Will You Buy My Violets? The Art of SPIN
The Art of SPIN® Selling
In the annals of business literature, there is probably no category larger than selling. More words have probably been written on selling, and with less comfort to the people who have to do it, than on any other aspect of business.
Obviously, the idea of selling interests, concerns, and awes people. And in professional services marketing, in which the ultimate selling must be done by accountants, lawyers, and other professionals who, "if they wanted to become salesman, wouldn't have become accountants...lawyers...consultants," selling has become a mystique -- a bęte noir.
One problem with selling is that to many people it's an art form. In professional services marketing, it's an art form that most professionals would rather stay away from, because of it's underlying implication that you're persuading people to do what they don't want to do, which therefore makes it unacceptable -- and certainly, unprofessional. Fortunately, the intensity of competition in the professions is altering that attitude, but only at a snails pace.
And perhaps the more serious problem, particularly for nonprofessional sales people, is the fear of rejection. Hearing no, which you hear more frequently in selling than you hear yes, can be very painful.
To a large
degree, these and other stigmas in selling are the vestigial remains of the classic
techniques of selling products. Reading a modern book on how to sell, you find it says the
same things -- albeit in different ways, sometimes -- that were said in the 1920s. The
"chat 'em up...pitch your product's advantages...close quickly and often"
school. In other words, how to persuade...how to exert the power of your personality...how
to outtalk and razzle-dazzle your customer. No wonder the accountant or lawyer -- the
professional -- shies away from traditional selling.
To a large degree, these and other stigmas in selling are the vestigial remains of the classic techniques of selling products. Reading a modern book on how to sell, you find it says the same things -- albeit in different ways, sometimes -- that were said in the 1920s. The "chat 'em up...pitch your product's advantages...close quickly and often" school. In other words, how to persuade...how to exert the power of your personality...how to outtalk and razzle-dazzle your customer. No wonder the accountant or lawyer -- the professional -- shies away from traditional selling.
But suppose you were to think of the process in terms of ...
· Identifying the prospect
· Identifying the client's problem or need
· Being sure that the client realizes that you understand the need or problem
· Being sure that the client realizes that you can resolve the need or problem
· Getting the client to agree to start Monday
At no point was the word selling used. At no point was the word persuade used. What is apparent, though, is that this approach is entirely geared toward satisfying the client's -- not the seller's -- needs. Moreover, it seems irrelevant to the classic (and now outmoded) selling techniques.
There's no question that, in marketing professional services, any selling technique is better than none at all. The woods are full of training courses that are derived from one technique or another, usually with catchy names, but usually all adding up to the same techniques of persuading and closing. The question is not merely what works -- a lot of things work to one degree or another -- but what works best?
As in so many aspects of professional services marketing, what works or doesn't work is a function of the differences between product and professional services marketing. Here, the important differences are ...
In product sales, the product stays and the salesman goes. In professional services, the seller stays.
In product sales (except for very high ticket items) the decision can usually be made by one person, on the spot. In professional services (except for small engagements) getting to a buy decision usually involves several people, and therefore several meetings. This, incidentally, is why the standard closing techniques are so often irrelevant -- you can't even think about standard closing techniques when you're dealing with more than one person.
In product sales the product is visible, and usually has a track record. The next tube of toothpaste you buy is going to be exactly like the last one you bought, and you can rely on that. In professional services, each project or engagement is brand new, and the professional's ability to deal with it may be assumed, but is really unknown before the performance. Faith and trust is significant -- which is why the ultimate sale must be made by the professional who performs (or is responsible for overseeing the performance of) the engagement.
If we think in
terms of the client and the client's need, then we see a somewhat different approach to
selling than the classic charm/persuade/close algorithm. It's an approach based on the
SPIN ® ®
®Selling techniques developed by Neil Rackham, of Huthwaite, Inc.. (See his book, Spin Selling)
®What we are after is asking the prospect the kinds of questions that will lead to his or her understanding, without external persuasion, that...
· You understand the nature of his or her need or problem
· The prospect sees the need or problem in a highly focused way
· The prospect understands the ramification of not serving that need or solving that problem
· The prospect understands what you can bring to serving that need or solving that problem
· The prospect understands the value of not only the solution, but of your supplying that solution, and persuades himself that you should be retained.
Persuades himself that you should be retained. That's the crux of it. You don't sell the prospect -- the prospect sells him or herself. And it's done by asking questions the answers to which lead to an inevitable conclusion. No selling. No glibness on your part. No promises you can't keep or representations that just aren't so. It's all business, and all business-like.
The secret is in two things -- the basic thrust of thinking like a client, and the questions you ask.
The questions are in four different categories, asked progressively, to lead to the ultimate objective -- the sale. The four categories are...
· Situation questions, designed to elicit basic information regarding the prospect's needs or problems
· Problem questions, designed to move the discussion to focus on the real needs, and most urgent problems, faced by the prospect. The emphasis here is on focus.
· Implication questions, designed to focus on the implications to the prospect of not addressing the need or solving the problem.
· Need-payoff questions, designed to focus on the benefits to the prospect or client of your addressing the need or solving the problem. It's at this point that the prospect is made to understand your service, and how it can help solve the problems.
Each category has its purpose. For example...
