Neil Rackham reveals the changing face of selling (and updates “SPIN”) 🎯

by Bob Apollo

The recent Association of Professional Sales conference in London brought together over 500 delegates with a single shared obsession: to learn how to transform our sales organisations into a source of lasting competitive advantage.
We heard from expert authors and roll-our-sleeves-up practitioners, and everyone emerged with a stream of practical ideas that could be immediately applied to the goal of finding and winning more of the right sort of customers.
I was intrigued to hear Neil Rackham’s update on SPIN selling, in which he showed how what is probably the world’s most widely adopted complex sales methodology remains highly relevant in today’s demanding sales environment…
Rackham set the scene by reinforcing a message that many of us have long believed: having a great salesforce is a much stronger (and far longer lasting) source of competitive advantage than having a great product.
The evidence is undeniable: today’s top performing sales organisations compete (and win) on having a better sales process and not just by relying on having a better product – but what does this actually mean in practice?

COMPETING AGAINST THE STATUS QUO

Firstly, today’s top performers recognise that their strongest competition often comes not from other vendors, but from the prospect’s natural inclination to “do nothing” and to stick with the status quo unless they have a compelling reason to change.
All too often, even if we succeed in addressing the prospect’s acknowledged current needs, we will fail to get the order if the prospect decides that they can nevertheless make do with what they are doing today for a while longer.
That’s why simply uncovering and satisfying acknowledged needs isn’t enough: we need to help our prospects recognise and solve future problems that will come back to haunt them if they carry on as they are today.
It seems that Ralph Waldo Emerson was wrong: building a better mousetrap will not cause prospects to beat a path to our door. What we need to do instead is to articulate a more compelling problem.
SPIN UPDATED
So what does this mean for Rackham’s widely adopted “SPIN” selling methodology? In the unlikely case that any of you are unfamiliar with the acronym, it stands for:

Situational questions

Problem questions

Implication questions

Need-Payoff questions (aka Value questions)

Rackham’s original research demonstrated that top performing sales people ask far fewer situational questions, and ask far more effective problem and implication questions, than their lower-performing peers – and that’s still true.
However, the nature of these different question types has evolved:
SITUATIONAL QUESTIONS
Prospects are even more resentful of having to answer a series of dull fact-based discovery questions than they ever were – and there is even less excuse nowadays for sales people to ask questions that they could have answered with a modest amount of judicious research. Even if the prospect doesn’t throw the sales person out on the spot, chances are that they won’t be asked back again.
Rackham’s original guidance holds true to an even greater degree today: we should ask no more situational questions than we absolutely have to – and avoid “front loading” the sales conversation with a stream of dull data-gathering checklist questions.
PROBLEM QUESTIONS
When SPIN was first introduced, the natural inclination of sales people was to focus on getting the prospect to acknowledge a current problem that would lead to a need for the sales person’s solution, and while this is still important, the greatest value now comes from asking questions that help the prospect to anticipate future problems that they may not yet have even considered or been aware of.
Sales people who master this art of uncovering unconsidered needs invariably establish the foundation for having far more impactful value creating conversations (more of this in a moment).
IMPLICATION QUESTIONS
According to Rackham’s latest research, top performing sales people still ask far more implication questions (4* as many) than their average peers – and prospects still find these questions far more stimulating and thought provoking than any other question type.
Implication questions help the prospect to recognise the consequences of failing to deal with the problems we have helped them to uncover. When combined with previously unconsidered but critical needs, they provide rocket fuel for the prospect’s decision process – and the sales person that does the best job of connecting the two will inevitably emerge with huge advantage over their plodding peers.
NEED-PAYOFF (VALUE) QUESTIONS
Tying it all together are the Need-Payoff (Value) questions, which help the prospect to recognise the value of solving the identified problems using the vendor’s recommended solution – but there’s been a subtle but important change here, as well.
When SPIN was first introduced, it was common to think of these questions as being largely about communicating value – but as Rackham points out, top sales performers today are not just in the business of communicating value – they are in the business of creating previously unanticipated new value for their customers.
SPIN REINVIGORATED
I came away with the clear impression – as did many of the delegates I spoke to – that the fundamental principles of SPIN, when reinterpreted for today’s sales environment, remain as relevant today as they were when it was first introduced nearly 30 years ago. What’s your experience?
By the way, if you’re a UK-based sales leader (or if you aspire to be a future sales leader), I strongly encourage you to join the Association of Professional Sales. You’ll find it a fascinating forum for learning from both acknowledged experts and from your peers.
Written by
Bob Apollo

Rocket Fuel for Growing Companies

7 comments

10h

Steve Thurlow

Principal at Steve Thurlow Consulting Ltd.

