The SPIN Model

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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. As we've seen, buyers' needs move through a clear progression from Implied to Explicit. The SPIN questions provide a road map for the seller, guiding the call through the steps of need development until Explicit Needs have been reached. And the more Explicit Needs you can obtain from buyers, the more likely the call is to succeed.

Let's briefly review the whole SPIN Model and make a few observations about its use. Most importantly, please don't see SPIN as a rigid formula. It's not. Selling by a fixed formula is a sure recipe for failure in larger sales. Instead, see the model as a broad description of how successful salespeople probe. Treat it as a guideline, not a formula.

In summary, our research on questioning skills shows that successful salespeople use the following sequence:
  1. 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.
  2. Next, they quickly move to Problem Questions to explore problems, difficulties, and dissatisfactions. By asking Problem Questions, they uncover the customer's Implied Needs.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
In a nutshell, this is the SPIN Model. Of course, it doesn't always work in quite this sequence. For example, if a customer begins a call by giving you an Explicit Need, you might go straight to Need-payoff Questions to get the buyer talking about how the benefits you could offer would help meet this need. Or sometimes, when you're exploring a problem or its implications, you may have to ask Situation Questions to give you more background facts. But in most calls the questioning naturally follows the SPIN sequence.

Many experienced salespeople, when introduced to the four simple questions, say, "I could have told you that without needing a million dollars of research. It's just obvious common sense." And, of course, they are right. We found this model by watching thousands of successful people sell. So it's not surprising that SPIN should make immediate and obvious sense to successful people. I don't like to describe the SPIN Model as some revolutionary discovery about how to sell. It's much better to think of it as the way most successful people sell on a good day when the call is going well.

Let me invite you to think of one of your most successful calls. Didn't it broadly follow the SPIN Model? Didn't you begin by finding out something about the customer's situation? So presumably you started out with Situation Questions. But fairly quickly you moved into discussion of a problem the customer had. How did you do this? By asking Problem Questions. Then, if you think of your most successful calls, you'll recall that as the customer talked, the problem seemed to get bigger and more urgent. Why did this happen? Presumably because you were developing the problem with Implication Questions. Finally, in your very best calls, were you telling the customer the benefits? Or was the customer getting excited and telling you, saying things like "Hey, another way you could help me would be..."? In most of my successful sales it's been the customer who was giving Benefits. And how did this happen? Because I used Need-payoff Questions -- and I'm sure this is exactly what you've done in your successful calls too.

So you're probably using the SPIN Model already in your, most effective sales. 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 helps you pinpoint areas where you need more practice.

From: SPIN Selling
© 1988 Huthwaite, Inc.

Related Insights:
Demonstrating Your Capability Effectively in Larger Sales
How to Use SPIN Questions
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