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SELL THE DIFFERENCE: Establishing your Unique Solution Value

Neil Rackham really wanted us all to be SPIV sales people

Posted by Bob Apollo on Thu 10-Apr-2014

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One of a series of articles celebrating the continuing relevance of SPIN Selling

I had the chance to listen to Neil Rackham, creator of the best-selling SPIN Selling, at the Portsmouth Business School a couple of weeks ago. He proved an extremely engaging speaker - and he shared a closely-guarded secret: SPIN Selling should really have been SPIV selling.

For those of you unfamiliar with SPIN Selling, the four-letter acronym stands for Situational, Problem, Implication and Need-Payoff questions. It resulted from years of research into the winning questioning habits of top-performing sales people.

Rackham found that top performing sales people’s questioning techniques are very different from those of average sales people. Average sales people tend to ask lots of Situational, fact-finding questions - the sort of questions that irritate today’s internet-informed buyers.

Top performers explore implications

Top performing sales people ask 4 times as many Implication-based, consequences-exploring questions - the sort of questions that cause the prospect to think differently, and which enable sales people to better judge whether the prospect is likely to want to do anything.

The thinking behind SPIN remains highly relevant even today. Implication questions are fundamental to the implementation of insight-led sales strategies. Now more than ever, sales people need to do their research upfront so that they can avoid asking unnecessary situational questions.

The one thing that always slightly struck an artificial note with me was the labelling of the fourth category of question as Need-Payoff: the category simply didn’t resonate as clearly as the other three, and now I understand why.

SPIV Selling

Arfur_Daley_SPIVRackham explained that that these were really Value-focused questions, and should have been labelled as such - if only the acronym “SPIV” didn’t have such negative consequences. As my British readers will know, the word spiv isn’t one that you would wish to associate with a modern professional salesperson.

You see, as Wikipedia points out, a “spiv” is British slang for a type of petty criminal who deals in illicit, typically black market, goods. The word was particularly used during the Second World War and in the immediate post-war period when many goods were rationed due to shortages.

There’s no doubt that the book would have sold far fewer copies if it had been entitled “SPIV Selling” - but at least the “V” would have stood for something more easily understandable.

SPIN Selling updated

Rackham went on to explain how he’s updated SPIN to reflect the modern world:

Unnecessary SPIN questions are seen in an even more negative light by today’s prospects than they were when the book was first published. Today’s buyers expect sellers to have done their research upfront.

PROBLEM questions are no longer largely focused on uncovering current problems the prospect is already aware of. The modern sales person focuses on helping their prospects anticipate future problems.

IMPLICATION questions remain some of the most powerful tools in a modern sales person’s armory of questioning technique. They help uncover the case for change, and the explore consequences of inaction.

Finally, VALUE questions reflect the new role of the modern sales person - to help create tangible value for their customers in every interaction. That’s why value-based questions are more important than ever.

He concluded with the following observations and recommendations:

  • Sales people need to discover key facts before they make their sales call, not during them - upfront research is critical
  • The ability to ask penetrating, insightful questions is fundamental to sales success
  • It’s more important to understand your prospect than to persuade them

If you haven’t got a copy of SPIN selling, I recommend that you add it to your reading list. Just like that other classic “Crossing the Chasm”, many of the principles behind SPIN (or SPIV) remain highly relevant today. So the question remains: do you want your sales people to act like amateur spivs - or like professional SPIVs?

Topics: Crossing the Chasm, Skills Development, Complex Sales