Selling Sucks. Do someone a Favor instead!

In the past, I’ve blogged about the SPIN Selling Technique.  I think this is definitely a great technique for selling, but there is one very important thing to remember.  Selling sucks.  Nobody likes to be sold to.  Instead, the whole point of SPIN Selling, the whole point of “transacting value between two peoples” is a POSITIVE exchange of value.  E.g. the result of the sale should be of MUTUAL value.  So, when you find yourself in need of selling something… DO not sell it… simply see if “the exchange” would be mutually beneficial or not.  The whole point of SPIN Selling, or selling of any kind, is simply to determine if you or your company would be benefited by buying this.  When I SPIN Sell, I try to discover, truly with an open heart and mind, would you or your company benefit from buying this (product or service).  I like to think of it like this: Would you consider my selling you this thing or service like “a favor”?  If not, maybe there isn’t a match.

By the way, if you don’t believe in your product or service enough to think of it as “a favor”, you should take the time to learn more about your product and who it was built for, or else get a new job ASAP.

SPIN Selling for Engineers: How to teach Engineers to Sell!

“Wow, that was so cool, it really works!” – University of Texas Engineering Undergraduate

This was the general sentiment this week when I demonstrated the SPIN Selling technique to a group of undergraduates (mostly engineering-types) who are studying entrepreneurship at The University of Texas in the 1 Semester Startup Class (now called Longhorn Startup).  I volunteered to demonstrate the approach on their very first sales call (yes they are really that far along, and I’m so proud of them!  They have overcome the first and second hurdle of entrepreneurship: 1. Selecting a Target Market.  2. Getting over their Fear.).

So what is SPIN Selling?  And why is it a great technique for Engineers?  Read on My Friends!

First, SPIN Selling is a technique originally developed by Neil Rackham.. in his book SPIN Selling.

If you don’t like reading, this site has a nice summary of the book on 1 page:
However, I’ll also summarize SPIN Selling in my own words below with one major tweak: from the perspective of an Engineer trying to make his/her first sale…
  1. SPIN Selling is great for engineers because it is an easy to understand acronym: S=Situation Questions, P=Problem Questions, I=Implication Questions, N=Need-Payoff Questions
  2. One of the best approaches to sales naturally emerges by “following the process” which, following processes is easy for engineers to do.
    1. This process is one of ‘connecting to the client’, ‘understanding their needs’, and ‘fitting or not fitting your product to satisfy their true needs’….   if you can connect the dots for the prospect: the sale is just a natural thing!
      1. And they’ll want to buy from YOU specifically, not necessarily because your product is superior (a concept Engineers need to not focus on), but because you understand them best, and have built a rapport with them through “the process”.
  3. The Process:
    1. Ask a few “Situation Questions” to get them thinking about their business, not yours: Initially on the call or in the meeting, simply ask how his/her business or life is going and uncover the specifics of their business as it might relate to your product. 
      1. Examples:  How is your business going?  How do you measure success?  What kinds of files do you use?  Who are your clients?  etc.
    2. Ask a few “Problem Questions” until you uncover a problem you might be able to solve: Basically try to uncover what problems they have (not if, we all have problems)..  Focusing on Throughput or Cost (throughput questions are ones of ability to deliver product/service, or inability to get new clients/customers)… cost is cost and headache (mental cost).  Obviously, focus on those areas which your product/service might solve…
      1. Examples: Do you feel you have plenty of clients?  Do you have any major cost problems?  Are you able to fulfill all your orders on time?  What is preventing you from being more successful today?  What gives you the biggest headaches today?
    3. Ask enough “Implication Questions” such that they agree that the problem is serious: Try to get them to see the light that the problem has real consequences.  To understand, for example, that those extra costs are cutting in to margins, which slows growth.  Or that the lack of enough customers means you are wasting resources from under-utilization.
      1. Examples: Do you agree that the lack of customers means you are under-utilizing your fixed resources?  Do you agree that the extra costs you are incurring is hitting your bottom line, and that extra cash you could have had would be useful to help you grow?  Do you agree that your headaches might be making you distracted on other issues?
    4. Ask enough “Need-Payoff Questions” such that they agree a solution has real value.  Need-Payoff sort-of restates the Implication question in such a way that a solution has real value.  Once they agree to real value… then, and ONLY THEN, can you pitch your product/service…. and it will be in their terms…  
      1. Examples: Do you agree that getting rid of that headache would let you be more productive at other more important things?   Do you agree that your increased productivity is worth real value?  In hours per day?  In Dollars per day?  Do you agree that being able to get more customers has real value?  In Dollars per Customer?  Do you agree that reducing costs impacts the bottom line directly?  In real profit dollars?
    5. Now, and only now that they agree there is real value in a potenial solution, are you permitted to pitch your idea… AND ONLY PITCH IT IF YOU CAN GIVE THE PAYOFF (or a part of it) THEY AGREED TO IN STEP 4.  If not, continue with Steps 2-4, until you can or until they hang up!
      1. The pitch should be short, just 3 slides (more on this next time): Benefits, Tech, Price.
      2. Don’t talk to the slides, talk to how YOUR PRODUCT might help solve THEIR PROBLEM… And point back to those NEED-PAYOFF questions you asked.
    6. Finally, Ask a few “Qualifying Questions”, and then “ASK FOR THE SALE”: You need to “flip the conversation” to be more about potentially fitting them to your business….   Now, they need to SELL YOU!
      1. You truly want it to seem like buying your product/service means belonging to an exclusive club.. and only some people are PERMITTED TO BUY!
      2. You questions now are “Qualifying Questions”… here is some good ones:
        1. We want to work with ‘thought leaders’ and ‘early adopters’, how forward-thinking about new stuff is your company?
        2. It is important that we work with companies of just the right size, how big is your business?
        3. We want partners who will become our reference customers, if things we work together to solve your problems, would you be willing to be a reference customer?
        4. Alright… it seems like we might be a good fit… it also seems that OUR PRODUCT/SERVICE will really help SOLVE YOUR PROBLEM and has a REAL DOLLAR IMPACT TO YOUR BUSINESS… 
          1. ASK FOR THE ORDER!!!!
            1. How many units can we sell you today to see how well this works?  or  
            2. What size initial order can you place today to test our ability to deliver?  or
            3. Who in your organization needs to sign off on this deal?
    7. Level Up!
      1. Regardless of the answers to step 6… be sure you try to “level up”.
      2. Often-times in a big sale, it takes many approvals and other folks to help decide.
      3. Leave EACH MEETING with a date/time for the next meeting and try to “level-up” the meeting….  TRY TO ATTEND ANY APPROVAL MEETINGS IN PERSON.
      4. Bring up all you have learned about their problem and the NEED-PAYOFF in REAL DOLLARS! (I hope you took notes).
And that’s it my friends!
Go out and sell!  But remember, only sell IF you can make a real dollar impact… if not, trust me, you don’t want them as a customer…. they won’t be happy, and neither will you.

