Fable Friday Follow-up: Put the right SPIN on the problem

Last week we discussed the most important question you must ask if you want to sell, coach, negotiate or parent, which was getting your prospect to define optimal behavior or performance. So today we’ll talk about the next logical question and I’ll illustrate it with a story.

Gregory at Medtronic 10-2010 CroppedFive years ago I started a sales training program for a client who wanted to prepare me for my session by reviewing previous training their salespeople had taken. She said, “All of them have taken the SPIN program, so they are very well-versed in it.  Make sure you don’t teach anything contrary to this approach as we have a big investment in it.”

This was no problem, as I know Huthwaite’s extraordinarily popular SPIN program quite well.  The acronym SPIN stands for exploring the prospect’s current SITUATION, the PROBLEMS associated with it, then the IMPLICATIONS those problems have on the prospect’s performance, and finally the NEEDS that arise that you can address.  This is a very fine model, but it misses the first key question that any good consultant should ask, which we covered last week.

For example, if I begin to probe about the way you are doing things now (SITUATION), you can easily sidestep most of my questions by asserting that you are not affected by the issues that arise, that current performance is just as you expect it to be, and that there is nothing wrong with the way you do things now. It’s harder for me to get you to self-discover your problems if I begin with situational questions, and I run the risk that you will find these probes uncomfortable and then be uncomfortable with me.

But watch what happens if I begin my discovery conversation by asking you to describe optimal performance, your strategic priorities, or your plans for the current year, as follows:

“Let’s begin by addressing the most important strategic priorities for the company right now.”

“I thought perhaps you could share with me the organizational performance you are striving for. What would it look like if you could wave a wand over it?”

“Let’s look one to two years out, and if you can, please share with me the top priorities you need to achieve.”

Now you can see that with these “OPTIMAL” questions in place, all the SITUATIONAL questions that follow will automatically expose GAPS between desired and real, and gaps are what the strong consultant must identify, without turning the prospect off.

“So you’re saying that this process isn’t achieving the desired result. Let’s examine why not.”

“Then it appears there’s a huge time lag between your billing and your use of cash. Why do you think that is?”

So if you want to sell effectively, your first two questions are essentially, “What do you want the world to be like?” followed by “Let’s talk about how the world is now,” in order to identify gaps. Consultants who find gaps sell products.  In my work I call these first two questions, Optimal and Actual.

There are three more questions to this academically perfect discovery model and I’m going to share them with you in my newsletter which comes out on Tuesday.  I hope you’re signed up for it. Also in the newsletter you’ll get a short poetry lesson with a story about John Keats’ “On first looking into Chapman’s Homer.”  Come join me on Tuesday and…

Think Like Your Customer

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About Gregory LaMothe
I teach people how to sell things. I own the company ActionSystems. Visit my website at www.actionsystemstraining.com.

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