More than half of B2B respondents to the CSO Insights 2018 Buyer Preferences Study said they found value in discussing their situations with salespeople, while only 2.6% preferred to avoid sellers entirely. The remainder fell in the middle: they found some sellers helpful, while others wasted their time.
It’s no wonder, then, that buyers often don’t view sellers as a valuable resource when making a purchase decision. That’s because most sellers meet—but don’t exceed—buyers’ expectations. As a result, buyers today look to other resources, such as third-party subject-matter experts, vendor websites or their peers, when solving a business problem.
CSO Insights found that more than 70% of buyers wait until after they have already defined their needs to engage sellers—because they see sellers as product representatives, not as problem-solvers, and often see little to differentiate one seller from another. This makes it hard for sellers to exert much influence—and the seller loses any opportunity to differentiate themselves. As a result, the gap between buyers and sellers is widening, launching a cycle we call the buyer apathy loop.
To break out of the buyer apathy loop, sellers need to exceed their buyers’ expectations by finding the right opening that provides the best solutions, which allows them to engage earlier in the sales process. One way to break the cycle is to create a better buying experience using the questioning techniques taught in SPIN Selling Conversations. SPIN helps sellers engage customers in conversations, questioning and listening until they understand why their customer is exploring new solutions.
Four Types of Questions Lead to Better Deals
The better your dialogue with your customers, the better your results. And good dialogue begins with good questions asked in a strategic way.
The research behind SPIN shows that salespeople who close more deals tend to ask the same questions in a similar order. As with all elements of enterprise sales strategy, process and consistency matter.
SPIN provides sellers with the questions and skills to uncover buyer needs and overcome hesitations and objections, which results in an outcome that’s better for both the seller and the buyer. The acronym SPIN identifies the four stages of the questioning sequence designed to move the customer toward closing a deal:
Let’s take a closer look at each type of question.
1. Situation Questions
Situation questions ask about the buyer’s background and show you where your customers stand. Use these questions to collect facts about the buyer’s current state, processes, challenges, competitive strategies and results.
Be careful, however, not to ask questions that you could find the answers to easily through online research or preliminary calls. Spend some time gathering information before your conversation to avoid this problem. Given the availability of information online, this should be your shortest set of questions.
Situation questions include:
- What are your company’s goals over the next 24 months?
- What products/services are you currently using?
- What is your process for accomplishing [a goal]?
2. Problem Questions
Problem questions deal with the buyer’s difficulties and obstacles that stand in their way. These questions probe more deeply into buyers’ needs and dissatisfactions, unearthing unstated needs. They also give sellers an opportunity to show their understanding of the buyer’s problem, enhancing your credibility.
One technique to generate these questions is to work backward from the solutions you offer to problems, ultimately linking your offerings to the buyer’s areas of opportunity.
Problem questions include:
- What is lacking in your current product/solution?
- How much time of your day do you spend doing [a task]?
- Are you happy with your current provider/supplier?
3. Implication Questions
Implication questions ask about the impact of a problem that you’ve diagnosed. These questions combine the seller’s critical thinking skills and industry insights to help buyers understand the magnitude of the problem, to increase their urgency to solve it.
Implication questions include:
- What is the productivity cost of [this problem]?
- Would your team be more satisfied if you didn’t experience the problems related to [this issue]?
- Have problems with [this issue] negatively affected your customers’ satisfaction?
4. Need-Payoff Questions
Need-payoff questions focus the buyer on a potential solution and its benefits. They ask about the value or usefulness of a solution, gently moving the buyer to put the solution’s benefits in their own terms. This persuasive technique is much more compelling than if you, as the seller, described the benefits yourself.
Need-payoff questions should build off your implication questions including:
- Could solving [this problem] raise your productivity?
- Would your team find value in fixing [this problem]?
- Do you think your customer satisfaction scores would increase if you didn’t have [this problem]?
The goal is to frame the solution in a way that the buyer hasn’t considered.
It’s Time to Get the Answers You Need to Close the Deal
Customers don’t want to be told what they need—they need sellers to ask questions designed to guide them to a solution. The key is identifying hidden needs rather than accepting the customer’s statement at face value.
To learn how to ask these questions, sellers need sales effectiveness training that teaches them to ask the questions that unlock what buyers truly want, allowing them to provide the insights and perspective to help buyers see it.
SPIN Selling Conversations gives your team the skills and practice to develop the questions that uncover buyer needs and overcome objections—all in the moments when deals are made and lost. Put a new spin on your sales conversations and improve win rates by registering for SPIN here.