Category Archives: Sales

The SPIN Acrostic

51ay1tLmaHL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_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.

Situation Questions:

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.

Problem Questions:

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.

Implication Questions:

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.

Why Acrostics Matter!

Picture5My name is Bill Richardson and my passion is helping people be the best version of themselves. I am an international trainer and consultant specializing in soft skills development especially in multicultural, cross generational environments. I believe soft skills have a hard impact.

 Ever since I was a boy growing up on farm in Southwestern Ontario Canada, I had this dream of making a difference in people’s lives. Back then I did not have any idea how I could or should do this. During my 35 years working with a Canadian major bank in many varied leadership and management roles, I discovered that the key for individuals to become the best version of themselves always had something to do with personal learning and development. Long story short, it became the driving force for me to take early retirement from a safe, well paid job to pursue facilitating learning and growth on a full time basis which is what I do today.

 I believe the key to learning is not so much about what information you take in, as much as it is about how much of the information is actually retained and applied. A key strategy to independent learning is called the acrostic – a mnemonic device that helps learners effectively learn discreet pieces of information. In an acrostic, the first letter of each word spells out a word or message and provides a powerful framework for both understanding and recall. For example a popular team leadership acrostic spells the word TEAM – Training, Empowerment, Accountability, Motivation.

 Over the past years doing my dream job I have extensively used and evolved this simple device to an art form in my talks and workshops. In addition to being a friend to all teachers and facilitators, the acrostic can be a powerful personal and team development tool that can assist managers and leaders in explaining complex topics in clear and concise ways. In the world of business, ambiguity is the enemy of commitment.

 As I share in this blog my acrostics accumulated from many years experience, I extend an invitation to all of you to send me your favourite acrostics to so I can showcase them as well in this blog.