SPIN Selling: A Complete Guide

Thursday, May 09th
Content Manager

Mark Wilson

SPIN Selling is a sales technique developed by Neil Rackham. While most will know it from the release of Rackham’s 1988 book about SPIN Selling, he was developing the method throughout the 1970s and 1980s leading up to the release of the book. The method is based on successful sales and the patterns Rackham found in them.

This article is going to walk you through exactly what SPIN Selling is. But it’s going to do a lot more than that as well. You’ll get:

  1. A complete overview of SPIN Selling
  2. Common applications of SPIN Selling
  3. Questions that you can ask at each stage of the sales cycle that work with the SPIN methodology
  4. Some insights on how SPIN Selling has adapted to the modern, digital world of sales, and how it can still be relevant to sales and marketing teams

The goal is to turn you and your sales team into better salespeople, immediately. While an article isn’t a substitute for reading the entire book or training over time within the method, by the end of this article you should have numerous takeaways that can immediately affect your closing rates and sales acumen. Many top salespeople in numerous industries still employ a SPIN model, and it remains among the most popular sales methodologies to this day. If your sales reps are struggling, or you simply want to improve your organization's performance, the SPIN model could be the answer you're looking for.

What is SPIN Selling?

SPIN Selling was created by Neil Rackham and popularized in a book published in 1988. It outlines the insights Rackham studied for years in sales, which he developed into a simple system of insights that were applicable to nearly any sales position. Today, the SPIN model is still used, most frequently in B2B sales.

The acronym SPIN stands for Situation, Problem, Implication and Need-Payoff. These four categories inform a lot of the strategy in the method. Each refers to a type of question that a salesperson should be asking at each stage. Much of Rackham’s tactics are how to handle each of these elements within the sales cycle.

In each stage, salespeople are encouraged to ask questions that will be most relevant to the potential client and their current situations, problems, and so on. This Socratic method allows a salesperson to uncover the greatest pain points and needs of the client in order to deliver the best results for them.

We discuss each of these steps in more detail below, and include some best practices for each.

What Are the Four Stages of SPIN Selling?

The four stages of a sale (not to be confused with the four stages of questioning, mentioned above) are:

  1. The Opening - In the opening, a salesperson isn’t trying to rush ahead into the pitch, but is attempting to generate trust in the client. This can be done in a variety of ways, but broadly speaking is done by building value and understanding of their situation.
  2. Investigating - The core of SPIN Selling is the investigation phase. Here, you’re digging into the customer’s needs, pain points, and are rolling out the majority of the question-based system that Rackham outlines.
  3. Demonstrating Capability - This stage is about bridging the investigation and its results to your product or service. There are a handful of common tactics to do this, which we discuss below (in the “Features, Advantages and Benefits” section)
  4. Obtaining Commitment - The name is somewhat self-explanatory, but the ideal final stage of a sales cycle is, in fact, the finalization of the sale itself.

Because many sales cycles occur over weeks, months or even years, “obtaining commitment” doesn’t always equal a sale. In fact, this step is broken out in the book into four common outcomes:

  1. Advance - in this outcome, the prospect doesn’t become a customer, but takes an action that advances them toward a firm commitment. “Soft” advances exist all the time in digital marketing, for instance, such as signing up for a newsletter or attending a product demo.
  2. Continuation - not a yes, but also not a no. This is more-or-less a stasis condition wherein the potential customers are still alive but hasn’t taken an advancing action.
  3. Order - this is a commitment of some sort, either a final one or a preliminary one. Often, B2B commitments will be tiered, to allow for onboarding and avoid long contractual disputes when a relationship sours.
  4. No-Sale - exactly what it says. Brush yourself off and try again!

There’s the potential for some confusion here, because the four categories we talked about just above are the stages Rackham outlines, but they’re separate from the SPIN acronym, which is a sequence of questioning that supports the sales process.

Below, we talk about each of those stages of questioning, what each looks like during a sales process, and then we’ll show some examples of each stage.


One surefire way to lose a sale is to begin selling immediately before you know anything about the prospect, their situation, and how your product or service might be of greatest value to them.

It’s the same problem cold-calling has in sales: you know nothing about the prospect. The Situation phase of questioning is how you get to know a prospect. More importantly, it’s how you understand their business situation in ways that will allow you to ask more penetrating, insightful questions about their struggles, pain points, and potential for improvement.

As we’ll get into more depth below, modern tools have made this step a lot easier than in the past. We can know more about a person before a sales call or meeting, which can aid in this. Background research on a company’s size, their products or services and other cultural factors can all aid in this.

