Source: SPIN Selling by Neil Rackham
This acrostic is an example of a framework that while intended for a sales audience, has application in many complementary disciplines. Neil Rackham and his team, wading through mounds of research information over 20 years ago, discovered that asking the questions in the investigation stage of a sale was a big predictor of success. They found that questions in the successful sales call tend to fall into a sequence they called SPIN. Situation, Problem, Implication, and Need-Payoff. Studies of negotiations, management interactions, performance interviews and group discussions confirmed their findings – questions persuade more powerfully than other forms of behavior. The SPIN model provides a powerful tool for connecting the what, how and the why of any business situation.
Main Idea: Collect helpful data by asking questions about facts and background. Typical Situation Questions could be: “How long has the current organization structure been in place?” or “Could you tell me more about your organizational culture” or “What is your top strategic priority?” While Situation Questions can have any important fact finding role, people typically fall into the trap of asking too many of them before moving on to the natural next step.
Main Idea: With the right context in place from the Situation Questions, successful people then transition into exploring problems, difficulties and dissatisfactions especially in the areas where your product or service can be of value. For example they would ask, “Is this process difficult to manage?” or “Are you worried about the quality you get from current system?” or “Is your group meeting their productivity targets?” In contrast to the Situation Questions, people typically do not ask enough Problem Questions. As a result, both parties prematurely begin focusing on solutions before a validated problem statement is agreed upon.
Main Idea: Questions focused on the implications or impacts of the problem help successful people explore its effects or consequences. In the sales world, these type of questions help the customer understand the problem seriousness and urgency. This same principle holds true when leaders need to sell concepts and ideas to their team who may not understand the “burning platform” nature of the situation. Examples of implication questions could be “What effect does this reject rate have on customer satisfaction?” or “How will this problem affect your future profitability?” Just like in the sales context, even experienced leaders and managers seldom ask them well.
Need Payoff Questions:
Main Idea: Questions focused on flushing out the benefits for solving the problem help your client or stakeholder both understand the context and take ownership for taking action. Successful people are as adept at facilitating the right answer as they are providing the right answer. Key facilitating questions in this step could be “Would it be useful to speed up this operation by 10%?” or “If we could improve the quality of this operation, how would it help you?” In the sales world Neil Rackham and his team observed that top sales performers particularly in large sales, asked more than 10 times as many Need-Payoff questions as average performers.
Final Words: While the SPIN model implies a logical question sequence, its real power is in its flexibility of application. Think of it as a proven framework, not a methodology, for helping your client articulate explicit needs. Successful people in any field pay attention to what their stakeholders’ value and need.