioning sequence taps directly into the psychology of the buying process.
Treat the SPIN model as a guideline not a formula.
In summary, Huthwaite’s research shows that successful salespeople use the following questioning sequence:
- Initially, they ask Situation Questions to establish background facts. But they don’t ask too many, because Situation Questions can bore or irritate the buyer.
- Next, they quickly move to Problem Questions to explore problems, difficulties, and dissatisfactions. By asking Problem Questions, they uncover the customer’s Implied Needs.
- In smaller sales it could be appropriate to offer solutions at this point, but in successful larger sales the seller holds back and asks Implication Questions to make the Implied Needs larger and more urgent.
- Then, once the buyer agrees that the problem is serious enough to justify action, successful salespeople ask Need-payoff Questions to encourage the buyer to focus on solutions and to describe the benefits that the solution would bring.
SPIN isn’t new and unexpected. Its strength comes from putting a simple and precise description to a complex process. Consequently, it helps you see what you’re doing well and pinpoint areas where you need more practice.
How to Use SPIN Questions
To begin, recognize that your role is that of a problem solver.
Here is a simple technique to help you plan your call strategy and questions:
- Before the call, write down at least three potential problems which the buyer may have and which your products or services can solve.
- Then write down some examples of actual Problem Questions that you could ask to uncover each of the potential problems you’ve indentified.
Here’s a simple way to help you plan Implication Questions.
How to Plan Implication Questions
- Write down a potential problem the customer is likely to have.
- Then ask yourself what related difficulties this problem might lead to, and write these down. Think of these difficulties as the implications of the problem–and be especially alert for those implications which reveal the problem to more severe than it may originally have seemed.
- For each difficulty, write down the questions it suggests.
Good questions won’t just spring into your mind while you’re talking with a customer. Unless you plan your questions in advance, you won’t think of them during the call.
Using Need-Payoff Questions Effectively
Let’s look at when not to ask Need-payoff Questions and then at how to increase our skills in asking them at the right point in the call.
Avoid Need-Payoff Questions Early in the Call.
Don’t ask Need-payoff Questions before you’ve identified the customer’s problems.
Avoid Need-Payoff Questions Where You Don’t Have Answers
The worst point to ask a Need-payoff Question is when the customer raises a need you can’t meet. Conversely, the best point is when you can meet the need. However, this is when most people are unlikely to ask them.
Practicing Effective Need-Payoff Questions
Here’s an example of a simple excercise that helps you practice Need-payoff Questions:
- Get a friend or colleague to help you. The person you choose needn’t know anything at all about selling.
- Choose a topic about a need that you believe the other person has.
- Ask Need-payoff Questions to get the other person talking about the benefits of the topic under discussion.
When you try this excercise, notice two things about it:
- As in real life, it builds up noticeable enthusiasm in your “customer”. The power of Need-payoff Questions is often visible in these simple practice demonstrations. Watch for it.
- Unlike Implcation Questions, which tend to be specific to a particular customer problem, Need-payoff Questions have wide generality.
- Why is that important?
- How would that help?
- Would it be useful if…?
- Is there any other way this could be helpful to you?
Remember- The work you’ve just read is Neil Rackham’s. I have simply outlined his book. Most of the words above are his own. At times I paraphrased.
Until next time…
a Student of Sales