Neil Rackham's take on sales is rather academic. In the 1970s Rackham was involved in numerous sales studies commissioned by various companies around the globe where his team observed over 35,000 sales calls. They took notes, analyzed the data, and the result, a book entitled SPIN Selling is what I found to be a very interesting take on sales technique.
The first thing I gained from Rackham's book is to disregard any assumptions I might have had about closing the sale. Their are mountains of books and websites claiming that they have unlocked the secrets of closing the sale, that there is some still secret nuance of closing technique that hasn't been properly utilized by the sales force in general. Placing too much faith and emphasis on closing a sale is a mistake because the importance of your closing is misunderstood and would not seem so important if you laid the proper groundwork earlier in the sales process.
The model for success proposed in Rakham's book is this- The Spin Model: Situation Questions, Problem Questions, Implication Questions, Need-Payoff Questions. The sales process is an investigative one. By cleverly uncovering the true concerns of the buyer you can build up the Explicit Needs which will advance the sale.
Large sales require different techniques than small sales. Features don't matter in large sales, Explicit Needs do. Sales techniques for low value sales don't work for high value sales. Buyers simply don't fall for features or emotional ploys when considering a large scale purchase. There are many possible reasons for this but one that seems plausible is that a buyer knows she is stuck with a product once she has it and cannot easily divest herself of it. The embarrassment, cost and trouble of erasing a buying mistake on the large scale causes buyers to exercise caution.
Opening the call is important, but needn't be stressful and highly structured or planned. The key things to remember for openings are that you should be genuine, no canned greetings or practiced sales lines. Next, allow the buyer to ask questions or lead with personal chit chat. If the buyer is leading the discussion it's likely a safe place to start. The smarter, more experienced or senior the buyer you are facing the more likely they are going to want to get down to business quickly. Don't waste time or they will react, usually in a manner contrary to your desires. Also, don't offer solutions too soon. They aren't likely to spill the beans about all their operational woes very soon or quickly, and so how could you be certain you understand how to frame your product to them as the cure for all their ills? You can't, so don't.
This is why Successful Sellers put their main effort into investigation. By asking questions you uncover the needs, desires, requirements and obstacles to the sale. By investigating carefully you can prompt the buyer to understand and feel that you have the solution to her problem without boring her to death with lame investigative technique like "So what equipment are you using now?, Does that work well for you?, Isn't that expensive for you?" Of course you need to probe for potential problems with the buyer's current product to gain a way to introduce your product as a solution, but be smart about how you do that.
The purpose of questions during the sales process is building an Implied Need into an Explicit Need. What does this mean? An Implied Need is just about any statement made by the buyer that expresses a want or concern that can be satisfied by the seller. An Explicit Need is that same concern or want which has been transformed in the mind of the buyer by a line of questioning from the seller so it now appears to be imperative and necessary to make a change, or to purchase your product to satisfy that newly perceived need. Building needs in the mind of the buyer is key to success. If the buyer wants your product their is little need to 'close the sale'.
Here are the four types of questions you need to practice, and ask during the sales process. You needn't ask these in any particular order, though be cautious about diving in to Need-payoff questions too early:
Situation Questions- fact finders that clarify background information. Don't bore your audience with too many!
Problem Questions- explore problems, difficulties and dissatisfaction in areas where your product can help. Inexperienced sellers do not ask enough Problem Questions.
Implication Questions- taking customer problems and exploring their effects and consequences. "What effect does this reject rate have on customer satisfaction?" Implication Questions take some planning and forethought. If a buyer signals that they have a minor problem, use these questions to tease out details about how the problem is greater than currently understood. Ask things like- What are the hidden costs of training for that equipment/quality assurance/ employee turnover/ customer satisfaction/ other costs? Rackham found that these types of questions were especially powerful in selling to decision makers. You need to see the underlying implications of problems and "speak the language" of the buyer.
How do you effectively plan Implication Questions? Start with a blank piece of paper and draw a square in the center. Fill that square with one potential problem the buyer might have. Next, draw a square off each corner of your original, central square, large enough to write an implication related to the problem you just identified. In this way you can map out your game plan before stepping in to the sales call.
Need-payoff Questions- getting the customer to tell you the benefits that your product could offer. Asking these questions has a very high correlation to sales success. Here's an example- "Would it be useful to speed this operation by 10%?" You don't want to use these questions too early because you'll get caught in a weird trap where the buyer will not feel any Explicit Need for your product (because you haven't built one up yet) and you're likely to face some difficult objections. Need payoff questions express hopeful 'payoffs' your product could bring to the buyer. In comparison Implication Questions are more about consequences, problems, negative results. So, for a successful Need-payoff Question you need to try something like this- " Would that be useful to improve/reduce/satisfy...etc.? Need-payoff questions help rehearse the buyer for the internal selling of your product. You want them to go their boss and say "I found the solution!", so get used to thinking about how you are going to frame Need-payoff questions.
Of course you want to offer benefits during your sales call, just like you might expect to if you are traditionally trained. Just keep in mind that when you are offering benefits you are demonstrating how your product meets or exceeds the Explicit Needs expressed through the sales call, using the SPIN Model. Don't confuse benefits with advantages or features which are less valued by buyers in large sale situations.
Understanding the differences between a Continuance and an Advance are key. Continuances are only positive words or strokes used by buyers to politely dismiss salespeople. An Advance is a definable action that has or will occur as the result of the sales call. A meeting, a test, an evaluation, a discussion or an agreement to set up an appointment with senior management would be considered examples of an Advance. Knowing the difference here will prevent you from wasting time when you've been 'politely dismissed' and regarded that as 'rapport building' in the timeline of relationship building.
Preventing Objections is more effective than handling objections. One key to preventing objections is building value and getting the buyer into an enthusiastic state about the sale. People that get the most objections are those that try to sell features and advantages as benefits. They really don't build up the buyer's enthusiasm and their offerings don't hold sway for the buyer, so these attempts to advance the sale fall flat most times, especially with experienced buyers. Remember that experienced buyers, and those smart enough to see the consequences of a poor decision for their reputation within their organization won't strike at the wrong bait.
You're never going to completely avoid objections, so don't sweat it when they occur, but keep in mind if you are receiving objections often it is a clear sign you're doing something wrong. Remember that you want to build up the need in the mind of the buyer, get them enthusiastic about your product. You've investigated by using Situation and Problem Questions, built up need by asking Implication Questions followed by Need-payoff Questions as appropriate so that you may take the sale to the next logical step. The next step could be another meeting, sending test samples, a meeting with senior management, or the placing of an order for product.
Large sales take time, they're usually not quick transactions. Practicing the techniques mentioned here one at a time, at least three times is going to help you improve your sales conversion rates. Get yourself used to the process of investigation, prepping before calls by synthesizing potential implications, so that when the buyer signals they have a problem, you don't stutter and stumble, but move in smartly with a designed plan. Build up need through Implication Questions and then drive home the benefits with Need-payoff Questions. Simple, right?