Based on extensive observational research and analysis of sales behaviours, SPIN selling enables salespeople to acquire a deeper understanding of their customers’ needs, build a persuasive case around specific problems and provide effective solutions. Created and developed here at Huthwaite International, SPIN Selling continues to be one of the most iconic and widely used sales methodologies across the globe - crossing cultural boundaries and evolving with changing customer behaviour.
As the creators of SPIN Selling, in this guide, we’ll explain everything you need to know about this timeless approach to sales success.
What is SPIN Selling?
Although customer behaviours have changed over the years and are always evolving, SPIN Selling continues to be the most iconic and revered sales methodology in the world - used by 30% of the top 100 biggest companies in the world (Forbes), as well as smaller organisations who find SPIN equally accessible and supportive for their sales teams.
Over the past four decades, SPIN selling has proven to be the most effective way to improve sales success and deliver bottom line results. But before we get into the specifics of how SPIN selling works, let’s first establish the fundamentals - what SPIN selling actually is, and why it was developed.
Learn the science behind why SPIN selling works and quickly start implementing the four stage questioning framework used by successful salespeople with our free whitepaper:
SPIN is the world’s leading sales methodology, as outlined in Neil Rackham’s groundbreaking book ‘SPIN Selling’ first published in 1988 - reprinted many times and in dozens of languages. Rackham’s SPIN behaviours were developed here at Huthwaite International, following years of in-depth research into what successful salespeople do differently.
What we’ve found is that effective sellers focus on the customer’s buying process, not on their own sales process. The Buying Cycle outlines the key phases that customers go through when deciding whether or not to buy.
Depending upon where customers are in the Buying Cycle, they may or may not volunteer their needs and we might have to uncover them actively, using questions.
The SPIN selling method is built around four types of key sales questions - each fulfilling crucial roles within a sales process:
- Situation: questions about the customer’s current situation
- Problem: questions about the customer’s difficulties or dissatisfactions
- Implication: questions about the consequences or implications of the customer’s problems
- Need-Payoff: questions that explore the importance to the customer of solving a problem
Essentially, these questions provide a logical framework rather than a rigid sequence allowing salespeople to enhance communication with their prospects, deliver value and close more deals as a result. They steer the conversation away from the salesperson, to focus on customers and their needs.
Crucially, SPIN Selling isn’t simply a technique that you can read about and apply easily alongside other sales tactics as a quick way to win more deals. To be successful with the SPIN sales model requires proper training, application, and most importantly, a commitment to changing your behaviour or the behaviour of your team, for the long term.
Is SPIN Selling still relevant?
Without a doubt. Although SPIN Selling was created over 30 years ago, its teachings are perhaps more relevant than ever before.
Today, prospects have a lot more choices and a wealth of information at their disposal, which means they are often less willing to engage with salespeople - the stakes are higher to make a positive and lasting impression.
What has changed is that selling as a whole is no longer just about persuading prospects, as buyers today can and will make their own decisions. However, what does influence a buying decision is the salesperson and their behaviour. After all, many products today are commodities - what tips the scale towards a decision is the person selling, and how well they can respond to customer needs and offer value.
This makes the application of SPIN Selling skills integral to sales success - uncovering problems, solving challenges and communicating value right away. SPIN fundamentals are especially important in the absence of face-to-face meetings, when salespeople are selling remotely and need to gather crucial information quickly.
In a world where your prospect could be speaking to multiple salespeople at once, SPIN Selling ensures you’re the one they want to do business with.
But how exactly does SPIN work in the current climate? See what Neil Rackham has to say about the relevancy of SPIN today:
Read the Full Transcript Here
Video transcription: The SPIN model is about understanding. I suppose the breakthrough with SPIN was it's no longer about persuading customers, people persuade themselves. It's about really understanding them and their needs so they could do a good job of creating value. That hasn't changed, but some other things have changed which make the SPIN model probably more relevant today than it was thirty years ago.
One of those things is that the products have become commodities. So that salespeople are the differentiator. If salespeople are the differentiator then how do they differentiate? They differentiate by really understanding the customer much more deeply than the competition, by being able to create new creative solutions, by being able to bring value and the SPIN model is a very helpful way to do that, but we are in the 21st century and the SPIN model has got to change. Way back when we did the original SPIN research, we found that situation questions, questions about fact, were slightly negatively correlated with success. You could ask too many of them.
Today they're actively positively negatively correlated. That is, you ask a lot of situation questions and the customer become really impatient. They'll say you should have done your homework, you should have known that because a lot of the things that you found out with the SPIN model thirty years ago, you found that face to face with the customer because there was no other way to do it. Today you can research that. You don't have to ask as many situation questions. So situation questions change.End of transcript.