Situation questions, such as, "How would you describe your product line?" or "What are the principal competitive factors in your business?", allow you to...
o Turn up potential problem areas that you can help resolve
o Give you the opportunity to be a good listener and build rapport
Problem questions, such as, "Do you find yourself losing market share?" or, "Are you satisfied that your current reporting systems are giving you adequate information, on a daily basis, to allow you to make fast business decisions?", take the information you've gotten from the situation questions, and turns it into a probing of the depth and gravity of the problem or the prospects needs. While there may be a tendency and urge to offer solutions, it's too soon; the prospect isn't ready to hear that. Problem questions, on the other hand, focus on the prospect's real problems and needs -- frequently more concisely than the prospect has done him or herself. By clarifying the problem, by seeing it more clearly, the prospect frequently sees a greater urgency to solve the problems. Vague and ill-defined problems tend not to be urgent.
At the same time, prematurely suggesting a solution can lead to rejecting the solution, or offering excuses why the proposed solution won't work. This approach also deprives the prospect of the sense of participation in the solution -- the ownership of the solution -- so crucial to this kind of selling.
Problem questions also allow you to learn more about an opportunity, problem, or potential problem, and allow you to demonstrate -- through the relevant questions you ask -- your ability and experience. Better to demonstrate than to describe that expertise.
· Implication questions, such as, "How much do you think it's costing you, in expenses or lost opportunity, not to have a firmer grip on your day-by-day company performance?" or, "How will not solving this problem affect your competitive situation?", magnify or quantify the significance of a problem. They ask, in effect, "what are the implications to your business of not solving these problems?"
Implication questions bring to the discussion the ultimate realization that the problem is clear, that the need for solution is urgent, and that you understand the nature of the problem. This context serves as a platform for successfully bringing the prospect to the conclusion that you are capable of solving his or her problem; of filling the need.
· Need-payoff questions, such as, "If we could figure out a way for you to acquire that company without more debt, how would that help you?" or, "If we could install a reporting system for you that would keep you up-to-the-minute on the crucial data you need to run your company on a day-by-day basis, how would this help you run your company more effectively?", bring the prospect into a receptive mode for your explanation of how you can help.
If the three prior groups of questions are properly handled, the answers to Need-payoff questions will invariably be in your favor.
Need-payoff questions also tell you whether the prospect has any unresolved concerns, and how seriously the prospect sees the problem and the need for solution. They lead to a distillation of his or her vision of the company. Favorable answers are the clues to tell you that the prospect is prepared to discuss your services, and the terms of engagement. And by having established the value of the solution, you have a better context for pricing. Because the return on the investment in your service is so clear, the price is less arbitrary; less of a concern to the buyer, in terms of the value offered by your services.
It's a platform built on eagerness to accept your solution; a willingness to believe that you can serve the prospect's needs or solve his or her problems; a demonstration of proof that your solution works for the prospect. It remains, then, only for you to describe your services, and how they will contribute to his business in ways that are acceptable to him.
This is selling
based upon leading the prospect to his own conclusions that you've identified the problem
or opportunity; that you understand it; that you can help resolve it. And by leading the
client to those conclusions, rather than bulling your way to the conclusions by arduous
persuasion, you've moved the selling process from a heavy-handed process to a business
conversation that's very much within the realm of your professional training and
This is selling based upon leading the prospect to his own conclusions that you've identified the problem or opportunity; that you understand it; that you can help resolve it. And by leading the client to those conclusions, rather than bulling your way to the conclusions by arduous persuasion, you've moved the selling process from a heavy-handed process to a business conversation that's very much within the realm of your professional training and background.
Les Garnas, a consultant who has trained hundreds of professionals in this process, suggests a few pointers that make client satisfaction selling more effective. Says Garnas...
· Don't ask too many situation questions. Just enough to get a basis for further discussion. Too many gets boring.
· Focus your questions. In fact, he says, try to plan ahead by anticipating as many questions as possible. "This kind of selling is a process," he says, "and should go as smoothly as possible. Preparation pays off -- both in your questioning, and in showing your prospect that you've done your homework."
· Don't make judgments or ask judgmental questions (Have you ever considered doing it a different way? Which means that you're implying that he's doing it wrong now). The prospect must persuade himself or herself, and your judgments don't help much.
Avoid offering solutions. Solutions should come in the form
of questions, so that the prospect can feel that the solution springs from his mind -- not
Avoid offering solutions. Solutions should come in the form of questions, so that the prospect can feel that the solution springs from his mind -- not yours.
Don't try to sell yourself or your firm before you've completed the need-payoff questions. If you do, then you 're selling on hostile or even neutral ground. If you wait, you're selling on fertile ground.
Does the system work? Based on extensive experience, it works to a far greater degree than any other selling system now being taught to professionals.
Selling, even for full-time sales people, is tough. For professionals trying classic selling techniques, it's too often inimical to both training and personality.
The client satisfaction selling approach, on the other hand, uses only those skills of thinking and interpersonal relationships that are inherent in every professional's training and makeup. It uses business conversation, rather than the kind of persuasion that too often leads to rejection, and for professionals, it uses their technical business skills in a comfortable context. It's clearly the technique of choice for training professionals to sell.