SPIN, Relevant To Both Salesmanship & Advertising!
Neil Rackham turned the world of high-ticket salesmanship on its ear. By observing over 35,000 actual sales calls, he scientifically isolated & identified the specific behaviors exhibited by successful salespeople. He called it SPIN selling.
Situation, Problem, Implication, Need Pay-off.
It should come as no surprise that one of the things that he discovered was that successful salesmanship means asking a lot of questions, before presenting products. This is just common sense. What would you think of your Doctor if he told you, "Here take these Zoloft tablets, by the way, what seems to be bothering you?" Probably not very much, so don't "show up & throw up", ask questions.
So far, so good, but what kind of a questioning process most often resulted in a positive result?
Here's what he discovered.
At the beginning of the sales cycle, good questions about the buyer's situation were well received, provided these questions were perceived by the buyer to be relevant, and to illicit information that was not easily obtained elsewhere. The best situation questions were those that built on the seller's research. For example, "Many of the homes in this area have sump pumps, do you have one too?" Neil characterized these "situation" questions as being of a fact-finding nature (who, where, when, what, how, yes/no). They serve to give the salesperson a frame of reference for the client's specific setting. The client appreciates being treated as an individual, but quickly becomes impatient with too many of these "situation" questions.
The successful salesperson maintains the customer's interest by following on with questions that seek to identify or better understand a problem that exists within the prospective clients situation. For example "Do you find it worrisome when you travel, wondering whether the power might go out causing the sump pump to stop working when you're away?" Again this shouldn't come as a big surprise to anyone, right? No problem, no sale. But Rackham soon discovered that getting a customer to admit to a problem & then address it in a sales presentation was rarely enough to win the sale.
Those series of sales calls that most often resulted in a sale, or an advance, were characterized by what Neil termed implication & need pay off questions. Implication questions serve to explore the ramifications of a problem. In the examples we've got going, the prospect relies on a sump pump to keep water out of her basement. Instead of diving directly into a sales pitch for a battery back up unit, the salesperson exhibiting winning salesmanship would ask additional questions to magnify the problem, before presenting the solution. "Would you have a flood, if you're sump pump where to fail?" "Cleaning up after a flood is not a pleasant thought, but did you know that if it were to happen, it could also result in molds starting to grow between the framing & the concrete?" "Could it put your insurance up, if you were to file a claim?" And so on.
Before a prospect will spend money on solving a problem, it has to hurt. But people need to feel empowered & confidant when they buy, and that's where need pay off questions come in. Need pay off questions serve to stimulate the imagination. They get the prospect envisioning the pay off that they get by buying into your solution. "Would you consider adding a recreation room in the basement here, after we install this battery back up system for you?" "Wouldn't that greatly enhance the enjoyment of your home?"
I submit to you that what Niel Rackham discovered as an observer of thousands of sales calls has a parallel in advertising. While a piece of media can't respond in real time to a specific customer's response to a question, it should most definitely be based on the most common responses to those questions. It should be very much like the presentation that the salesperson gives to the customer after uncovering the implications of the problem. It should set the stage (situation), discuss the problem, explore the varied implications of that problem, and create a vision of how much better life could be (need pay-off), with your solution.
The best long form advertising (salesmanship in print) does just this.
These concepts are also present in a winning sales letter. Take a look at some of the parallels that you can find in Robert Collier's famous "salesmanship in print" letters.
The take away point is this. Take the time to survey your salespeople & your customers to uncover the ripple effects of both the problems that you are trying to solve, as well as the solution that you can provide. You might be surprised by what you discover. Then work those insights into your advertising copy & sales letters to enhance perceived value.
Until next time. Good Salesmanship!
Daniel Levis is a top marketing consultant & direct response copywriter based in Toronto Canada. Recently, Daniel & world-renowned publicist & copywriter Joe Vitale teamed up to co author "Million Dollar Online Advertising Strategies - From The Greatest Letter Writer Of The 20th Century!", a tribute to the late, great Robert Collier.
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