$ 1,000,000 worth of sales advice

Neil Rackman and his colleagues spent 10 years analyzing sales transactions. They studied 116 factors that might play some part in sales performance and they researched how people sell effectively in 27 different countries. Their study, which cost over a million dollars in systematic research, constituted the largest ever investigation into sales.

They discovered that there is a major difference in selling lower and higher value items. The reason is that larger sales generally occur over a longer timeframe which means an ongoing relationship between the salesperson and the client develops in a way that it wouldn’t necessarily develop in a smaller sale. There is also often more than one person involved in a high-value purchasing decision and the amount of money involved means that the risk, both financial and social, is higher. All of these factors combined to change the way people think and behave in larger sales.

At first, everyone is 100% satisfied with a product. Over time this starts to deteriorate. The first signs of dissatisfaction start to appear. Needs grow from minor imperfections. They evolve into clear problems, difficulties, or dissatisfactions. Finally, they flourish into wants, desires, and finally and intention to act. The more implied needs that you can uncover the better your chances of making a sale.

The best way to uncover implied needs is to ask questions. There are four categories of questions that you can ask and you only really need two.

Situation questions gather information about the customer’s current situation. They bore clients and they are intrusive. The understanding is that the fewer situation questions you ask the more successful the sale will be.

Problem questions probe for problems. They invite customers to state implied needs. Are you satisfied with your current equipment? Do you have reliability problems? In smaller sales the more problems questions you ask the more likely the chance of a sale. In larger sales, there is no evidence for the effectiveness of problem questions.

Implication questions are central to success in a larger sale. They take a relatively small problem and build it into a problem large enough to justify action.

Before any large sales attempt write down at least three potential problems that a buyer will have and that your product can solve. Then ask yourself what related difficulties this problem might lead to. Think of the difficulties implied in that problem. Be alert to questions that reveal the problem to be more severe than it may originally seem.

For example: How have the reliability problems impacted your maintenance costs? Has this impacted your overall profitability?

Asking implication questions is hard unless you have planned them in advance and always avoid asking questions you don’t know the answer to.

Need-payoff questions are solution-orientated questions. Their job is to develop implied needs into explicit needs by introducing the value or usefulness of your solution. For example: Why would you find this solution so useful? Is there any other way this might help you? Need-payoff questions focus the customers’ attention on the solution and eliminate obstacles to a sale by getting the customer to tell you the benefits of your solution.

Most importantly they give people the information they need to convince the other people in the decision-making process after you have finished the call. Too many people in sales want to be great performers but they seldom realize that even if they are great performers, they won’t be on stage for more than a fraction of the selling time. There is no escaping the fact that in a larger sale, a major part of the selling-perhaps most of it will be done by people who champion your product when you are not there. Need-payoff questions focus on how the solution will help your buyer and concentrate on the area that a buyer knows best -their business- specifically how it would be enhanced by the solution you are proposing.

These four types of questions, in that particular sequence, make up the S.P.I.N. model. You start with preliminaries (pleasantries) and then ask situation questions to establish facts. Move quickly onto problem questions to probe for dissatisfaction. In smaller sales you can offer solutions once you uncover an implied need, but in larger sales hold back and ask implications questions to make the implied needs more urgent. Once the buyer acknowledges that a problem is serious enough to justify action then start asking need-payoff questions to focus on the benefits that solution will bring.

The spin model is not a revolutionary discovery but more of an understanding of how good salespeople sell on a good day.


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