I couldn’t agree more Bob, though having worked for Huthwaite and on and off with Neil Rackham for 25 years that’s no surprise! To build on your piece, there has been much made in recent years of ‘new’ sales models like Challenger and Insight Selling looking to create needs/value the prospect doesn’t realise they have. The ‘how-to’ of doing that is future-orientated Proble… See more

LikeReply10

7h

David Freedman

Associate Director, Huthwaite International

I had the pleasure of hearing Neil speak at the APS conference too, and would echo what Bob said about the APS as an organisations and – naturally – about SPIN(r) Selling itself. Though I declare an interest – I work for Huthwaite International, the creators and the only source for SPIN(r) training in much of the world – it was also heartening to see and hear so many in the… See more

LikeReply4

4h

Bryan Socransky

I help companies overcome status quo bias in B2B sales…

Yes – “today’s top performing sales organisations compete (and win) on having a better sales process and not just by relying on having a better product” and Yes – “strongest competition often comes not from other vendors, but from the prospect’s natural inclination to “do nothing” and to stick with the status quo”

LikeReply1

2h

Rob Leavitt

Marketing Strategy and Thought Leadership

Thanks Bob, great summary and great to hear the latest from Rackham — which rings totally true to me, too. The line about focusing on creating unanticipated new value is especially true amid the incredible waves of change washing over just about every industry these days. Trying to figure out what’s next is absolutely top of mind for most executives. As a side note, I real… See more

LikeReply1

3h

Jakob E. Soderberg

Inbound Sales and Marketing Specialist. Sales Excellence…

Steve, I love how you put quotation marks around ‘new’. Nothing has changed much since Dale Carnegie – only more statistics to justify that the eagles in every company are good at a handful of really fundamental things. First and foremost – building relationships with a wide variety of stakeholders (high and low) and deep understanding their individual objectives.

LikeReply1

3h

Dr. Ruud Kronenburg

Former Dean Caterpillar University; Current: Senior…

Hail to the SPIN (r) doctor..!, and thank you David for sharing.. From a “how to” perspective, the challenge remains to identify, develop and coach (prospective) salespeople to practice the SPIN (r) approach and become really good at it.. The sales manager role seems to hold the key to this and deserves equally focused attention..

UnlikeReplyYou +1

23m

Owen Ashby

Head of Strategic Alliances

Great article. Thanks Bob. It’s great to hear from Rackham and I can see in here how he’s positioning against Challenger too. In my experience, it is indeed about helping the customer uncover new value; often value that crosses the departmental/budgetary boundaries and in fact leverages and takes advantage of the current “consensus” buying models we’re seeing today, rather… See more

LikeReply

3h

Dr. Ruud Kronenburg

Former Dean Caterpillar University; Current: Senior…

Hail to the SPIN (r) doctor..!, and thank you David for sharing.. From a “how to” perspective, the challenge remains to identify, develop and coach (prospective) salespeople to practice the SPIN (r) approach and become really good at it.. The sales manager role seems to hold the key to this and deserves equally focused attention..

LikeReply1

23m

Owen Ashby

Head of Strategic Alliances

Great article. Thanks Bob. It’s great to hear from Rackham and I can see in here how he’s positioning against Challenger too. In my experience, it is indeed about helping the customer uncover new value; often value that crosses the departmental/budgetary boundaries and in fact leverages and takes advantage of the current “consensus” buying models we’re seeing today, rather… See more

LikeReply

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One thought on “Neil Rackham reveals the changing face of selling (and updates “SPIN”) 🎯

  1. Pingback: SPIN® Selling is Alive and Kick’n in the 21st Century – more than ever 🎯 | Anders Christian Hjort Top 💯 Sales Influencer & Behaviour Change Expert

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