Why SPIN Selling works: The Science Behind the Method
In the early 1970s, Neil Rackham and his team set out to uncover what really made top salespeople the best. Were they more charismatic? Was it in their genetics?
Out of 35,000 sales calls came the answer, and SPIN Selling was created. The findings of this revolutionary study - the largest of its kind - were very telling. In fact, they dispelled numerous, popular sales practices and myths, with the most important findings being that:
- All customer needs are different. This seems obvious, however what we mean here is that focusing on the ‘features and benefits’ of a product or a service isn’t going to work unless they are linked to specific customer needs.
- Closing techniques are actually counterproductive to the sales process. Skilled sellers explore their customer needs in depth, demonstrate their capability to meet those needs and show a clear business case for their solution before they attempt to close the sale.
- Great salespeople are most definitely made, not born! Customers demand empathy and integrity. Successful salespeople work hard to become considered and skilled professionals that their customers can trust to provide them with great solutions to their challenges.
Most importantly, it isn’t the appearance or charm of salespeople that helps them close deals - but their behaviours.
In observing what top performers said and did within a sales call, the Huthwaite research group pioneered the use of a research tool, now widely known as Behaviour Analysis. By monitoring and observing how top performing salespeople acted, the team found which behaviours were synonymous with successful outcomes in various scenarios.
We call this a Success Model, and at Huthwaite International, we train salespeople to modify their existing behaviour to match it. Our training focuses on the individual components that make certain behaviours successful, and mirrors this through interactive role plays and skills transfer sessions that allow skills to be used in the workplace.
Our SPIN training courses focus on the hard science behind learning soft skills, and you can see why in this video:
This is just an overview of why the SPIN Selling model works based on the findings of the initial study, as well as our ongoing research. Huthwaite International has analysed over 35,000 sales interviews, in 47 countries, and studied 116 factors which may play a role in improving sales performance. As the creators of SPIN selling, ours remains the largest ever investigation into sales success - and the results speak for themselves.
SPIN and the Buying Cycle are proprietary trade marks of Huthwaite International
Each SPIN trainer must be officially licensed and regularly monitored in order to ensure they can combine our unique methodology with a high quality, consistent learning experience.
The SPIN sales model defined
The foundation of SPIN selling is based on a flexible questioning model that allows salespeople to gain a 360 view of where customers are in a sales cycle and what they need.
The SPIN sales methodology gives salespeople a structure to work with - a success proven alternative to enthusiastically dominating customer conversations. SPIN ensures that not only is the customer given the opportunity to speak, but that sales people actually listen. This allows them to properly understand and service their customers’ needs.
SPIN selling helps achieve this through 4 key question types.
What are the SPIN selling questions?
To have the best chance when pitching to a buyer, the seller needs to know and understand their needs.
Research shows buyers rate the value of sales people as highest when they’re asked about future problems, not just the challenges they’re currently facing.
To address all of the buyer’s needs, it’s important to ask situation, problem, implication, and need-payoff questions. Let’s find out what they are, and see examples of SPIN questions.
Examples of SPIN questions
Stop talking and start listening. Find out the buyer’s needs by listening to what their current issues are.
For example, at Huthwaite International, our sellers can create a well-rounded picture of the buyer’s current difficulties by asking the following questions:
- What is the sales team's target this quarter?
- Have you had previous sales training?
- What are the biggest challenges faced by your organisation concerning the sales team?
These questions are about your services, but are used as an indication of what SPIN questions to ask next.
The seller should ask SPIN questions to anticipate potential challenges the buyer may be currently experiencing.
Going back to the previous example, the buyer told us that they have offices in four cities in Europe and grew rapidly in the last year. No one in their company has had any formal sales training, and their sellers aren’t hitting their targets. Potential questions we could ask in this situation are:
- What concerns do you have with the potential volume of missed business opportunities when trying to meet your sales targets?
- What problems are you experiencing with your globally spread sales team?
The seller can use these answers to inform the implication questions by delving deeper into their issue to not only discuss the present, but the future.
The seller needs to discuss the impact current issues could have on the buyer’s business long-term if their situation stays the same.
Returning to the Huthwaite International scenario, it’s clear to the seller that if the buyer doesn’t properly train their sales team, the business will not hit their core KPIs. As a result, the growth that the business has faced in the last year will plateau and begin to decline. Potential questions the seller could ask to get more information are:
- If your team does not hit their targets, would this lower overall market share in your field and increase the risk of competition?
- What consequences do you see by not implementing a consistent sales methodology?
Now, the seller will have enough information to create a personalised pitch to the buyer, enabling us in this example to illustrate the positive impact our services can offer.
The seller needs to show how their current situation and future challenges can be solved, using your service as the best solution to their present and future challenges.
