This article is based on a short presentation I made to a breakfast networking club earlier this week about effective sales questions based on SPIN Selling.
Using Powerful And Effective Sales Questions To Close More Sales
At our last meeting we were told how important it is too listen to our customers and prospective customers. It was suggested that we should listen for 70% of the time and only talk for 30% of the time.
Unfortunately this goes against the sales person stereotype of a fast talking, confident, persuasive extrovert but I can't emphasise enough how important it is to listen and to listen carefully.
I try to help clients find the right balance in their talking/listening by reminding them that we have all been given two ears and one mouth, and that's the proportion they are intended to be used.
But you can't allow the customer to ramble. Your time is far too valuable so you have to make sure that what you are listening to is worthwhile and moves the sales process forward.
Use Questions To Take Control Of Your Sales Call
You need to take control of the call.
Not by incessant talking and trying to browbeat the prospect into buying but by asking a series of carefully crafted questions. These questions will give you the answers you need for the sales process and help the prospective buyer convince themselves of how essential and urgent it is to buy your product or service.
All good sales methodologies provide assistance with questioning techniques (Peter Thomson, Brian Tracy, Tony Robbins, David Sandler and probably a host more I am not familiar with).
But my preferred sales questioning technique is SPIN Selling by Neil Rackham of Huthwaites based on extensive research going back to the mid 1980s.
SPIN Selling is structured and moves the sales process along smoothly from fact finding through to motivating the prospect to act, and if you do it right, to acting right now rather than having to "think it over".
The SPIN Selling framework is well established and as always, some people have flirted with the ideas without implementing SPIN selling diligently but SPIN Selling has endured.
I believe it is time to take a fresh look at the SPIN questions because in your sales calls, you should be mentally moving your prospect through the process.
What Does SPIN Stand For?
SPIN is an acronym that covers four types of sales questions:
- Situation Questions
- Problem Questions
- Implications Questions
- Needs Payoff Questions
Let's take a look at what each of these types of SPIN Selling questions mean:
- You use Situation Questions to gather general information - "What do you do?", "How many branches do you have?"
- They are easiest questions to ask and answer. This means that they are great for breaking the ice and getting your prospect talking. They are non-threatening and based on facts.
- But there is a danger! Many sales people ask too many general Situation Questions because they are so easy and it seems good to keep the prospect talking and building rapport.
- Unfortunately too many Situation Questions harm the sales process because the buyer gets irritated answering questions that could have been answered if the sales person had done a little research before the call.
Even worse the questions may not be relevant to the buying/selling process. If you ask too many Situation Questions, you are wasting your time and even worse you are wasting the buyer's time.
- Can it get worse? Yes. If you keep asking Situation fact-finding questions that your prospect has just answered as extra information in a previous answer it says two things.
You are not listening and you are not interested in what the prospect has to say. When you listen to radio interviews, you hear it quite often as the interviewer asks a scripted question which has already been answered. It must drive the person being interviewed crazy because they know have to find a new way of saying the same thing and still sound interesting.
You cannot afford to be caught out go through the motions in your questioning and fact finding stage because your credibility will be shot.
- You won't be surprised to learn that research shows an inverse relationship between the number of Situation Questions asked and sales success. The more Situation Questions you ask, the lower your chances of closing the sale.
- After you have broken the ice with a small number of Situation Questions, it is time to start finding out about the issues that your prospect wants to solve.
- The more you think of your product or service as a solution to the customer's problem, the more you realise that you have to investigate the precise nature of their problem before you can recommend the right solution.
One size doesn't fit all. If you mismatch your solution to their problem, you reduce the chances of converting the lead significantly. And even more important (because this is where the real money is), if you are successful in selling the wrong product at the first sale, you have reduced your chances of receiving ongoing business because customer satisfaction won't be as high as it should be.
- I can't find the source of the original quote but it makes the point very powerfully. "Prescription without diagnosis is malpractice". It's not good for your customer or client and it's certainly not good for you and your company to mis-diagnose. Failing to ask enough Problem Questions cuts down your chances to close the deal and find attractive upsells that increase the order value.
- Problem Questions are your chance to find out about the dissatisfactions, difficulties, frustrations and fears that the buyer has.
- These uncover the reason why the buyer is considering buying what you sell, and not surprisingly, research shows that the more Problem Questions you ask, the more successful the sales process.
- The good news is that, as the sales person becomes more experienced, they learn to ask more Problem Questions.
- The bad news is that experience doesn't protect you from the fatal, but oh so easy mistake to make. You see the big temptation when you hear about problems that your product or service can solve is to jump from listening to their problems to presenting your solutions.
In your enthusiasm to help the customer solve their problem and close the sale for you and your company, it is so tempting to rush in, stop listening and start talking. But that's not what the top performers do!
- Research by Neil Rackham and Huthwaites, shows that top sales performers don't stop after they have asked the Problem Questions. They want to know more about the problems.
- In particular, they ask Implication Questions to discover the effects and consequences of the problems.
- The aim of Implication Questions is to help the buyer feel the pain of the problem and to see what will continue to happen if the easy "do nothing" option is taken. You want to stir the buyers' emotions and make them want to urgently find the solution.
The more pain the buyer feels, the more they know that something has to be done. It's even better if you can start quantifying the cost of the problem through your Implication Questions, because that helps you to position the price or your solution as great value.
- It's no surprise that Implication Questions are the most powerful questions for a sales person to ask. The more pain there is, the more motivated the prospect is to act and the more eager they are to listen to possible solutions.
- Implication Questions will help to reduce the number of times you hear comments like "I need to think it over. I agree that I've got an issue but I'm not sure that it is serious enough to do anything about at the moment."
- There is one problem with Implication Questions. They don't make the buyer feel good. As you probe into the problems, the pain and the costs, you can make the buyer feel guilty for not doing something about the problem earlier. It is easily to make the buyer defensive, triggering lower brain reactions which will kill your sales process.
- Needs-Payoff Questions are the solution because the conversation can be moved from the pain of the problem to the gain or pleasure the buyer wants from the solution.
- In a business-to-business setting, problems cost your buyer money, solutions save or earn your buyer money.
- If you've taken your buyer through the Implications Questions, they want the problem solved and Needs-Payoff questions focus on the gain the buyer will make. That's right. You ask, they tell. The buyer is convincing themselves when they answer your Needs-Payoff Questions.
- The Needs-Payoff Questions are a much more positive way of asking about the benefits of solving the problem but you can't just focus on the benefits. Most people are usually much more motivated to move away from pain before they move to any pleasure or gain.
So there you have it. A summary of the SPIN Selling techniques for asking sales questions that take the prospect through a structured process that increases the desire to buy.
What To Do After You've Asked Your Sales Questions
All you then have to is to tailor your presentation to address those problems and show that your products and services are the solution they have been looking for.
You can find out more about SPIN Selling through these two books from Amazon (affiliate links):
As you can see SPIN Selling and in particular the SPIN sales questions present a structured process to finding out customer issues which is well balanced between building rapport and finding motivating factors for the customer to buy.
You are invited to take a 30 day trial in my business growth system at www.ProfitableGrowthStrategies.org for $1 or £1. You will discover many ways you can increase your profits by selling more, more often to more customers.
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