When I began in sales, the training/teaching in the field was dominated by the Zig Ziglars, Earl Nightengales, and Tom Hopkins of the world. The answers to the “Why?” and “How do you know?” questions were all rooted in their specific experience and preconceived notions of what went into a successful sales approach.

That approach largely focused on creating good first impressions, learning a myriad of ways of handling objections, and mastering and continually using very specific (and often deceptive) closing techniques.

It was all very rote. You would ask A, the prospect would respond B, you said C, and they said D. That was great if the prospect indeed said B and D, but if they said 7, you were on your own. SPIN Selling changed that.

I was introduced to SPIN Selling, by Neil Rackham at a DMA conference in Washington, D.C. I remember the author, Neil Rackham, standing beside an overhead projector with a stack of transparencies in his hand—yes, before PowerPoint—describing the sales approach that the Huthwaite Corporation had developed. Light bulbs went on for me.

He described an approach also based on experience. But it was experience gleaned from the systematic observation of 35,000 in-person sales calls. Rackman and his colleagues had gone along on those calls and had tracked what types of questions and behaviors resulted in positive outcomes and what types of questions and behaviors resulted in negative outcomes.

That observation, categorization, and insight, i.e. that research, determined that successful sales indeed was the result of asking questions. But not the objection handling and closing questions of Ziglar and Hopkins. Rather, questions with specific intent and customer focus. Specifically: Situation Questions, Problem Questions, Implication Questions, and Need-Payoff Questions. Thus the S, P, I, and N of SPIN.

I bought SPIN Selling within a week of seeing Rackham present. I’ve read it—or later editions and iterations—at least a half a dozen times in the intervening years. I’ve taught it to hundreds of college students.

Oh, by the way, Rackham found that: 1) first impressions aren’t particularly important, 2) if you are generating objections you are probably already in trouble whether you know 16 ways to overcome them or not, and 3) the earlier and more often you try to close, the more likely the sales call is to end in failure. That’s real Why? and How do you know?   - Barrett Sydnor

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