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The 4 Stages of SPIN Selling: What It Is and Why It Works

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Posted in:  Best Practices, Sales

Salespeople know that great discovery is the foundation of any deal — and no methodology embodies this principle more than SPIN selling.

This methodology, first presented in Neil Rackham’s 1988 book, “SPIN Selling,” leans into the idea that large, consultative deals can only be won when a salesperson truly understands a buyer’s problem — a depth that can only be achieved by asking specific types of questions.

What are those questions, and how can you use them effectively? In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about SPIN selling, including: 

What Is SPIN Selling?

SPIN selling is a sales methodology where reps organize sales calls using questions from four categories: situation, problem, implication, and need-payoff. This approach shifts the focus to buyer challenges and allows reps to develop the consultative customer relationships that complex deals require.

This outcome is particularly important for businesses that sell products with long sales cycles, multiple stakeholders, and complicated implementation. In this scenario, buyers may often not realize that they have a problem — or, if they are aware of the problem, they assume that it can’t be solved. Using questions to uncover needs and create value ensures that sellers create urgency for your buyers and drive them towards purchase.

What Are the Types of SPIN Selling Questions?

The acronym SPIN refers to the four categories of questions reps should use to guide customer conversations: situation, problem, implication, and need-payoff. Each category of questions should be asked more or less in order, i.e., you would start a discovery call with situation questions before moving on to problem questions.

The table below breaks down the types of questions that fall into these categories in further detail.

Situation Problem Implication Need-Payoff
Situation questions help reps discover the status quo. Use these questions to understand business goals, processes, and other environmental factors. Problem questions help reps uncover the buyer’s problem. Use these questions to reveal areas of opportunity, whether stated outright or inferred. Implication questions drive urgency around solving a problem. Use these questions to show buyers why they need to change. Need-payoff questions guide buyers to see the benefits of solving the problem and the payoff for taking action now rather than later. Use these questions to move the buyer towards a specific next step.

What Are the Four Stages of SPIN Selling?

Reps that follow the SPIN selling methodology generally follow the same basic approach to their calls: ​​opening, investigating, demonstrating capability, and finally obtaining commitment. Let’s take a closer look at each of these.

Opening

Reps should use the opening to build rapport and trust. This can be done through casual conversation — asking questions like “What did you do this weekend?” and “How’s the weather?” — and then seamlessly transitioning into situation questions. A strong opening should give the buyer breathing room to get to know you and your business without reps immediately jumping into a hard sell.

Investigating

Once you have a general idea of their situation, transition into the investigation phase. Use this time to probe deeper into their business to understand challenges and opportunities. As always, avoid jumping to conclusions or making assumptions — instead, guide the buyer self-diagnose their own problems.

Demonstrating Capability

Next, it’s time to introduce your product. Rackham explains that there are three ways to do this: Speaking to either features, advantages, and benefits.

  • Features are what your product can do. For example, a feature of a car is its horsepower.
  • Advantages are how your product is used — in this case, the advantage of using a car over walking is speed and comfort.
  • Benefits are the outcomes you receive because of the stated features and advantages. For our car example, a dealership might say, “Because of the horsepower of this car, you can reach your destination faster while still enjoying a comfortable ride.”

Obtaining Commitment

Finally, it’s time to obtain commitment. Here, ask for a specific next step such as another call with additional stakeholders, a proof of concept, or something else. Remember that your buyer may balk at saying yes to whatever you ask them for — so be prepared to handle objections or follow up as necessary.

Does SPIN Selling Still Work?

SPIN selling is a classic sales methodology for a reason: it is a highly effective approach to building trusted buyer-seller relationships. As B2B products become increasingly complex, this approach positions reps to deeply embed their businesses in customer organizations, delivering the consultative selling that modern buyers crave.

The best part about SPIN selling is that it’s not an either/or methodology — many businesses use SPIN selling to augment other approaches to sales.

Best Practices to Get SPIN Selling Right

It’s up to each rep to make situational decisions on which questions they use. This means there are endless ways you can “SPIN” a sales call — but a few best practices you’ll want to get right, regardless of which questions you ultimately ask.