However, this doesn’t remove the need to identify during the sales call what unique qualities a prospect has that will allow you to better focus a sales pitch.

"The best selling isn't at all about your products and what you can offer. It's very much about the customers and their needs." - Neil Rackham


Selling your product or service means you have a solution to offer to a customer's existing problem. All of your problem questions should guide the conversation rather than informing the customer of their problems.

Stated differently, you should ask questions that navigate your prospects to discover their problems.

Reason being, you don’t know your prospect’s business like they do. So if you assume certain problems, maybe you’re right! But you’ll also be blind to other struggles they’re facing.

A crucial part of asking the right problem questions is anticipating obstacles they may not have even considered yet. Salespeople report their biggest challenge is identifying a sense of urgency. Using your problem questions is about finding answers for your customer and finding solutions for yourself as a seller.

We’ll talk more below about anticipating obstacles and preventing objections, and will also highlight some example SPIN Problem questions. But for now it’s enough to know that during the Problem phase of questioning, you’re uncovering problems that your prospect faces and building a base of evidence from which you’ll build the value of your product or services.


You've targeted your client's top hurdles. Now we begin to explore the implications of those problems.

Showing your customer the possible causes and effects of their most critical pain points cater to the sense of urgency you laid out in the problem questions step.

Once again, avoid mentioning your product at this point. The purpose is for them to understand just how much the problems discussed earlier can impact the bottom line of their efforts, and the downstream effects those problems have on their operations, finances, company culture and revenues.


The need stage still revolves around questions. But instead of telling the customer how your product can help them, ask questions that show the value in choosing your product. It's again about discovering customer needs, not forcing a solution on them.

Constructing practical need questions can be difficult. We have some example questions further below. But in general, what you’re attempting to do is show what their business could be in an ideal situation, and how improved things would be if they implement a solution for the aforementioned problems.

Having the customer do the "legwork" on how you can help them is a much stronger sales pitch than telling them how you think you can help them. The goal is to find the best solution for a prospect, not simply any solution, which will make your relationship with them stronger.

Preventing vs. Handling Objections

Any salesperson has faced myriad objections. They’ve also learned to “handle” objections, and often have responses planned in advance to common rebuttals.

For clarity, objections in and of themselves aren’t bad. In fact, if you face no objections, it’s possible the prospect is hiding objections from you, and you may not actually close the sale.

Objection handling with tact and clarity can be the difference between a successful and unsuccessful sales call, though.

However, the book posits that preventing objections is even better than handling them as they come up.

What’s the difference? The difference is that you’re still addressing common objections, but you’re getting ahead of the prospect by showing the solution to the objection before it even comes up.

Responding to objections can put you on the back foot, so to speak. Being proactive about possible objections can send the signal that you understand the challenges in adopting your particular solution and you’re prepared to handle them together with the prospective client.

Features, Advantages and Benefits in SPIN Sales

Earlier in the article (“Demonstrating Capability Stage”) we talked about how you show that your solution is the right one for your potential customer. Broadly speaking, there are a few ways you can do this: through Features, Advantages and Benefits.

These probably sound similar, but they serve different purposes.

Features are what a product (or service team) does. They can be important for end users of a product, but may not be the most important aspects to decision-makers, who may not be the end-users of the products and services they purchase for their company.

Advantages are what those features allow you to do. It's the practical application of the features. For example, it's the difference between saying you pan has a no-stick surface and explaining that it will allow you to cook more easily without lengthy cleanup.

Benefits relate to the end goal of your prospect. In the pan example, this advantage (which happens because of the feature) will give you back your time, freeing up your evenings to relax, spend time with your family, and so on.

That example is fairly low-stakes, but imagine relating a similar example that saves a company millions of dollars in operational efficiency costs. This is the power of layering features, advantages and benefits onto one another during the final phase of a sale.

Each of these has their place, and ideally they build off of one another to build a case for whatever you're selling.

Can SPIN Selling Still Work in the Modern Day?

Short answer: Yes, SPIN Selling still works. The longer answer requires an understanding of how modern digital practices can help inform the SPIN sales process.

The reason it works is because a lot of its principles are universal. Regardless of era or technology, understanding pain points and delivering value can achieve results.

