What You Need To Know About Sales SPIN

Ed Burghard

People do not buy from salespeople because they understand their products but because they felt the salesperson understood their problems.

Neil Rackham


Have you ever tried to use a consultative selling approach?

If so, you’ll know that it’s difficult because you have to understand the other person’s real needs even if they are not clearly stated. Consultative selling requires a level of patience, persistence and perception many people simply do not have. Consultative selling is a lot harder than it appears, and requires more preparatory work prior to a conversation than most people are willing to tackle.  But, done well consultative selling can dramatically improve the ROI of your effort by laying the foundation for a sustainable business relationship rather than a “one off” selling event.

So what are the secrets to doing consultative selling well?

Many people have found success by using SPIN.  This is not the pejorative “sales spin” everybody thinks of.  SPIN is a simple four-step model to describe the consultative selling process. [Note, I have modified the step descriptions compared with the book.]

SPIN Model

S – Situation Assessment

P – Problem Understanding

I – Implication Insight

N – Need Satisfaction

Let’s look at each step in a little more depth.

In the Situation Assessment, it is important to use your listening skills to better understand what the person’s needs are.  In the case of site selection, you need to get a good understanding of the “must have” criteria for project success and the “nice to have” criteria that can represent an advantage.  You also need to understand a) the business importance of the decision as well as b) how the decision will be made and by whom.

In the Problem Understanding step, understanding the challenges and potential solutions to meet those challenges is important.  In site selection, you want to determine the competitive business challenge the company is trying to address.  This insight will help you better position community assets, infrastructure and public policy as enablers of success.  Often, the differentiator for your community will be found outside the standard project requirement list.

Implication Insight is about understanding the implications of making a poor decision.  This will help you better prioritize the person’s stated needs and will provide you an opportunity to propose potentially novel solutions.  In the case of site selection for example, getting insight into whether up front cash is more critical to project success than access to experienced talent can dramatically shape the proposal you make for your community.

The last step is Need Satisfaction.  This is the point in the conversation where you explain how your product, service or location represents a viable (and ideally preferred) solution to meet the person’s need.  It is also where you propose a next step for the person to take in the relationship.  It is critical you propose a next step as a way to assess the person’s interest in taking the relationship you want to create to the next level.

The SPIN model is conceptually straightforward.  But, don’t underestimate the pre-conversation work involved.  The more you can learn about the person’s need in advance of the conversation the higher quality discussion you will have.  In addition, you will quickly build trust to encourage a deeper sharing.

It is also important to call out that “no deal” needs to be a legitimate outcome.  The principle underpinning consultative selling is that you have a genuine interest in ensuring the person’s needs are well met.  If you do not have a reasonable solution, it is important to acknowledge the fact.  Don’t lose credibility and trust by pushing a bad hand.

If you have not tried consultative selling, the SPIN model is a good one to apply.  Not only does the process work; but also it will help improve your overall selling capability.  The discipline of consultative selling can pay dividends on a number of levels.

Now that you know the steps, you’re ready to give consultative selling a SPIN.  When you get a minute, let me know about your experience.

Leave a comment with your thoughts.

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