Article | 10 min read

How SPIN selling works (and 34 questions you can use to close more deals)

Most salespeople have heard of the SPIN selling methodology – but not everyone knows how to execute it. Here's what you need to know about it.

By Molly Murphy

Last updated September 28, 2021

Asking questions is a crucial way for reps to build rapport with sales prospects. But it’s hard to know what the right questions are to ask. You want to learn more about the lead, but you don’t want to come across as robotic or pushy.

The SPIN sales methodology teaches reps how to choose the questions with the most impact. By using this sales technique, you’ll be able to overcome objections and close more sales.

What is SPIN selling?

The SPIN method is a sales technique designed to help sales reps close difficult, complicated deals.-o The acronym SPIN represents the categories ‘situation’, ‘problem’, ‘implication’ and ‘need payoff’.

When practising the SPIN sales technique, reps ask questions that fall into these categories during the different stages of the sale.

  • Situation questions help reps learn more about the prospect’s current state. They’re asked during the opening stage of a sale.
  • Problem questions probe prospects’ frustrations and pain points. These are asked during the investigation stage.
  • Implication questions give the prospect a chance to relate their frustrations with the previous stage’s problems. These are asked in the phase in which you demonstrate the value of your product or offering.
  • Need-payoff questions ask the buyer how important or urgent it is for them to solve their problem, and the benefits of solving it. These are asked in the final closing phase of the sale.

Neil Rackham introduced the methodology in his 1988 book SPIN Selling. In the book, Rackham outlines a framework for developing and timing structured questions that sales reps should ask to close a deal. Each question fits into one of the four categories above.

SPIN Selling was written over three decades ago when researching leads took greater time and effort. With today’s search engines and social networks, there’s no excuse for asking basic questions such as, ‘How many employees does your organisation have?’ Do your research on prospects beforehand so that you’re ready to ask meaningful questions.

To make the sales process as seamless as possible:

  • Anticipate any objections that leads may have about your product
  • Give them the information that they’ll need to share with their colleagues and stakeholders to evaluate your business

The four stages of SPIN selling

The four stages of SPIN selling

In the SPIN sales model, there are four stages to each sale:

  1. Opening
  2. Investigating
  3. Demonstrating capability
  4. Obtaining commitment

These stages build off one another. They could happen throughout one sales call or over several months of interaction. Each category of SPIN question corresponds with one stage of the sale.

Stage no. 1

Opening

  • In the beginning, don’t push your product
  • Focus on building a sincere relationship
  • Gather as much information as you can
  • Ask questions and show interest in your leads

Build a relationship to open the sale

In the beginning, reps shouldn’t push their products on leads. Focus instead on gradually building a sincere relationship. Gather as much information as you can about the prospects, their role and their frustrations.

Let’s say that you’re selling time-tracking software and you meet a brand-new lead. At this point, don’t dive in by telling them how much more productive your software can make their team. Instead, collect information by asking questions. Showing a sincere interest in your leads will help you build rapport with them.

Stage no. 2

Investigating

  • Find out what has frustrated leads in the past
  • Investigate pain points to build trust and credibility
  • Reassure leads that you have their best interests at heart
  • Overcome objections

Investigate pain points to build trust and credibility

In the previous stage, you started creating a genuine relationship with the prospect. In this stage, you’ll go even further by asking different types of questions to uncover information about the prospect’s problems (that can be solved by your product). By digging into the lead’s challenges, you’ll establish yourself as knowledgeable, credible and trustworthy.

In our time-tracking software example, a sales rep might ask the prospect:

  • What issues do you have with your current processes for tracking time?
  • How time consuming or cost prohibitive is it for your team to track their time accurately?
  • Has your current time-tracking process ever failed?
  • What are the biggest challenges faced by your company with tracking time?

Understand what has frustrated leads in the past and you’ll be ready to explain why your product won’t involve those road blocks.

Stage no. 3

Demonstrating capability

  • Tie your solution to the prospect’s problem
  • Demonstrate value and capability
  • Showcase features
  • Provide product demos

Demonstrate why your product is valuable

At this point, the prospect is ready to hear how your product can solve their pain points. In the SPIN selling technique, it’s now time to take them through your product’s features to explain the different ways in which it could help their organisation.

Say, for example, the prospect mentioned that their company has a distributed workforce. You might highlight that your software is cloud based, so users can access their data from any device worldwide.

Stage no. 4

Obtaining commitment

  • Obtain commitment and receive payment
  • Deal with the paperwork
  • Thank the new customer
  • Celebrate!

Obtain commitment and close the sale

At this stage, the sales rep should be able to convert the prospect successfully. The customer signs up for your product and provides payment information. Once this stage has been completed, the rep can celebrate a job well done.

SPIN selling questions

Thirty-four SPIN selling questions to use during your next sales call

Gently nudge prospects towards making a purchase with these SPIN question examples.

Situation questions

At the ‘situation’ stage, make sure that you gather any information you need to help you address and overcome future objections. Avoid asking the prospect basic questions that you can answer quickly through research.

