Neil Rackham, Spin Selling

Fads and buzzwords can come and go, yet can you think of another concept that has spread so widely throughout selling in the last two decades?

A sales trainer told me that this seminal 1988 guide is the biggest shifting business book that its publisher, McGraw-Hill, ever had.  Ask any cubrep what “spin” is and they’re bound to recite the four types of questions behind the mnemonic; Situation – Problem – Implication – Need/Pay-off.  So widely embraced as a winning tactical approach is Spin that a review seems unnecessary of such a worthy addition to the sales canon.  Instead, here’s as simple a summary as I can muster on the key recommendations.

You could get hyper-critical about the data-gathering methodology flaws, or bemoan the unashamed shock-tactics to try and establish a firm ‘new’ category for the concept, but at the end of the day, the cricket-loving English-born author observes 35,000 sales calls in 20 countries and passes on irrefutable secrets of success.

Before briefly outlining Spin Selling, he does offer a few gentle reminders about the “larger sales” arena in general.  Here’s a few decent steers:

  • Understand the extent to which purchases that once bought will be ‘visible’ by those who can readily associate failure with the purchaser. Such ‘visible’ scenarios are more tricky to sell into.
  • Remember that buyer enthusiasm and recollection drop dramatically after your sales call.
  • You must focus on the perceived value of your offering in the buyer’s mind and build it in their eyes.
  • And one of my long-time soap-box rants, you really can think of Closing as the nice new lick of paint that puts the finishing touches outside your house. What is really important are actually the foundations, the structure.

A beauty of Spin is in its simplicity. Its first underlying theme is that there are four stages to every successful sales call:

1. Preliminaries
2. Investigation
3. Demonstrating Capability
4. Obtaining Commitment

The second, Investigation phase is the vital one where it’s all at.  During this phase it is essential to distinguish between the two types of Needs:

Implied Needs are ones that ineffective salesreps focus on more, they involve “mere” ‘problems’, ‘issues’, or ‘gripes’ and have little bearing on any final decision.
Explicit Needs are ones when the prospect actually mentions a potential solution. Where a concrete ‘action’ is a feature of the language used. Absolutely and completely latch onto these.

Clearly the former tend to be woolly whereas the latter comes with defined, tangible and measurable desires.

To satisfactorily uncover explicit needs, there are four categories of questions you must ask – the Spin questions:

Situation. Understand the general background but beware, as “buyers become bored or impatient at too many Situation questions”.
Problem. First, you must know what problems produce what values to the customer and make those outweigh your purchase price. Identify any drawbacks, dissatisfactions or problems.
Implication. Amplify the effect of the problem in the prospect’s words.
Need/Pay-off. What are ‘impacts’? Why are they important? What benefits do you see? Really draw out the eventual bonus.

Rackham provides the delightful Quincy’s Rule, after the 8-year old that said Implications are “Sad”, and Need/Pay-offs are “Happy”, to guide you further.

Also, think of a good doctor…
Situation is about your General Health.
Problems are Symptoms.
Implications are the Causes.
And Needs are what the Cure will let you do.

He offers three major thrusts of his Spin technique:

1. You focus on Opening sales, not Closing them
2. Choose benefits that solve Explicit Needs, and
3. Remove the need to handle objections, by preventing them coming up in the first place

With this most powerful of weapons in your arsenal, take a tip from The Man Himself: “treat [spin] as a guideline, not a formula“.

And as if all this wasn’t enough, consider if you will his quartet of self-training Golden Rules:

1. Practice only one ‘behaviour’ at a time
2. Try the new ‘behaviour’ at least three times
3. Remember Quality before Quantity
4. Practice in safe situations

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