There are HUNDREDS of books on "how to close the sale". Many of them discuss tactics that work well, depending on your business and industry. 

Some talk about relentless follow up. Some talk about assuming the sale, the trial close, or the inventory close. 

Buyers, though, are catching on to these tactics. And if you try to use one on a savvy buyer, you’re dead in the water. And it makes you look unprofessional. 

After reading "SPIN Selling" by Neil Rackham, a new style of closing emerges; a style of closing that doesn’t focus on the close at all.

The team that worked on this book analyzed more than 35,000 sales calls over a period of 12 years, and worked with more than 10,000 sales people and 1,000 sales managers in 23 countries. 

In other words, this was not a small sample size. 

Early in the book, Rackham points out that "closing techniques" actually DO work pretty good….in small sales. 

But for larger, more complex sales, there is a much better strategy. 

Here are three interesting research notes from the author before he gets to SPIN selling:

  • "Success in the larger sale depends, more than anything else, on how the investigating stage of the call is handled."
  • "Each one of our early studies of selling came up with the same fundamental finding: There were a lot more questions in successful calls."
  • "Research shows that [in larger complex sales] it doesn’t matter if questions are open ended or closed.”

And now on to SPIN selling. 

S.P.I.N. is an acronym for the four types of questions to ask a prospect or customer during the investigation stage that will ultimately help you close more deals.

Here we go:

S- Situational Questions

These are basic data gathering questions. They are sometimes necessary, but add ZERO value to the buyer. Top sales people ask these sparingly; instead they do research ahead of time to eliminate the need to ask these questions. 

Example situational questions:

  • "What types of products do you sell?"
  • "How big is your company?"
  • "How long have you been in business?"

P- Problem Questions

The goal of these questions is to get the customer to state implied needs. Inexperienced sales people don’t spend enough time here.

Example problem questions:

  • “Is this operation difficult to perform?”
  • “Are you worried about the quality you’re getting from your old machine?” 
  • “What are the disadvantages of your current solution?"

I-  Implication Questions

These questions are focused on the consequences or effects of a customer’s problems. They also help the customer understand the seriousness or urgency of a problem.

Smaller deals can usually skip this step, but this is a place you need to spend more time on big deals. 

Example implication questions:

  • “How will this problem affect your future profitability?"
  • “What effect does this failure rate have on your customer satisfaction?” 

Since implication questions can drive the conversation to a negative tone, now it’s time for:

N- Need-Payoff Questions

These questions build up the value or usefulness of your solution and get the customer to tell you the benefits that your solution could offer. It’s been common to find that top performers ask more than 10 times as many Need-Payoff Questions per call as do average performers.

Example need-payoff questions:

  • “Is it important to you to solve this problem?”
  • “Why would you find this solution so useful?” 
  • “Is there any other way this could help you?”

The research concluded that calls with a high number of Need-Payoff Questions were rated by customers as:  

  • Positive  
  • Constructive  
  • Helpful

Do you agree with the SPIN Selling process? Could you use this in your business?

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Brad Telker
Vice President of Commercial Sales at cfm Distributors, Inc.

Brad joined the cfm team in 2006, and now as the Vice President of Commercial Sales, he focuses on business development, as well as helping contractors and engineers find creative and unique solutions to any size HVAC project. When he’s not at work, Brad enjoys photography, running and spending time with his family.