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Selling vs Helping: SPINning Your Way to Better Results

You’ve got a business. You need to grow it. What should you do first? Meaning no disrespect to my colleagues who specialize in sales, let me suggest you don’t start selling. Until you have deep insight into what your prospective customers need and have used that insight to earn their trust, don’t even think of trying to sell – that is, if you think of selling as trying to close. The best salespeople know that closing is simply the last step of a complex process during which your main task is to seek insight – to¬†ask questions, shut up, and listen.

Neil Rackham, the guru behind SPIN Selling, points out that the best sales people don’t bring up their solution until very late in the call. They keep asking questions that help both the seller and the prospect better understand not only the most important needs, but more importantly, the implications of those needs. They explore the hidden costs driven by those needs. Then they subtly position their product or service as the perfect solution to those needs, and a great value relative to the costs they uncovered.

I love the SPIN model, although the N (“needs-payoff”) is awkward and can be improved on (see my post on SPICIER Selling, a more granular SPIN). Heck, any marketer who doesn’t love SPIN doesn’t understand marketing. SPIN turns the salesperson into a master 1-on-1 marketer.

All of which is a preamble to my real subject: in the online world, buyers don’t want to be sold to. They want stuff. Useful stuff, often in the form of information. Usually for free. And attempts to change that game generally fail.

Which is why I was so impressed today to find a coaching site that starts with the reader’s needs rather than with selling. The Entrepreneurs Network positions itself as “resources for entrepreneurs, by entrepreneurs.” It is loaded with useful tips, downloads, and software reviews that any newbie entrepreneur would welcome.

So when you discover, several clicks into the site, that their real purpose is to sell coaching services, you don’t turn away. You appreciate how they understand your needs, and are willing to consider whether they are the right advisor for you.

In other words, the selling occurs very late in the call, after they have helped you realize how much you don’t know and have earned your trust.

Now that’s selling!

What are your favorite questions for helping customers discover their true needs?

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4 Responses to “Selling vs Helping: SPINning Your Way to Better Results”

  1. Alan Mackie says:

    SPIN selling is recognised as old hat. Having said that so many business owners are specialists in their field and think that selling is about turning up, being enthusiastic and talking as much as possible. So much of what you say is so true.

    As someone who has sold for 22 years and been on countless sales training courses, I was blown away by the Sandler method. So much I let my lucrative IBM job and set up myself.

    Can I such your readers investigate the Sandler method, for a modern, psychology and client focussed approach. No power plays, no false enthusiasm and something that gets to the heart of the issue for a real win-win.

  2. Mark P. Friedman says:

    Thanks, Alan. I’d love to learn more about Sandler method. Sounds like the focus is on authenticity, which is perfect. Meanwhile, SPIN is fine improvement for what most business owners and sales people are doing.

  3. [...] know I am a fan of Neil Rackham’s SPIN Selling. However, I’ve mentioned that his model is a bit awkward; when I am in a sales process and think “SPIN,” the N doesn’t give enough [...]

  4. [...] know I am a fan of Neil Rackham’s SPIN Selling. However, I’ve mentioned that his model is a bit awkward; when I am in a sales process and think “SPIN,” the N doesn’t give enough [...]

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