Monday, January 8, 2007

SPIN To Uncover Your Client's True Needs

In the last three to four months I have increased my reading and research on marketing topics, namely sales. Sales can be deemed a dirty word by some consultants. I don't like it. Every time I think of it a vision of a used car salesman or a door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman pops into my brain. No offense to anyone in those chosen professions. I just wouldn't want to be you. Face it, the bad apples in your field tarnish many good reputations.

Sales isn't one of my favorite things. As a consultant I would rather be doing the work I set out to do by serving my clients with the perspective, knowledge and expertise I have accumulated over the years. Unfortunately, I can't do that if I don't go out and market my consulting business. Once I successfully market my business and get the attention of my target audience, I must then put on my salesman hat and land the deal.

The process on the surface may seem aggressive, but it's not. In past blog posts I spoke about how the elevator speech has seen its day and that we must shift toward having meaningful conversations with our perspective clients. To support that, I learned a technique not so long ago that helped me uncover a client's true needs and speak to those needs without feeling like a pushy sales person. That technique is called SPIN. As you speak with a potential client, put the following into action to learn about their needs and how you can help:

  • S - ask them questions to learn about their current situation.
  • P - find out what problems manifest from the current situation.
  • I - learn about the implications that arise from the problems. In other words, if the problem(s) is not solved, what will happen?
  • N - discover the needs payoff. Most of the time that is expressed in terms of dollars and cents or increased productivity.
As consultants we face an uphill battle. Most of us do not have products we are marketing and selling. Products, for the most part, are tangible. Many you can see, touch, feel, smell, and taste. Our services (the specialized knowledge we possess) are not tangible and cannot be realized in the minds of our clients unless they are demonstrated. If we use the SPIN technique, coupled with honest, meaningful conversations we can uncover our client's true needs and speak to them. In the end, we are able to build a one-to-one relationship with our client and we don't have to feel as though we sell out and become the pushy sales people we are not. We become consultative salespeople.


Justin Foster said...

Justin - Awesome entry. Having spent the better part of 16 years as a B2B sales rep, I can tell you I have closed way more deals by listening rather than talking. We always called it "solution selling", but I think your SPIN concept is a better fit.

Chris Taylor said...


My company, Fisher's Document Systems, is in the office equipment business... an industry that is traditionally not too distant from the used car sales and vacuum cleaner sales industries you describe. I particularly like your blog on this subject because we have invested significantly in not only transforming our sales culture to meet your SPIN concept, we have focused the last 12 months changing the culture of our entire company (service, IT, operations, accounting, etc.) to solve customers’ problems... not to just sell something.

This is easier said than done and I know few companies in my industry who truly embrace what you describe.

Chris Taylor, CEO Fisher’s Document Systems

Justin Beller said...

Easier said than done, yes - but the challenge I feel isn't necessarily in the time frame when SPIN is applied, it is in the moments leading up to when you have the opportunity to apply SPIN in the sales process.

As consumers, we are bombarded every day with messages that ask us to part with our money. Whether you are a business or an individual is beside the point. People are finding ways to block out the marketing message (i.e. - caller ID to stop telemarketers from cold calling, spam blockers, no call lists, legislation, etc.) Today's marketer, whether service professionals such as consultants or product / service distributors much like Fisher's, have to anticipate the need of the customer and come up with ways to invite them into the "discussion" and encourage them to become an active participant. By "discussion" I mean a series of meaningful conversations with the customer - no hype and no sales pitches.

Once the customer is in the discussion, the sales process becomes much easier because they have demonstrated a need or at the very least a keen interest in what you are doing or have to offer. I despise cold calling and have found it to be rude and insensitive to the customer and a complete waste of time. Cold calling is no way to invite customers into the discussion.

I've seen what Fisher's have done within the last year by integrating a blog on the website. That's one way to invite the customer into the discussion. With those that participate, you can be pretty sure they have a current need or a future need down the road.