The uncomfortable truth for any budding entrepreneur is that the immediate success of your startup will come down to how effectively you sell in your first year of trading. By that, I don’t just mean solely in terms of winning clients and generating revenue, but also in terms of selling your vision as you look to build your first management team, also your business plan if you seek investment. For people who are coming from a commercial background, this may not be overly daunting, equally for entrepreneurs who don’t have a track record in sales & marketing, this is something that it is easy to feel ill-equipped for, which is why in my opinion, for this group specifically, the book SPIN Selling is a must-read.
The technique outlined in this book is based on 35,000 sales calls made by 10,000 people in 23 countries over 12 years and is generally considered to be the gold standard in sales technique. The author Neil Rackham, is a psychologist with over 25 years experience as a consultant to some of the world’s largest companies, including IBM, Microsoft and AT&T and developed this method as a result of the extensive research he undertook. ‘Before going into the SPIN methodology itself, it is worth touching on the extensive research he outlines in the first third of the book, where he shows for example, there is no difference in whether a salesperson uses open or closed questions (this in-particular was something training companies were incredibly hostile to.) Instead, what matters is what the emphasis of the questions are. (reading the book will explain this statement much better.) Similarly, he outlines the failure of many salespeople is to wrongly identify intangible friendly “continuation” statements and responses as being a positive outcome, instead they need to crystallise the next step into actual practical advances.
In this part of the book he also outlines the distinction in buying behaviour between different kinds of buyers and the associated needs that go with it. Even for salespeople with a track record, I would recommend this chapter as it succinctly outlines why buyers behave the way they do and will sometimes delay signing off small deals one day yet at other times agree instantly to a much larger order. Intrinsic to this is the notion of implied versus explicit needs. Once again, the book explains this in detail.
From there he goes on to outline the SPIN method, which is surprisingly simple and is composed of four steps of questioning:
- Situation questions: Establish situational facts which can’t be uncovered through background research
- Problem questions: Ask the client what could be better. What would they like to see improved? What just isn’t working the way they want it to?
- Implication questions: Clarify what the implications are of inaction. So if the client does nothing, what would that mean?
- Needs questions: Ask questions around what kind of solution would help resolve the problem (where the seller can provide that said solution.)
The point being, by asking the right questions, in the right sequence, in the right way, the buyer sells themselves on the need for the solution of the seller. The seller then only needs to apply the correct closing statements to advance.
From there, in the second half of the book he outlines in great detail everything from how to open a cold call, to properly using benefit led statements, preventing objections through to closing the sale, where everything he writes is backed by unparalleled research and businesses adopting his methodologies have seen a quantifiable increase in sales. In short, this is a must-read book for entrepreneurs and business owners along with anyone working in a commercial capacity.