But how can you use modern tactics to enhance SPIN efforts? I’m glad you asked (or at least I hope that’s what you’re asking at this stage!). Here are some ideas for you to take into your process as you adopt a SPIN methodology in your sales:

  1. Utilizing good content marketing can be a powerful way to build trust before a sales call even happens. Decades ago, salespeople had to do this during the call, but you can create trust in your business well before this point through savvy use of inbound marketing techniques and others like social media marketing and email marketing.
  2. The analytical tools we have to research companies are more powerful than ever. You should already know a lot about your prospect’s situation before the sales call. This doesn’t mean you skip the Situation step of questioning, but it does mean that you can probably cut down on the number of questions you ask in this phase.
  3. Online forms and downloads often give us information about leads that can make an introduction easier and also give us insight into a company’s situation.
  4. Digital content can supplement the sales process, particularly in longer sales cycles that involve numerous steps, multiple meetings, and may take place over weeks or months. This can be extremely important in B2B sales, but can also be utilized in small ways in B2C sales.
  5. Marketing teams are a bigger part of the sales cycle. Coordination with your marketing team as a sales professional can give you valuable insights that will make you more effective as a salesperson.

What Are Some SPIN Question Examples?

The best SPIN questions are ones that flow naturally from the conversation you’re having with a prospect. A static list of questions to ask at each stage is never going to be as effective as a salesperson who can pivot and adapt to the circumstances organically. They know what follow-up question to ask, and when, and how these questions can help lessen a prospects' frustrations.

Additionally, each question should be a thought-provoking question. If you're simply checking off questions from a list, you're doing it wrong. So the examples below are the types of strategic questions you'll want to ask, but they shouldn't be used ver batim since they're not for your particular client.

That said, we can give you a sense of the types of questions you’ll want to ask in each phase. The book offers many more examples, but here are just a few from each step in the sequence of questioning in a SPIN method:

Situation Questions

  • What are your customer's current processes?
  • What methods/tools/products are you already using?
  • How often do you use them and feel like you see results?

Problem Questions

  • Do you feel [current product] is as good as it can be?
  • How does this impact day-to-day efficiency?

Implication Questions

  • How much time is wasted on inefficiencies each week?
  • How much could your business achieve each week without said inefficiencies?
  • Have problems ever been customer-facing?

Need-Payoff Questions

  • Would a method for reducing timesheet logistics increase productivity?
  • Do you think teams would operate more efficiently with a process for tracking their productivity, one that ties bonuses to certain performance thresholds?
  • More broadly: Would {X} be valuable for your team?

Timing is Everything in Sales

One of Rackham’s insights about questioning in the sales process is that it doesn’t matter what types of questions are asked in the sales process (many models will recommend open-ended questions, for instance). It’s the timing of them that matters.

This is where the process of questioning in SPIN Selling becomes more of an artform than a specific prescription for success.

A seasoned sales professional will be able to instinctively suss out the right questions to ask - and just as importantly, the right times to ask them - that will cut to the core of a prospect’s problems and hopes for a potential solution.

So there’s no cookie-cutter list of questions or process documents that will cover you for every possible sale. However, the SPIN framework gives salespeople the tools to then hone to their specific needs and the needs of their leads and clients.

Measuring Your Success With SPIN

At Leadflask, we’re big believers in being able to measure success with data and analytics. It’s important to pick the right data, though, so that you’re measuring the right things.

Close rates are a common measuring stick for sales success, and you could do that here too. But they aren’t the only relevant metric that you should be looking at.

We talked earlier about the four types of outcomes of a sale: Advance, Continuation, Order and No-Sale. These can start to inform the types of measurement you might use, including:

  1. What percentage of your initial sales calls result in an Order?
  2. What percentage results in an Advance?
  3. What percentage results in a Continuation?
  4. What is the average length of your sale? Does this length grow or shorten as you implement SPIN Selling, and does the close rate increase or decrease as the length changes?

This is how you start to understand what is and isn’t working within your personal application of SPIn Selling. These aren’t the only metrics you could track, but they can get you started to monitor progress and success.

Using the SPIN Selling Method to Grow Business

With the SPIN selling method as a guide, you can add authenticity to your sales process and be the type of salesperson that listens more than they talk. One-sided conversations don't close sales. If you've ever had a friend or date who only talked about themselves, you can imagine how invisible a customer can feel when a salesperson doesn't ask them any questions.

Listen to the client's answers and choose your subsequent questions accordingly. Take advantage of the flexibility SPIN offers. For the best salespeople, SPIN questions are commonplace

Along with modern tools to help enhance these efforts, you can effectively increase your closing rates and efficiency within the sales process.

Learn More About SPIN Selling

If SPIN Selling excites you, your next stop should be reading the book.

Beyond that, various groups offer training and coaching for implementing SPIN sales methodology in your organization, including Huthwaite International and Korn Ferry.

And if enhancing sales efforts with marketing techniques is of interest to you, the Leadflask Learning Center has everything you need to implement a cohesive digital strategy to increase revenues and sales.

Additional Resources

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