Article

The ultimate guide to SPIN selling (+34 example questions)

The SPIN selling methodology gives sales professionals a framework for asking the right questions to help them close more deals.

By Court Bishop, Contributing Writer

Published September 9, 2020
Last updated October 20, 2021

Neil Rackham, founder of the Huthwaite Research Group and author of the best-seller SPIN Selling, says there are two types of selling: transactional and consultative. With the proliferation of ecommerce and self-service, he claims that “more than 80 percent of transactional sales moved out of face-to-face selling” and that sales “mostly happen online without the mediation of a salesperson.”

This shift means B2B sales teams need to pivot to more “consultative” roles, learning as much as they can about their customers so they can offer the best solution. Asking questions is a crucial way for a salesperson to assess a prospect’s current situation, identify their needs, and build rapport with them. But sometimes, it’s hard to know the right questions to ask. You want to learn more about the prospective buyer, but you don’t want to come across as robotic or pushy.

The SPIN sales model shows sales professionals how to pick the right questions with the most impact. By using SPIN selling, you’ll be able to discover customer needs, uncover pain points, overcome objections, and experience more sales success.

What is SPIN selling?

SPIN selling is a sales technique designed to help sales reps close difficult, complicated deals. The acronym SPIN represents the categories for different types of questions: situation, problem, implication, and need-payoff.

  • Situation questions help reps learn more about each prospect’s current state. They’re asked during the opening stage of a sale.
  • Problem questions probe prospects’ frustrations and pain points. These types of questions are asked during the investigating stage.
  • Implication questions give prospects a chance to voice their frustrations with the problems they mentioned in the previous stage. These questions are asked when sales agents are ready to demonstrate the value of their product or service and how it can solve those problems.
  • Need-payoff questions ask buyers how important or urgent it is for them to solve their problem and what the benefits would be. This is a closing tactic used in the final phase of the sale.

Each type of question carries out a particular function of the sales process. The SPIN selling questions are meant to build on each other so reps can reach the ultimate goal: winning the sale.

Rackham introduced the methodology in his 1988 sales book, SPIN Selling. In the book, he outlines a sales process framework for developing and timing structured questions that sales reps should ask in person or on sales calls to close more deals. He also encourages reps to become trusted advisors—his goal is to teach salespeople how to build lasting relationships with clients through effective, ethical selling.

SPIN Selling has remained a best-seller since its publication, and the namesake technique is one of the most popular sales methodologies still used today. Read on to learn how you can implement this timeless strategy in future sales opportunities.

The 4 stages of SPIN selling

According to Rackham, there are four basic stages to every sale:

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

The SPIN selling stages build off one another and correspond to a category of SPIN questions. The stages could all happen during one sales call or over several months of interactions—it just depends on the customer and the process.

Stage #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

At the beginning of the SPIN selling process, reps shouldn’t push their products or services on leads. Instead, focus on gradually building a sincere relationship. Gather as much information as you can about them—their role, their frustrations, and so on.

CRM software helps with this learning phase and improves the quality of sales relationships by making it easy to manage customer information and track interactions.

By showing interest in your customers as people, rather than just viewing them as a source of revenue for your company, you’re more likely to build trusting relationships.

Let's say you sell time-tracking software, and you meet a brand-new lead. At this point, don’t begin by telling them how much more productive your software can make their team. Instead, collect information by asking high-level questions such as:

  • Who’s responsible for tracking time?
  • How does your team currently track time?
  • Why did you choose to track time that way?

By showing interest in your customers as people, rather than just viewing them as a source of revenue for your company, you’re more likely to build trusting relationships.

Stage #2

Investigating

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

In the previous SPIN selling stage, you started to establish a genuine relationship with the prospect. In the investigation stage, you’ll go even further by asking questions to uncover information about the prospect's problems (which your product or service may be able to solve). By digging into customer needs and challenges, you’ll be able to establish yourself as knowledgeable and trustworthy.

To continue our time-tracking software example, a sales rep should be narrowing in on pain points by asking the following questions in Stage 2:

  • What issues do you have with your current processes for time-tracking?
  • 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 your company faces with tracking time?

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

Stage #3

Demonstrating capability

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

You’ve established rapport and built a solid relationship with your prospect, so they’re likely ready to listen to how your products or services can solve their problems. In your sales presentation, walk them through the features and explain how those features can benefit their company.

Say, for example, the prospect mentioned their company has a distributed workforce. You might highlight that your software is cloud-based, allowing users to access their data from any device, no matter where they’re located.

Stage #4

Obtaining commitment

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

At this stage, the sales team successfully converts the prospect into a paying customer. The customer will select the product or service that best meets their needs and provide billing information.