Using the Huthwaite International example, the seller will now have a full understanding of the long-term effects their company will face if they do not adequately educate and train their sales team. Now it’s time to pitch our service as a solution. The seller can lead into the pitch by asking questions such as:
- If your sales team had the confidence to delve deeper and explore opportunities, what value would this have on long-term customer retention?
- If you could instil a behaviour change mindset using a well-researched sales methodology, how would that help your strategic business direction?
These SPIN questions are aspirational. The seller isn’t giving the buyer a direct answer, but helping them imagine the benefit of a product or service like theirs could bring.
This is a common theme throughout all the SPIN questions you can ask; the seller learns from the buyer about their issues, enabling them to pitch their product or service tailored to the buyer's specific needs.
By asking the buyer about their current situation, day-to-day issues, and the potential long term effects, it allows the seller to pitch their product or service as a solution that will solve their present or future issues. This piques the buyer’s interest, making them feel like they’re being listened to and that the seller understands what they need from a solution.
How does the SPIN model apply to real-life scenarios?
Simply following a formula doesn’t reflect real conversations - especially when it’s increasingly uncommon that an entire sale will happen in one discussion. With longer buying cycles and complex purchasing decisions, it’s more important than ever before that salespeople do their research to determine where their prospect is positioned in the buying cycle.
For example, if a prospect is actively looking at suppliers, this indicates that they are further along in their buying cycle - meaning that more obvious Situation questions are redundant at this stage. Asking these kinds of questions could have a negative effect on your progress, and send your prospect into the arms of another supplier.
This is especially true in the current climate; in the years since SPIN selling was created, we’ve been able to gain crucial information about our customers online, meaning that certain questions don’t need to be asked anymore - such as company size, for example. Understanding the SPIN model and how to apply it to your individual prospects is key to using the methodology to your advantage.
Developing SPIN Selling skills
Unfortunately, sales success isn’t achieved simply by reading the SPIN model, compiling a list of questions and putting them into practice in a single sales call. Skills aren’t learned that way, as Neil Rackham details in the video below.
Like any other skill, learning to use SPIN Selling techniques well, requires time and effort. SPIN Selling can’t be taught in its entirety through a book, or blog. Being an effective salesperson or team requires more - it’s a behavioural change, that can only be accomplished through proper training and practice.
SPIN Selling training
Since SPIN Selling was created based on scientific analysis into verbal behaviour during actual sales conversations, it follows that the best way to master the skill is through interactive training. As a business, aligning yourself to a sales methodology gives you a competitive advantage, as it allows you to establish routine and rigour within your sales strategy, as well as enhancing the confidence and ability of your salespeople.
SPIN sales training focuses on facilitating lasting positive change in the behaviour of your sales team. Every training programme we undertake aims to change behaviour, change results - Huthwaite’s proven behaviour change model.
SPIN training doesn’t just teach you to ask the right questions, but how to function as a successful salesperson/team in the current climate, including:
- Identifying new sales opportunities when your sales techniques are outdated, or prospects are no longer responding to your tactics
- Understanding where and why sales go wrong, and how to measure success to inform future discussions
- Building the confidence of a sales team that has been dampened by a stream of losses
- Determining how to approach prospects in times of uncertainty, or where clients aren’t obviously searching for a solution
- Maintaining a solid sales strategy when your sales team cannot consistently communicate in person - or they’re having to conduct sales virtually.
However, the success of training relies on not only believing in the methodology, but being open and willing to embrace organisational change.
At Huthwaite International, we’ve helped many leading companies change their behaviour through SPIN sales training, tailoring each course to their individual sales challenges and requirements. Even in times of uncertainty, SPIN has proven to be more than worth the investment.
See how a software company achieved a 50% increase in sales with SPIN sales training, and other success stories in our free download SPIN evidence of return on investment.
Learn essential SPIN Selling skills with training from Huthwaite International
As the creators of SPIN Selling, Huthwaite International are certified providers of SPIN sales training, delivering a truly global programme that accounts for cultural and behavioural differences. The scope of our international delivery is vast - managing and implementing training solutions for countless clients, and helping them achieve consistency in teams across the world.
We’ve continued to enhance our courses as the economic and social climate continues to change - offering a virtual SPIN sales course when sales teams can’t gather in a classroom.
Now more than ever, the skills and behaviours taught in our SPIN Selling courses are essential to any teams involved in communicating, selling or negotiating with customers. As the world, and your customers, continue to evolve, it’s crucial that you invest the time and energy in meeting their needs.
The story of our virtual training programmes in 2021
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At Huthwaite International, we develop SPIN training programmes that match your individual sales challenges and requirements - and deliver it at a time and place that suits you. Talk to us about developing your SPIN sales training plan today.