Neil Rackham Reflects on 50 Years of Bringing Science to Sales

By Miller Heiman Group | Move the Deal | October 2, 2019

This week’s guest needs no introduction: legendary consultative selling expert Neil Rackham joins host Greg Moore to reflect on his 50 years of research that’s changed the face of sales. Moore worked for Rackham early in his career, and their lively conversation takes us down memory lane, from the research that Rackham conducted that led to his seminal 1988 book, SPIN Selling, to where he sees sales evolving through technology and creativity.

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The Art and Science of Sales 

Rackham argues that technology will continue to redefine sales, particularly in the areas of big data and artificial intelligence. He makes predictions for how AI can aid the sales process in five and even twenty years, based on research from his team in Sheffield, England.

Yet Rackham still sees the need for art within selling. With SPIN, Rackham focused on analytical thinking, but he’s seen a rise in decision-making that emerges from the emotional side of the brain and suggests that emotional response will come to play a larger role in business decisions in the future.

Secrets from SPIN Selling 

Moore and Rackham talk about the impact that SPIN Selling had on the sales industry when it debuted. Given its popularity now, sales practitioners at all levels may be surprised to learn that Rackham went through eight publishers before finding one who would accept his manuscript, which they considered hugely controversial.

He discusses what he’s learned in the past 40 years studying consultative selling, what he would do differently and how his research has resonated with sellers since he published SPIN Selling, now considered standard practice among sellers.

The State of Consultative Sales Today 

Rackham emphasizes that sales has grown more sophisticated and expresses his enthusiasm for the rise in consumer-centric approaches in sales and marketing. In Rackham’s view, marketing now handles the more transactional pieces of sales, opening up sales professionals to provide highly consultative expertise to their customers—a change he calls “highly positive.”

On the other hand, Rackham cautions sellers to against excesses and deficiencies in sales, such as relying too heavily on process or overlooking customer-centric relationship building in favor of short-term wins. He also advises sales organizations to invest in developing sales managers—”everything depends on sales managers,” he tells Moore, “and more focus needs to be there.”

What’s Neil Rackham’s Move? 

We end each episode by asking our guests to offer their best advice in a segment we call “What’s Your Move?” In this episode, Rackham advises sellers on what distinguishes a world class seller from the rest of the pack.

“The first thing that you have to recognize is that selling today, certainly at the world-class level, is not at all about persuasion. It’s about two things more than anything else: creativity and curiosity.” 

Listen to the episode to find out how sales organizations can encourage sellers to use those two skills to become world-class sales practitioners and what sales managers need to know to support them.

One Final Note 

Listen to the end to hear how Rackham changed Moore’s life, professionally and personally.

Episode Outline

[3:50] The ways science and technology are redefining sales

[6:45] Exploring the art and science of selling

[8:38] What he’s most proud of in 41 years of SPIN selling

[10:47] What would he do differently if he could do it all again now?

[14:02] How the “11 Category System” impacts his current research into team behaviors

[16:00] Is Rackham happy about the state of selling today?

[17:40] Words of caution for sales professionals

[21:15] Rackham’s experience as a writer of children’s poetry and novels

[23:38] What does it mean to be world-class and how does a sales organization get there?


Neil Rackham’s Website

SPIN Selling Book

SPIN: Selling Conversations

Greg Moore LinkedIn

Greg Moore Twitter


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