1. Ask open-ended questions

The last thing you want as a sales rep is for a customer conversation to be reduced to a series of blunt “yes” or “no” answers. Without detailed answers, it will be difficult to dive deeper or fully understand a business’s challenges and opportunities.

 To avoid that, it’s important to ask open-ended questions. As you pose these queries, remember you don’t have to jump in with a follow-up question right away — sometimes a simple “Oh?” is the best open-ended question you can ask. Buyers naturally follow up with more clarifying information, often with the details you need to effectively position your product.

2. Don’t dominate the conversation

When people respond to our questions, the natural tendency is to affirm what they just said with an anecdote or opinion of our own. In personal relationships, this is a great way to build depth. But if you’re not careful, this tendency can easily waste precious customer time.

Avoid dominating the customer conversation by validating what the buyer just said by paraphrasing their response. This demonstrates that you were listening — which is all the buyer really needs from you. Then, simply move the conversation forward.

3. Don’t cram too many questions into one call

At first glance, the SPIN methodology seems simple and straightforward. Its brevity may imply that you can and should try to get through all four stages in one call. For some products and businesses, this may be possible — especially if the buyer is raring to purchase.

But for most businesses, especially ones with complex buyers, it’s likely that your SPIN conversation will happen over a series of calls. A buyer may have challenging problems to explain or need additional education at a particular SPIN stage. So don’t rush — take your cues from your buyer and be prepared to move at their pace, even if you don’t get through all your questions.

4. Practice before your engage

Finally, as with any sales methodology, the key to flawless execution is practice. For revenue leaders implementing SPIN selling or any other methodology, it’s therefore essential to build practice into your sales processes and programs.

This means that reps should build confidence and drive towards mastery of SPIN questions long before they ever try them out on a customer. This should take the form of self-guided learning, reinforcement through sales coaching, and opportunities for practical application such as roleplaying. Additionally, don’t forget the power of just-in-time learning: with open-ended questions, it’s highly likely that no two customer conversations will look the same. If you empower reps with sales plays they can access in real-time, they’ll have no trouble navigating any objections that come their way.

Example SPIN Selling Questions to Ask on Your Next Call

Situation Questions

  • Can you tell me about your role at your company?
  • Walk me through an average day at your job.
  • What is your approach to [use case]?
  • Can you tell me about your current processes?
  • What tools do you currently use?
  • Why did you invest in these tools?
  • How effective do you find these tools?
  • How often do you use them?
  • Who is responsible for [use case]?
  • How much budget is assigned to [problem]?
  • What is your top priority for the year?
  • Why is this priority important to your business?
  • Who owns the strategy for [priority]?


Problem Questions

  • How important is [priority] to your business?
  • What challenges do you anticipate?
  • What is your biggest day-to-day challenge?
  • How easy is it to make progress against [priority]?
  • Why does this approach work/not work for you?
  • Does your current approach to [priority] ever fail?
  • What happens if you’re not successful with [priority]?
  • In a perfect world, what would your approach look like?
  • Do you think [problem] can be solved?
  • What’s stopping you from solving it? 


Implication Questions

  • Has the business ever missed a KPI due to your current approach? Why?
  • How much does your current approach cost?
  • How much time does your current approach utilize?
  • How would you distribute these resources differently if you didn’t have to use them on [problem]?
  • What goal would you like to achieve that you currently can’t because of [problem]?
  • How is [problem] impacting your work?
  • How is [problem] impacting your team’s work?
  • How is [problem] impacting your customers’ experience?
  • Would resolving [problem] allow you to advance your career?


Need-Payoff Questions

  • What would change if you did [approach] differently?
  • How would it be easier to achieve [priority] with [solution]?
  • Would your team get value from [solution]?
  • How do you think solving [problem] would help you?
  • What would achieving [priority] unlock for your business? 


SPIN Your Way to Sales Success

With the best practices above in place, your reps will be able to develop the last customer relationships your business needs to grow.

Take this sales methodology one step further by embedding it in the sales enablement tool your reps know and love — discover how.

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