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SPIN

SPIN

Perfect Pitches

Nick Fawbert
/ Categories: Sales, Toolset

Great sales and business development frameworks need to accommodate a broad range of customer needs and rapidly changing relationships.

In other tutorials we’ve reviewed how the best pitches start off with simple frameworks like AIDA to deliver a point of difference and a reason to buy.

But a one-way dialogue only helps you get your foot in the door.

Frameworks like DIPADA build on this model by exploring how engaging and converting customers relies on your ability to identify customer problems that you can solve.

The challenge is that knowing you can solve problems is only half the job.

Conversations can lurch to a halt if your customer feels confident that their approach to ‘business as usual’ is already meeting their goals.

Hi, I'm hoping for a quick chat about how your training and development is going?

Ah, no need.

We're absolutely blasting our targets for this year.

From their point of view, why waste time talking to alternative suppliers when you’re already on track to meet your targets?

That means it's time for you to rethink your approach.

Recognizing Opportunities

The thing is, if you’re working in sales business development, you already know that misplaced confidence in your existing busines model is a risky proposition

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, 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?

Rethink the Pitch

Supporting customers who find themselves in the 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 not only celebrate current success but also treat future concerns with the right amount of respect. It's about 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.

But first, a bit of background...

SPIN

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:

  • Situation
  • Problem
  • Implication
  • Need/Payoff

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 delivered disproptionately positive outcomes.

Situation

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.

Opportunities include:

I learned this […] is that right?

How is the overall market going?

How is your market share performing?

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.

I don't think there's anything we need to change right now!

That's brilliant. Your competitors must be cursing. How are they responding?

We know that great companies should always be looking at the future, so this way you have opened up a new conversation.

Avoid trying to dominate, 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:

...so those are the areas where we think they might respond.

That's quite a list, you've got a lot on!

I don't think I can help with all of them, but you mentioned one thing that we may have a solution for...

Problem

Most customer challenges fall into narrow operational areas including:

  • Manufacture
  • Supply
  • Operations
  • Customer Acquisition
  • Transactions
  • Distribution

Within those areas the pain points are likely to be quite specific to overall business goals. Typically, these may include:

  • Product quality
  • Operational efficiency
  • Cost of sale
  • Sales volumes
  • Customer retention
  • Customer lifetime value
  • Profitability

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.

So far as I can tell, they have already started discounting heavily.

Understood. What do you think are the things you need to to do maintain your price point and keep your customers?

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.

Implication

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.

Opportunities include:

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…

They often generate the opportunity you are looking for...

What I am really worried about is the impact on next year's revenues

90% of our contracts renew in December and January. If we get in a price war, next year could be a disaster.

How about we come up with a response to that right now? For example we could create bundles and volume discounts that incentivize early renewals?

Need/Payoff

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.

...and that‘s often all that needed

So what do you propose?

Let me pull something together and we can meet up next week

Book it in.

Wrap Up

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.

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