So what are you implying?

A few weeks ago I referenced SPIN Selling for an article and I thought I’d follow up with a quick overview.  It’s a great book (highly recommended) and it’s a must read if you are involved in large ticket sales in any way or if you just like to understand some of the science behind business.

It was written back in 1988, but the concepts are timeless and certainly as applicable today as they were almost 20 years ago.  In a nutshell, the book is about a selling system that follows a very simple model based around questions:

  • Situation Questions – to establish background
  • Problem Questions – to uncover the customer’s pain
  • Implication Questions – to develop the customer’s pain
  • Need/Payoff Questions – to develop the customer’s solution

The author (Neil Rackham) was the owner of a Sales Research and Training company that started out with the idea to prove that strong closing techniques were the essence behind successful selling.

It was an invalid hypothesis (much to the author’s surprise) and after many years of gathering data they were able to prove that successful sales (for large ticket items at least) were actually negatively impacted by closing techniques (i.e. would you like that car in Red or Black?).

Of course this went across the grain of all traditional sales training (and pretty much still does) and was fairly controversial – hence the need for all of the data to back it up.

So what is the ‘secret’ to successful selling?  As you can probably guess from the description above, it’s asking questions.

Questions that engage the customer.

Questions that generate visceral emotions in the customer (side note…I love the word visceral, one of the best words ever!).

Questions allow you to make connections and point things out, without actually telling the customer something. 

    Which of these is more inflammatory?

Your customer service is lousy.

So do your customers ever give you any feedback?

So the idea is to develop a picture of the customer’s problems (their pain) by asking Problem questions, and then get to the real heart of the matter by asking Implication questions.

One of the examples in the book that I found really helpful centered around a machine used in a manufacturing process.  The problem uncovered by the problem question was that the machine was really hard to use.

Here were some examples of implications questions:

So since the machine is difficult to use, does that impact your training costs?

I imagine a difficult machine like that is tough to operate, are your operators happy about it?  Do you get a lot of turnover in that area?

Do you ever have any problems finding people that are qualified to run the machine?  Do you run into high overtime costs or work bottlenecks because you can’t keep it staffed?

All of the implication questions really help flesh out exactly what a big problem this is – making the buyer much more likely to appreciate the solution once you get to that point.

In this same section of the book, the author recommended a very simple process that I think is brilliant:

  1. Prior to meeting with the customer, write down the most likely problems you think they have related to your product or service.
  2. Then brainstorm the likely implications that each particular problem might be causing and come up with appropriate Implication questions that will clearly flesh out those issues.

It’s sounds simplistic, but it will really help you prepare for those uncharted waters with a prospect and stay in control.

How do you use questions in your sales approach?  Do you drive out the implications?  Or do you try to ‘close’?

Shawn Kinkade