SPIN Selling: Your Ultimate Guide to Using the 4 Stages

SPIN selling helps sales reps ask questions that tend to lead to sales. SPIN questions help you understand pain points and how your product can help.

Daniel Ternyak
February 8, 2023

While no two sales calls are exactly alike, they all share a few commonalities. Namely, that the salesperson involved needs to understand the explicit needs and pain points of the decision makers so they can explain the value of their product or service.

Of course, while this sounds straightforward, it is often easier said than done. There's a reason why sales professionals are always reading the latest sales books and blogs to improve their technique.

Rather than chasing the latest "get rich quick" method of managing sales calls, many of the most successful salespeople use SPIN selling.

First introduced by Neil Rackham in his book of the same name, SPIN selling is a sales process that helps sales teams ask better questions so they can get larger sales. The book became an instant bestseller and is still of great value to B2B sales professionals today. 

Here is a closer look at what this process entails, and how it can enhance your sales effectiveness.

Where Did SPIN Selling Come From?

SPIN selling: Smiling woman wearing a headset while reading a document

The research that led to the SPIN selling concept began in the 1970s, when Neil Rackham began a large-scale study analyzing what made the most successful salespeople so great at their jobs. The 12-year, $30 million research project eventually led Rackham and his team to conclude that the types of questions a salesperson asked during a call had a far greater influence on the outcome than any other sales technique.

​These findings were distilled into the book “SPIN Selling, which was published in 1988. The book highlighted what became known as the SPIN questions — a way of categorizing the most important types of questions a sales rep could ask during their call.

In addition to the SPIN questions, the book also focused on several other important sales principles, such as:

  • Knowing the objective of a sales call before it starts. A successful sales rep knows a call doesn't necessarily end in a sale — depending on the objective, it could advance a customer further into the sales funnel or just  continue conversation.
  • Preventing objections is more important than handling objections. Discussing the customer's needs before presenting benefits is key to preventing objections. For example, getting them to explain how a logistics bottleneck is hampering their sales and profitability early in the conversation makes them less likely to object to the cost of SaaS solutions.
  • Understanding implicit and explicit needs is vital for closing major sales. Sales professionals should try to dig into a customers’ implicit needs (a general statement of a problem or pain points) to get them to reveal their explicit needs — features and results.

In his book, Rackham recommended that sales professionals adopt one aspect of SPIN strategy at a time, rather than try to implement everything at once. Quite simply, you don't want to get overwhelmed! Gradual implementation — such as trying SPIN techniques with current customers before attempting them with large sales — will help you get them right.

The Meaning of SPIN

SPIN selling: Two people having a discussion while looking at a laptop

SPIN is an acronym that highlights the four types of questions you should ask during a sales call: Situation, Problem, Implication, and Need-Payoff Questions. Here's a closer look at what each of these implies.

Situation Questions

Situation questions are designed to help you understand the current situation of your customer. These are the foundational questions for identifying a prospect's needs. In the internet age, such questions will be far more effective if you do some research in advance. This will help you ask more nuanced situation questions that lead to deeper understanding of where the prospect’s at.

Examples of situation questions include:

  • What are your current processes like?
  • What tools do you currently use?

Problem Questions

Problem questions help a prospect reveal their current frustrations and pain points. These questions are typically phrased in a way that leads the prospect to self-identify problems that they need to solve. Sometimes, these are problems they are already aware of. Other times, they may not fully realize the scope of the problem until you ask an insightful question.

Problem questions could include the following:

  • Does your logistics process ever fail?
  • How time-consuming is it to manage payroll?

Implication Questions

Implication questions are when a successful salesperson sets themselves apart by asking how a prospect’s problems are impacting their business. This helps prospects better understand the negative outcomes they could face if their current challenges are not addressed appropriately. This leads to deeper thinking that makes them better prepared to listen to and accept a proposed solution.

Good implication questions could include:

  • How are your logistics issues impacting your customers?
  • Where are you experiencing the most bottlenecks with your processes?

Need-Payoff Questions

A need-payoff question helps connect the prospect's previous responses by helping them explore just how important it is to solve their problem. These questions lead them to realize the value a solution can provide.

Examples of need-payoff questions include:

  • How do you think resolving this issue would help your company?
  • How would a solution for this process help your team?

The Stages of SPIN Selling

SPIN selling: Smiling woman looking at two men shaking hands

While the SPIN acronym gets much of the attention, it’s important to look at these questions in the context of the overall sales methodology Rackham recommends.

SPIN sales is a four-stage process you can adapt to any situation. A salesperson could go through all four stages in a single call or gradually work through them with a client over several months.

1. Opening

The opening phase of any sales experience is when you focus on relationship-building rather than selling. Instead of pushing your product or service, you gather information through situation questions. Expressing sincere interest will build the rapport necessary for the prospect to be open to a more direct sales pitch later.

2. Investigating

Once you've opened the conversation, you can begin truly investigating the prospect's pain points with insightful problem questions and implication questions. These questions help you establish credibility and trust with the prospect while giving you a chance to display your knowledge. The greater understanding of the prospect's challenges that you gain during the investigation stage will help you close the sale later. 

3. Demonstrating Your Capabilities

After you've gained a true understanding of your prospect and helped them key in on their own problems, you can guide them to a purchasing decision with need-payoff questions and a helpful explanation of your service or product's benefits. Waiting to pitch your product or service until this stage allows you to directly tie it to the problems your prospect has already shared with you. As you showcase features and benefits, your value becomes clear.

4. Getting a Commitment

No surprise here: your final step is to get a commitment from the prospect. Ideally, this is when you onboard a new client and receive payment. Of course, for complex sales, the sales cycle may take a bit longer. In this case, a commitment may be a follow-up call or signing up for a free trial.

Use SPIN Selling and ServiceBell for Sales Success

Woman wearing a headset and smiling while looking at her laptop

The right questions can make all the difference in gaining new customers. By better understanding your prospect's problems, you can leverage their implicit and explicit needs to highlight the right benefits and prevent objections.

Of course, your sales conversations can be even more effective when you can foster a personal connection with your leads — something that can be a challenge for tech-oriented SaaS companies. This is where ServiceBell comes in. ServiceBell enhances your selling process by allowing for live video chat with your website visitors.

With video chat, you can ask SPIN selling questions that also draw on knowledge based on a visitor's browsing behavior. You have all the advantages of in-person conversations with the convenience of managing everything through your website. It's the perfect combination for sales success. Start for free and see for yourself how you can acquire and retain more customers!