SPIN Selling

"…successful salespeople must build up the perceived value of their products or services. The building up of perceived value is probably the single most important selling skill in larger sales… The reason why the customer wouldn’t buy was that she didn’t see enough value to justify so large a decision."

- SPIN Selling, page 8

No one except for those in sales can relate to the feeling of helping guide a customer to a “yes” decision.  For anyone who professes to be in the art of sales, this paragraph should ring truer than the sound of the sweetest bell while simultaneously irritate like nails on a chalkboard.  You may, and should, be thinking, “Come on, is that really all that this is about?”  And the answer, according to researcher Neil Rackham, author of SPIN Selling, is yes, yes it is.

When your prospect sees that what you have to offer is something of value and benefit to them they will act.  Think about your own personal buying experiences.  Were they not all in one way shape or form connected to the fact that you would be willing to give up resources in exchange for the benefits that they offered, as long as the benefits outweighed the costs?  That is what Rackham is not only proposing, but proving through his scientific studies of over a period of 12 years.

The SPIN Selling process centers around four types of questions designed to build up perceived value from the customers’ perspective: Situation Questions, Problem Questions, Implication Questions, and Need-Payoff Questions.

For those of us who profess to make a living through salesmanship, Rackham’s 12 year study on selling should be a required reading.  If you are involved in the single call sales environment, where after an initial meeting with a prospect you have the order and no follow up or additional services are offered, feel free to stop reading now as this book will not apply to you.  For the other 99% of the sales people out there, read on to learn several gems from the SPIN Selling sequence.  This book is about major sales, the types with multiple calls, meetings, and interactions with a customer.

The Big Idea

The Big Idea: The biggest takeaway from the book

Build value by turning implied needs into explicit needs

"It’s almost perfect -> I’m a little dissatisfied -> I’ve got problems with… -> I NEED TO CHANGE IMMEDIATELY!"
- SPIN Selling, page 56

Of the four questioning types in the SPIN sequence, the most critical to success in large sales comes from the INVESTIGATING portion.  This is the stage “with the strongest influence on overall call success…”

At the heart of the investigating stage are the questions that you are asking the customer.  The goal in this sequence is to uncover needs that the customer not only wants to solve, but needs to solve for their benefit.  And everyone who has been through Sales 101 just rolled their eyes thinking, “Great, anything else we should now?”  While this is not a revolutionary concept, the process of moving from implied need to explicit need is the challenge that separates those who are truly successful in selling to those who simply do sales for a living.

The difference in the two needs comes from the customer’s overall perspective.  To the customer, an implied need is just a statement of a problem, difficultly, or dissatisfaction.  “It’s not great, and could be better, but it’s not the end of the world” would be a statement you may hear.

The explicit need is when a customer states a specific want or desire.  “I need to have a touchscreen, with 4G LTE capabilities” would be an explicit need for a cell phone.

Success in the large sale depends, more than anything else, on how implied needs are developed, and then how you convert those found needs into EXPLICIT needs that you can help the customer in solving.

Insight #1

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Pre-call Planning - Know your game!

"Before I go into a call, I ask myself, ‘What problems can I solve for this customer?’ The clearer I can be about the problems I can solve, the easier it is to ask effective questions during the discussion."
- SPIN Selling, page 94

The planning stage of anything is often with salespeople the least anticipated part of a call.  Generally hard charging and flying at the seat of our pants by nature, this is an area of true discipline when it comes time to making sales calls and scheduling meetings.  However, if you are truly going to find needs a customer has, you will want to sit down and think through what it is about this potential customer that you can solve, and how you can do that.

Rackham suggests a three step process to review as you head into your next sales calls to allow you to develop implication questions, which will lead your customer to explicit needs:

1. Write down a potential problem your customer is likely to have.
2. What difficulties may arise from this problem?  Write at least four.
3. For each difficulty, write down a question it suggests that you can use in your call.

This will get your mind thinking in terms of “implications” that are causing your customer issues, and allow for them to state those back to you as well, giving you the explicit needs you can then solve!

Insight #2

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Objection! Did I do that?

"Objections, contrary to common belief, are more often created by the seller than the customer."
- SPIN Selling, page 118

Many of the salespeople Rackham researched in this book were taught the value of “creating” objections.  Rackham, in his professorial style, politely points out, “Why would you want to create objections?”  One can almost see him slapping his forehead with a quizzical look on his face as you read this section of the book.

Rather than teach salespeople how to handle objections, Rackham suggests we teach how to prevent objections.  How do we do this?  By going back to the value of explicit needs in the sales process.  “The customer has raised the objection because he didn’t perceive sufficient value from the (solving of the problem)”.

If this is happening in your sales process, go back to investigating and asking questions about the customer.  The more you know, the more you can develop implied needs, and the more you can turn them into explicit needs that you can solve for the customer.


“It means the becoming actual of what was potential–turning something into practical usefulness as opposed to theoretical elegance. Entelechy – the becoming actual of what was potential – turning something into practical usefulness as opposed to theoretical elegance.”

Rackham closes this book with several words of encouragement on the inevitable frustration one can feel when attempting to make a change.  Be sure that when incorporating SPIN into your sales processes, you do not go for the fire hose approach and expect instant success.  Rather, pick one piece at a time, master it, and then move on to the next, and so on.  In this way you can truly experience the benefits and results that come from satisfying both your customer and yourself.

How can investigating with your next potential customer allow you to turn implied needs into explicit needs?  What questions can you ask that will help you to truly serve your customers?

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Ben Wallis

ABOUT Ben Wallis

WHO ARE YOU? Ben Wallis: husband, new father, and salesman. WHAT DO YOU DO? I work for eShipping, a logistics technology company in the role of Business Development Manager...
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