Most sales are made way before the great salesperson asks for the order. That’s what I mean by qualify hard – close easy. Think back over your most successful sales. When did you know the prospect was going to buy from you? What conversations did you have before you felt the commitment? Did you really have to ask for the order?
The Journey To Close
My sales experience has been with products having long sales cycles. So I had to “qualify hard” over many sales meetings. When I asked good questions and listened well, I found the prospect usually convinced themselves my solution was a good deal. I understood their decision making process. I had a good relationship with the decision maker and his team. We had a common understanding of the problem they wanted to solve and the amount the prospect felt was a reasonable to invest. Great salespeople have a process to qualify hard – close easy.
In his book SPIN Selling, Neil Rackman outlines a simple, effective process for qualifying a prospect. SPIN is an acronym for Situation, Problem, Implication, Needs payoff. Once you have the trust and respect of the decision maker and his team then the qualifying begins.
Ask questions about their Situation in relation to your value proposition. The goal here is to listen for Problems the prospect may have you can solve. Great salespeople ask prospects to paint the picture of a perfect world then ask what would need to happen to change the current Situation to match that vision. The difference between ideal and actual points to the Problem to be solved.
Once the decision maker identifies a Problem, the great salesperson asks how it is affecting the business. Implication questions add pain to the prospect as they realize how seriously the problem affects their business. By getting the prospect to discuss the cost of having the Problem you can get an idea of what investment would be acceptable.
Now we know the Situation and how it affects the business and have asked about a budget to solve the Problem. Great salespeople then decide whether the budget is sufficient to solve the problem. If so they continue. Otherwise further discussion of the affect of the Problem is needed.
When the budget is sufficient to buy the vision of the decision maker, great salespeople move on to the Needs payoff discussion. What effect will making the investment to solve the Problem have on the business? How will a positive outcome affect the decision maker and his team professionally and personally? Here the salesperson builds excitement in the prospect.
Great salespeople know a prospect emotionally involved and enthusiastic about solving the problem will become a customer. At the presentation to close the deal, review the Situation, Problem, Implication and Needs payoff. Then ask for the order. But most of the time in my experience the commitment just flows from the conversation without a specific ask. When the deal didn’t happen I hadn’t done a great job SPINing.
Eagerness vs. Patience
Early in my career as an application engineer I had a project to help a customer. The 3M company had developed a way to make a synthetic abrasive. They needed equipment to scale up the process. Ralph Rodgers was the salesman on the account. I had several meetings with the researcher and his team to gather information to price the project. I presented the proposal to the technical team and Chet Pikus, the purchasing agent, invited Ralph and me for a meeting.
Over years of successful sales pursuits, Ralph had built a relationship with Chet. As we settled into Chet’s office, Ralph and Chet settled into comfortable conversation about everything but business. Ralph was relaxed and unconcerned. I was growing more anxious by the minute. I sensed Chet was ready for the close but he and Ralph chatted on. Finally Ralph stood up and thanked Chet for meeting with us. I panicked because there had been no mention of the project nor had Ralph asked for the order. As we made to leave, Chet picked up a folder from his desk. He said to Ralph: “I think you will want to take this with you.”
Back in the car, I asked Ralph about the meeting. He said that I had already convinced the researcher and his team that we could deliver a project to meet his needs. That team had the money and Chet was to take care of the commercial terms. “How did you know that?”, I asked. Ralph said in all the years he had done business with Chet, he was never invited to a meeting unless Chet wanted to give him a purchase order. Ralph was a mentor and a great salesperson. He understood the value of SPIN to qualify hard – close easy. Especially when used with all the members of a decision making team.
What You Can Do Right Now
- Make a list of the problems you solve.
- Write questions to qualify a prospect using SPIN.
- Practice using SPIN either in role-play or in imaginary sales meetings.
Don Crawford & Lois Carter Crawford