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Take your Selling Skills for a SPIN

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

This is part of an extended management course. You can dip into it, or follow the course from the start. If you do that, you may want a course notebook, for the exercises and any notes you want to make.


“The best sales people have a 4:1 listen-to-talk ratio”

Neil Rackham of the Xerox Corporation discovered this astonishing statistic and, if you want to influence people to get more of what you want, you’ll do well to apply this knowledge.

Rackham is best known for the concept of SPIN Selling and the book of the same name. Here’s a quick run down of how it works.

S for Situation

Start by asking searching questions of your potential buyer – what are their needs? Use the funnel approach we looked at in the earlier blog, Questions, Questions, Questions, to establish the wider context, and then zoom in.

P for Problem

Listen very carefully to your potential buyer’s response and encourage information flow. People buy to meet a need. What difficulties are they having? What are they not satisfied with? You want to identify what their problem is so you can …

I for Implied need

Demonstrate your understanding of their needs and problems – show them you know what their pain is, so that you can …

N for Need-payoff

Show your potential buyer how you can meet their need, solve their problem and take away their pain.
When you have done this, they will want to buy. If you can quote a price that they can afford, you are ready to close the final sale. In the book, Rackham recounts that orginally, he wanted to use the term ‘value question’, but realised that this would make the acronym read: SPIV!

The Three 80-20 Rules of Selling

They say the world is governed by the 80-20 rule. There does indeed seem to be an 80-20 for nearly everything and sales is no exception. In fact, here are three that you ignore at your peril.

The 80-20 Rule for your First Meeting

This rule refers to how to spend your time, at the first meeting with a potential customer. Use your time with:

  • 80% Information Gathering
  • 20% Information Giving

So at the start of your meeting, establish how much time your prospect has, to ensure you can get the information you need. And since no rule is perfect, make sure you leave 10 minutes or so to close the sale if you can (always try) and agree next steps.

Note that this rule is another way of expressing Rackham’s rule, quoted at the top of this blog.

The 80-20 Rule for Junior Buyers

Junior and middle managers are intensely practical people. They have to be: their job is to get things done. So ensure you address their interests. When you gather information, listen for their concerns in this proportion. And when you give information, address their needs in the same ratio:

  • 80% The “How” of it
  • 20% The “Why” of it

All selling is about finding an itch and offering a scratch. Operational people’s itch is a process one. Not so their senior colleagues.

The 80-20 Rule for Senior Buyers

Senior Managers’ role is to think strategically. Reverse your pattern with them to focus on what they need:

  • 80% The “Why” of it
  • 20% The “How” of it

So how do you gather information? There is an art to it. Think funnel:

Start at the top with a wide open funnel, and ask wide open questions, like

“Tell me about …”

Listen for where their itch seems to be, then start to probe, with narrower questions like:

“Tell me some more about …”

Next, confirm your understanding by asking detailed questions like:

“So, what exactly …”

Finally, play back your diagnosis of the nature of their itch, to ensure you know what sort of scratch they need:

“From what I’ve understood, you …”

Don’t be afraid to ask for a Yes

In sales meetings, one of the hardest moments is when you have a strong rapport with your potential customer, you have offered a great solution, and you are convinced they want to buy from you. So how could you spoil this perfect moment? What if they reject you? Perhaps it’s best not to say anything more and wait for them to buy.

But what if they don’t? You know how it can be with that first kiss – maybe your potential buyer is waiting for you to make the first move. If you do have the rapport you think you have, asking respectfully if they are ready to buy is not only appropriate, it’s often the only way to close a sale. Here are five ways you can do it:

  • “We’ve discussed all the ways our product works for you – are you ready to place an order?”
  • “Is there anything else you need from me, before you discuss what booking you want to make?”
  • “If you are ready to order, shall we talk about delivery arrangements?”
  • “Would you like me to get some paperwork ready now?”
  • “Do you prefer to go for the XAKD model or the DXKA model?”

 

Further Reading 

You may like The Salesperson’s Pocketbook. Two other great pocketbooks:

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Questions, Questions, Questions

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

This is part of an extended management course. You can dip into it, or follow the course from the start. If you do that, you may want a course notebook, for the exercises and any notes you want to make.


  • How do you gather the knowledge that you need, to do your job?
  • Who do you go to for sage advice?
  • When you find them, how do you access their opinions?

Do you get it?

Of course you do: questioning is the way we explore our world, the way we discover new ideas, understand problems, and find solutions.  They are how we raise awareness in ourselves and others, how we help people to learn and how we get the answers we need.

So one could argue that management is all about questions and answers.  That would be easy.  It is far harder to determine which is more central to your role as manager: are you there to ask the right questions, or to find the good answers?  (please debate that question in the comments section)

We often think questioning is easy, but there is a skill to it, which consists of three essential disciplines:

  1. Spotting what to question
  2. Structuring your questioning process
  3. Asking your questions artfully

What to Question

Listening to people can give you all of the clues you need about what to question.  Here are five examples of the most questionable types of statement:

  1. Adverse outcomes beg questions about causes and assumptions about causes beg questions that seek evidence to justify or falsify them.
  2. Interpretations of events beg the question of what evidence supports that interpretation.
  3. When someone is struggling to master a new skill or technique, asking the right question can direct their attention to the most important insight.
  4. Generalised and prejudicial assertions beg the question not just of how you know that they are true, but of whether they do indeed stand up to objective evaluation.
  5. When you are asked for a solution, questions will help you to understand the problem better.

The fallacy of petitio principii, or ‘begging the question’, arises when a proposition which requires a proof is assumed to be true without that proof.

The Questioning Process

The Questioning Funnel

Learning more from a person – or even a scientific enquiry of nature – follows a clear process:

  1. Big, open questions to get a survey of the relevant information.
  2. Probing questions that explore more detail about the particular areas of interest
  3. Closed questions to test understanding and confirm facts
  4. What if? questions to test how the answers stand up to experimentation and related scenarios

Artful Questioning

One question has more power than any other.  It is the one that small children ask repeatedly and the extent of the frustration it generates in their carers underlines its potency:

Why?

The question ‘why’ probes deeply, looking for causes, reasons and purpose.  As a scientific enquiry into nature, or as a diagnostic probe into events, it is hugely effective, as underlined by the ‘Five Whys’ process within Six Sigma.

But things are different when you ask a person why they did something.  You will usually get a defensive answer.  ‘Why?’ feels like an attack on the values that direct our decision making, so we react against the question and rarely give a resourceful answer.  A better question might be: ‘what were your criteria when you chose to do that?’

How else can you ask the question ‘why?’
without using the word ‘why’?

Further Reading

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