SPIN – Simple Frameworks for Perfect Pitches
Increase your business development success rate by leveraging world class questioning techniques
Knowing that solving business problems is at the heart of commercial success is useless if you just can't get a conversation started.
If you’ve been following the series, you’ll know that pitching frameworks like AIDA provide some useful ideas on how effective sales pitches are structured. If you need a recap, you can review the AIDA sales framework here.
Frameworks like DIPADA build on this model by showing that engaging and converting customers will rely on your ability to uncover customer problems that you can solve. Catch up on the DIPADA sales framework here.
Even so... knowing what you need to do isn’t the same thing as getting it done!
Conversations can quickly grind to a halt if your customer feels confident that their approach to ‘business as usual’ is already meeting their goals.
Why waste time talking to alternative suppliers, the theory goes, when you’re already on track to meet your targets?
The thing is, if you’re working in business development or new customer acquisition, you already know what a risky proposition misplaced confidence is.
Business is volatile: situations change, partners suffer unexpected challenges, competitors launch new products, and sometimes supply lines get bogged down in heavy traffic.
It means today’s success can be overturned in an instant.
So, we can’t rest on our laurels. Great business is in a constant state of change, and we need to stay ahead of the game at all times.
But if we know this, what do we do when our customers don’t?
Clear the Pitch
Supporting customers who find themselves in their comfort zone means identifying potential problems before they even occur.
Simply asking questions about the current situation won’t move your relationship on. There’s no apparent problem to solve.
Being a trusted supplier means being sufficiently flexible to treat future concerns with the right amount of respect, and exploring which of those risks need addressing, and which ones can be left to later.
Neither AIDA nor DIPADA can help much with this challenge. We need a new approach.
Into this gap steps SPIN.
HINT | Leveraging Frameworks
Great frameworks are like an inspiring recipe. They provide a useful set of ingredients and a general guide for execution.
They give you the flexibility to adjust, adapt and amend to suit your tastes. They empower you to showcase your individual skills and add in the unique ideas that keep people coming back for more.
The real success of a framework lies in your personal touch, the things that you do to make it special.
A successful framework often gets confused with an instruction booklet, but follow the instructions too rigidly and you’ll end up with a bland, predictable outcome that will be instantly forgotten.
So use frameworks wisely: capitalise on the crucial ingredients, but be flexible in your execution.
The SPIN framework was established by Neil Rackham in a series of books first published in 1988.
It focuses specifically on the questions we ask of customers and the observations we make when we are trying to identify the business problems we can solve.
The acronym refers to a four-stage analysis:
It was derived by studying tens of thousands of sales calls, and distinguishing between those that were successful and those that failed.
What he identified was a very particular difference in the type of questions asked by sales people who went on to close the deal.
By breaking out those questions and classifying them, he created a model that could be pursued in the majority of circumstances.
As discussed in the DIPADA framework, great research into both the industry and consumers will often give you a starting point to discover your customer’s pain points.
The ‘situation’ phase refers to the type of questions which identify those issues which are unique to the customer.
- “I learned this… is it right”
- “How does your business compare with…”
- “How does your execution compare with…”
- “Tell me about this process…”
- “How do you meet this industry challenge…”
The most effective conversations work when you allow the customer lead and you follow. Opportunities will arise as the story unfolds.
Avoid trying to dominate the conversation and avoid trying to ensnare customers into observations that suit you. They won’t mean what they say, and without mutual honesty you’ll simply miss the key facts.
If you need focus, then simply ask them:
“Ah, that’s not really something I know much about, tell me more about…”
Most customer challenges fall into narrow operational areas including:
- Customer Acquisition
Within those areas the pain points are likely to be quite specific to overall business goals. These may include:
- Product quality
- Operational efficiency
- Cost of sale
- Sales volumes
- Customer lifetime value
Whilst the operational area you cover is likely to be specific to your product or service, the problems are likely to emerge in those five business goals that govern overall success.
So questions in the ‘problem’ phase focus on spotting opportunities:
- “How much do you invest in…”
- “What is the expense of…”
- “How do you feel about costs in…”
- “What’s the biggest obstacle you have in…”
- “How would you improve…”
- “What are you doing to address…”
Questions like these aren’t designed to undermine confidence, they’re designed to help customers spot opportunities to develop their business and grow their revenues.
Instead of telling them what problem they need to solve with our products or services, we’re inviting them to identify them and explore solutions.
Understanding the implication of problems helps customers put a value against solutions.
If a customer knows they’re losing millions of dollars a year in one process, then any solution which costs less than that delivers a net benefit.
Understanding the financial implication also helps sellers pitch solutions at the right level: a million-dollar solution to a fifty-dollar problem is a wasted pitch.
The greatest skill in the ‘implication’ phase is restraint. If you’ve spotted a problem that you can solve, the desire to zoom in on it and start driving for the sale can be counterproductive.
Patently manipulative questions mean customers become defensive and sceptical of the seller’s intent.
- “If this task can’t be completed, what’s the impact on the rest of the business…
- “Without this resource, how will it affect…”
- “What’s the downside of losing time in…”
If the negative implications of certain business operations expose a business opportunity, the need/payoff provides motivation:
“How will achieving this benefit you…”
“If you could save these costs, what would the impact be on profitability…”
“Who will get the greatest advantage from…”
If the ‘implication’ phase was the stick, then the ‘need/payoff’ phase is the carrot.
Enjoying an in-depth conversation about business and playing the role of a trusted advisor to a customer can be a satisfying exercise for a seller.
From a customer perspective it can be draining.
Even if it’s the customer themselves who have exposed challenges they need to address, they will often need a few moments to contemplate the implications.
If you’ve caught them on a good day, and they’re enthusiastic to learn more, then pitch right in.
If they need time to consider, or discuss with colleagues, then help them out. A short, well crafted email after the encounter that details the situation, the opportunity, the proposed solution and the benefits can do wonders for your cause.
AIDA and DIPADA are both extremely effective frameworks for sellers. They apply equally to one-off conversation as they do to big pitches or keynotes.
But core to both of those approaches is understanding your customers’ pain points and providing a route to a solution.
SPIN selling is a conversational process that allows you to develop deep insights into your customers’ needs and motivations.
Remember the four key factors:
Get this right, and you’ll be on a fast track to success!
Unlike AIDA and DIPADA which rely heavily on prior research, skills in SPIN are won through trial and error.
Role playing with colleagues and partners can be a great step to competence.
But our advice is to commit the stages to memory and simply get going on your next customer call.