This is also the stage in which the sales team should reflect on what went well and what didn’t—use each customer journey as a learning experience to optimize future deals. Once this stage is complete, you can celebrate a job well done.

Our SPIN selling summary

The SPIN technique is a sequence of questions that help sales reps learn more about customers’ wants, unique needs, and pain points. (Note that SPIN sales is not a set of predefined questions to ask verbatim—reps must pick and choose the right ones given the particular situation.) Each type of question corresponds to a stage of SPIN selling.

Types of SPIN selling questions

  1. Situation questions: help reps learn more about a lead’s current state
  2. Problem questions: probe the prospect’s frustrations and pain points
  3. Implication questions: give the prospect a chance to express frustrations about their problems
  4. Need-payoff questions: ask the prospect how urgent it is for them to solve their problem and what the impact of solving it would be

Stages of SPIN selling

  • Stage 1: Opening
  • Stage 2: Investigating
  • Stage 3: Demonstrating capability
  • Stage 4: Obtaining commitment

34 SPIN selling questions

To discover what made top salespeople so successful, Rackham and his team at Huthwaite studied more than 35,000 sales calls over several years. They found that there are four types of strategic questions you should ask your customer in order to close more deals. Additionally, these four types of questions each correspond to a specific stage of the sales process.

Here are 34 SPIN question examples that you can use in your next sales call.

Situation questions

Situation questions

During the opening stage, be sure to ask SPIN situation questions and gather any information you need to help you address and overcome future objections. Avoid asking basic questions that you can quickly answer through research.

1. How do you currently do [insert process]?
2. Why does your company take this approach?
3. What is your budget for [insert process]?
4. How important to your organization is [insert process]?
5. What tools do you use to support [insert process]?
6. Who does [insert process] the most? What do they need?
7. How often do you have to do [insert process]?
8. How much [insert resource] do you typically use in a given day/week/month?

Problem questions

Problem questions

Once you reach the investigating stage, it’s time to ask SPIN problem questions and learn about the prospect’s goals and roadblocks. This conversation should help the prospect realize current and future issues your product or service could help solve.

9. How cost-prohibitive is it to do [insert process]?
10. Are you satisfied with your processes for [insert operation]?
11. Do these processes ever fail?
12. How time-consuming is it to do [insert process]?
13. Have you ever run out of [insert resource]?
14. Have you ever been unable to access [insert resource]?
15. Has a previous interruption in [insert process or operation] cost you resources?
16. Has the cost of [insert process or resource] ever kept you from [insert operation]?
17. Who is responsible for handling issues that arise with [insert process or operation]? How does it impact their workload?
18. What’s the biggest challenge your organization faces with [insert process or operation]?
19. What are the disadvantages of your current processes for [insert operation]?

Implication questions

Implication questions

According to Rackham, prospects find SPIN implication questions to be the most stimulating and thought-provoking. When you get to this point, Rackham says that you “start to uncover things where you [the rep] may be able to offer a lot more value.” He explains that these questions allow sales and support teams to craft “richer and better solutions” for potential customers.

Push prospects toward making a purchase by asking these questions:

20. What resources does it cost to do [insert process] this way?
21. If you had more resources, what could you accomplish?
22. How would you use more funds (be as specific as you can) each quarter?
23. How is your issue with [insert process or resource] impacting your team?
24. Does [insert process] ever keep you from reaching your business goals?
25. If you weren’t experiencing your problem with [insert process or resource], would it be easier for you to reach your goals?
26. If [insert process or operation] didn’t ever occur, what would happen?
27. Have you had this problem with [insert process or resource] in the past?
28. Where do you find you have the most bottlenecks with [insert process or resource]?
29. Are there any hidden costs for training, equipment, etc. associated with [insert process or resource]?

Need-payoff questions

Need-payoff questions

When you arrive at the final stage, ask SPIN need-payoff questions to encourage the prospect to communicate the usefulness of your product or service in their own words. If you’re successful, these questions will help the prospect realize your company’s value, and they’ll convert.

30. Would doing [insert process] make it easier to reach your business goals?
31. Would you find it valuable to do [insert process]?
32. Do you think that resolving your issue with [insert process or resource] would help your organization?
33. Why is being able to do [insert process or operation] important to your organization?
34. How do you think a solution for [insert process or resource] would help your team?

Your leads are talking—are you listening?

Sales reps have a reputation for going on and on about their products or services instead of listening to decision-makers. The SPIN selling method flips this sales training approach on its head. With its carefully crafted questions, the SPIN model puts listening to prospects at the forefront of sales interactions—you can say goodbye to one-sided conversations.

Integrate the SPIN questions into future sales calls to build deeper connections with leads and move them through your pipeline.

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