Value Selling Business Software
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The Perennially Awesome SPIN Selling Book (OR The Art of Asking Value-Centered Questions)


The sales guru Zig Ziglar once said "People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care." He meant that you've got to understand people before you can influence them.

The best way to understand someone is to ask questions. But are there some questions that are more successful in selling situations?

One of the best researched sales books on the market, SPIN Selling has the answer: Yes, the questions you ask during client interviews have the greatest impact on the outcome of your sales campaign.

We outline the four types of value-centered, open-ended sales questions and demonstrate how to perform discovery interviews that steer your prospects toward the best outcome.

Situation Questions

Ask these questions to get on the same page as the client. Be careful not to overdo it, as they've probably been over this material many times before and might grow tired of relating it again.

When you get an idea about where issues might lie, advance to Problem questions. You can still use Situation questions to clarify when needed.

  • What projects are you working on now?
  • How do your processes work?
  • What does the organization look like?
  • What are your goals this year?

Problem Questions (Pain Points)

Understand what the client feels is holding up their process or lowering their productivity. Identify several issues and gather multiple viewpoints.

Try to gain insight into the root causes of these issues before asking Implication questions.

  • What issues or difficulties are you experiencing?
  • How often do they occur?
  • Who do they involve?
  • How are you currently handling them?

Implication Questions (Implicit Needs)

An isolated issue can be tolerated but a wide-ranging problem must be addressed. Now that you understand the problems, help the client see their true scope.

Ask the client to quantify/qualify the real cost impact of their pains before moving on to Need-Payoff questions. The more successful you are with these open ended sales questions, the more likely you will be able to justify your solution later on.

  • What effect do these problems have on results such as cost, quality, delivery, or customer service?
  • Who else might be affected by these problems?
  • How do these problems impact others' results or the effort required to do the work?

Need-Payoff Questions (Explicit Needs)

It's important that the client publicly state what solutions they feel are needed. Ask how these solutions might help resolve the implications you've uncovered and to what degree.

The client must come to the realization that there's real value in resolving their pain points. The explicit needs you develop are the foundation of your business case.

  • What improvement in results could you make by resolving these problems with (a specific software capability)?
  • What quantifiable value would that generate?
  • Are there other benefits?
  • How important are these benefits to you? 

Summary: Getting the Customer on Your Side

"The SPIN Selling model taps into the psychology of the buying process: buyers' needs move from Implicit to Explicit. The questions provide a road map for the seller guiding the call through the steps of need development until Explicit Needs have been reached. The more Explicit Needs you can obtain from buyers, the more likely the call will succeed." (pg. 91)

Following the model gets customers to tell you how what you're selling helps them. It makes you partners instead of opponents in the value discovery process. And by helping clients develop the benefits in their own words with open ended sales questions, you avoid objections and make it easier for them to sell internally for you.

Have you ever lost a sales pursuit without knowing why? How many more could you win if you cooperated with the prospect to justify the sale instead of trying to "convince" them of your software's benefits?

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