  • How do you currently carry out [insert process]?
  • Why does your company take this approach?
  • What is your budget for [insert process]?
  • How important to your organisation is [insert process]?
  • What tools do you use to support [insert process]?
  • Who carries out [insert process] the most? What do they need?
  • How often do you have to carry out [insert process]?
  • How much [insert resource] do you generally use in a given day/week/month?

Problem questions

Based on the answers in the ‘situation’ stage, ‘problem’ questions ask about the prospect’s goals and road blocks. This conversation should help the prospect discover current and future problems that your product could help solve.

  • How cost prohibitive is it to carry out [insert process]?
  • Are you satisfied with your processes for [insert operation]?
  • Do these processes ever fail?
  • How time consuming is it to carry out [insert process]?
  • Have you ever run out of [insert resource]?
  • Have you ever been unable to access [insert resource]?
  • Has a previous interruption in [insert process or operation] cost you resources?
  • Has the cost of [insert process or resource] ever kept you from [insert operation]?
  • Who is responsible for handling problems that arise with [insert process or operation]? How does it affect their workload?
  • What is the biggest challenge faced by your organisation concerning [insert process or operation]?
  • What are the disadvantages of your current processes for [insert operation]?

Implication questions

According to research by Neil Rackham, prospects find ‘implication’ questions to be the most stimulating and thought provoking. He also found that the highest-performing salespeople ask four times as many ‘implication’ questions as their average-performing colleagues.

Push leads towards making a purchase by asking these questions:

  • What resources does it cost to carry out [insert process] in this way?
  • If you had more resources, what could you accomplish?
  • How would you use more funds (be as specific as you can) in each quarter?
  • How is your issue with [insert process or resource] affecting your team?
  • Does [insert process] ever keep you from reaching your business goals?
  • Without your problem with [insert process or resource], would it be easier for you to reach your goals?
  • If [insert process or operation] didn’t ever occur, what would happen?
  • Have you had this problem with [insert process or resource] in the past?
  • Where do you find you have the most bottlenecks with [insert process or resource]?
  • Are there any hidden costs for training, equipment, etc. associated with [insert process or resource]?

Need-payoff questions

Ask ‘need-payoff’ questions to communicate the usefulness of your product or service. If you’re successful, these questions will help the prospect realise your business’s value, and they’ll convert.

  • Would carrying out [insert process] make it easier to reach your business goals?
  • Would you find it valuable to carry out [insert process]?
  • Do you think that resolving your problem with [insert process or resource] would help your organisation?
  • Why is being able to carry out [insert process or operation] important to your organisation?
  • How do you think a solution for [insert process or resource] would help your team?

Your prospects are talking – are you listening?

Sales reps have a reputation for one-sided conversations, where they go on about their products instead of listening to the lead. The SPIN selling model challenges that approach.

With its carefully crafted questions, SPIN puts listening to prospects at the forefront of sales conversations. Integrate these questions into future sales calls to build deeper connections with leads and move them through your pipeline.

Share the visual below with your sales team so that they can see:

  • The SPIN selling framework
  • Questions that they can ask to have more effective conversations.

The four stages of SPIN selling

Stage no. 1

Opening

  • In the beginning, don’t push your product
  • Focus on building a sincere relationship
  • Gather as much information as you can
  • Ask questions and show interest in your leads

Stage no. 2

Investigating

  • Find out what has frustrated leads in the past
  • Investigate pain points to build trust and credibility
  • Reassure leads that you have their best interests at heart
  • Overcome objections

Stage no. 3

Demonstrating capability

  • Tie your solution to the prospect’s problem
  • Demonstrate value and capability
  • Showcase features
  • Provide product demos

Stage no. 4

Obtaining commitment

  • Obtain commitment and receive payment
  • Deal with the paperwork
  • Thank the new customer
  • Celebrate!

Twenty SPIN questions

S: Situation

  • How do you currently carry out [insert process]?
  • Why does your company take this approach?
  • What is your budget for [insert process]?
  • How important to your organisation is [insert process]?
  • What tools do you use to support [insert process]?

P: Problem

  • How cost prohibitive is it to carry out [insert process]?
  • Are you satisfied with your processes for [insert operation]?
  • Do these processes ever fail?
  • How time consuming is it to carry out [insert process]?
  • Have you ever run out of [insert resource]?

I: Implication

  • What resources does it cost to carry out [insert process] in this way?
  • If you had more resources, what could you accomplish?
  • How would you use more funds (be as specific as you can) in each quarter?
  • How is your issue with [insert process or resource] affecting your team?
  • Does [insert process] ever keep you from reaching your business goals?

N: Need payoff

  • Would carrying out [insert process] make it easier to reach your business goals?
  • Would you find it valuable to carry out [insert process]?
  • Do you think that resolving your problem with [insert resource] would help your organisation?
  • Why is being able to carry out [insert process or operation] important to your organisation?
  • How do you think a solution for [insert process or resource] would help your team?

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Learn how to create a strategic sales plan that will help you on your way to scoring goals in no time.

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