Every business owner I meet says they’re not a salesman. Yet in most cases, they are the best person in their business to sell their product or service. They’re just nervous of closing the deal, and they always ask if there’s a trick or technique I can teach them.

I don’t think there’s a magic wand you can use as every situation is different, but I do think there’s a process you can use that will definitely increase your odds of closing a deal.

To me, selling is like coaching… you should spend more time asking questions than providing answers.

One of my favourite selling tools is Neil Rackam’s Spin Selling. In his book, Rackham outlines the kind of questions to ask when you want to move your prospects all the way through the buying process.

If you ask the wrong questions at the wrong stage the interaction will often stall.

On the other hand, if you ask the right questions at the right time, you’ll find the prospect quickly becomes eagerly interested in your product and excited to buy.

In theory, if done correctly, you shouldn’t need to SELL at all

The real power behind the SPIN system is NOT to talk about your product/services and the related benefits until you’ve gone through the 4 steps first… leave it as late into the sales interaction as possible.

Before we start, when asking questions, you’ll want to stay away from sensitive areas such as company politics, personal topics and recent buyer decisions. Delving into any of those areas can stop the whole process in its tracks!

Let’s review the 4 steps in the SPIN process.

Step 1 – Situation

Having gone through the formalities and introductions, establish the current situation by asking questions which help you better understand the background, information and facts. This is key to understanding the context for uncovering your prospect’s problems.

Examples of situational questions are;

  1. What kind of [product/service] do you use right now?
  2. How often do you buy [product/service]?
  3. Are there any areas of opportunity for improvement with your current supplier?

Then, after the buyer has given you specific pieces of information, be ready to probe further to find the really important information.

  1. How long does your current [product/service] take to arrive?
  2. Am I right in thinking that this can be frustrating for you?
  3. Have your frustrations increased over time?

These questions tend NOT to put the prospect on the defensive. It also gets them talking to you, builds rapport and gives you further information so that you can start to steer the conversation towards establishing the problems…

Step 2 – Problem

Establish what problems, if any, difficulties and dissatisfactions your prospect has with the current situation. This step is critical as once the prospect recognises they have a problem, they’ll realise they have a need, and people only buy once they realise they have a need or want.

Examples of problem questions are;

  1. What problems have you experienced with your current situation?
  2. Have you experienced quality, service or delivery issues with your current provider?
  3. What is your opinion on the value you receive for the price you pay?

Often a great next step after you find a problem is to follow it with a question that digs deeper into the problem. Such as;

  1. How long does it take for your current service provider to respond to a complaint?
  2. How often do you experience issues with the [product/service]?
  3. Who usually has to deal with the issues when they arise?

Never ask problem questions about your own product in a sales call, instead save them for a specific time when you’re gathering feedback and not trying to make a sale.

Questions clarifying why the prospect doesn’t think your product is a fit are great, but don’t ask problem questions. If you start highlighting problems in your product or service in the buying process it’ll just highlight these problems and create negative emotions towards your product or service.

If you can use problem questions well, you can get the prospect engaging with you and realising they have a problem and they’ll want it corrected.

Effective planning takes you more than halfway towards effective execution

Step 3 – Implication

What are the consequences, effects or impacts of these problems? If the situation continued what would this mean for the prospect and their business?

This step is critical as once the prospect realises they have a problem, pointing out the implications can show the problem may be more serious that they thought.

The idea is to extend and expand the effects of the problem and link it to other potential problems to encourage the prospect to find a solution.

If possible, plan your implication questions beforehand to avoid asking questions of implication that may not exist. If this happens the prospects interest in buying will decrease.

Also avoid identifying an implication that you can’t fix with your product or service… the prospect may look for another supplier who can also fill that need.

Make sure you’ve built rapport before you ask implication questions too early in the conversation and take care to vary the way you ask them so that your conversation sounds natural.

Examples of how you could start an implication question are

  1. What effect does that have on…..
  2. How often does that cause…..
  3. What does that result in when…..
  4. Does that ever lead to…..

To make your implication questions feel natural and flow in the conversation, link them to other parts of the conversation such as the prospect’s previous statements, your own observations or other related stories you can tell.

If you do a good job of highlighting the impact of the problems your product or service can solve, the sale process becomes easy as the prospect will be searching for the solution and you’ll be in pole position to deliver it.

Step 4 – Need-Payoff

Ask the prospect what they feel could or would solve the issues? Search for the value, importance and usefulness of the solutions.

When asking need-payoff questions you want the buyer to actively specify the payoffs by asking pointed questions in how the solution could benefit them.  For example;

  1. How much time could you save if your provider did that for you?
  2. Would it be useful if you could cut production times by 25%?
  3. What could an increase in sales of 15% do for the business?
  4. How might a better system for that help you personally?

Careful questioning in this step will also have a large influence on how much the prospect is willing pay. If you can show that there is a very high probability of a high payoff by purchasing the solution, the prospect will be more likely to pay a lot for it.

Need-payoff questions also do three important things.

  1. They stir up positive emotions because they are helpful, constructive and focus on a solution.
  2. They reduce objections because they cause prospects to explain how your product or service will help, and in doing so, convince themselves of the value of your product or service without you needing to.
  3. They move the discussion forward towards action and commitment.

Once the prospect is speaking into the solutions and their value, ask additional questions to reinforce the perceived value, such as, “Besides saving costs, is there any other way this could help you?”

By getting the prospect to tell you the specific payoffs they’ll receive from any solution they become more committed to your solution. They’ll also feel more inclined to take immediate action and take ownership for their decision.

Another benefit to asking need-payoff questions before describing your solution is that it will build anticipation in the mind of the prospect as to how it might benefit them.

If you can do a good job of asking need-payoff questions, you’ll get three major breakthroughs.

  1. The prospect’s attention will be on how the solution will help, not on product details, especially helpful if your product or service doesn’t have all the features the prospect may have initially wanted.
  2. They will explain the benefits of your product to you.
  3. Their enthusiasm and confidence in your solution are increased tremendously.

Any time you have an enthusiastic prospect it makes it almost impossible NOT to close the sale.

As you can see, effective selling is all about asking questions instead of making statements.

Now all you have to do is take Step 5.

Offer your Solution

Once you have clarity on the current situation, the problems your prospect encounters and the implications of those problems… time to describe your solution and how it will solve the issues the prospect identified themselves…

In theory, if done correctly, you shouldn’t need to SELL at all…

A good friend of mine used to close with the “assumption clause” (meaning he assumed the prospect had already bought his solution)… his, last words… “when would be the best time for us to schedule delivery?”