Sales is about People, not Presentations

Your slide deck may be the best in the world.  Your pitch smooth as butter.  Your suit as fine as none other.  Yet, you continue to lose the sale to Alex, who uses no slides at all.  You better wise up and realize that sales is about people, not presentations.

Alex understands what sales is… and here is what he knows.

  1. If you can’t engage with the prospect, and get them talking, they will never remember a thing you say.
  2. If you don’t understand the needs of the prospect, both functionally in the business and personally, you will never be able to “show him the solution”.
  3. No matter how much you love your solution and think its the best, there are always alternatives and selling is showing that your option is the one that best solves the prospect’s need.
Where are your slides Alex?  I have some, but I’d rather send them to you after our meeting.
Why is that, that is odd?  Yes, I hear that, but I would rather spend the time learning about your problems than looking at my pictures…  if there is a fit, we’ll find it together and I’ll give you materials you need to sell internally.
Sales is about people.  Them not you.  Please, please, sales-people, stop with the slides already.

The Socratic Method in the Modern Age

What has changed since Socrates first developed the method of debate known as “The Socratic Method“?  Are we more or less patient as a society?  Are we more or less narcissistic?  Do we even talk face to face with each other at length?  Are people more or less willing to engage in debate?  Much has changed in 2,400 years, but the Socratic Method can still be an incredibly useful tool in business and in life.

Benjamin Franklin (my hero) first turned me on to the Socratic Method of debate, finding great joy in frustrating his friends with continually asking questions to almost any debate posed.  However, even in Ben Franklin’s times, I believe people were more patient, less narcissistic, and engaged in Face-to-face debate far more often.

Here is Harlan’s revised Socratic Method for 2010, based on real world examples:

  1. Find something worth debating.  –   This can be the hardest step.  Time is so precious in our narcissistic fast-paced society, and not everything should be debated.
  2. Find someone worth debating   –   If the participant is not willing to explore the topic in an open debate forum, and relegate the results to logics fine conclusion, then you are wasting your time.  NOTE: They do not have to be willing to engage in Socratic Method.  Only that they are open to debate and change.
  3. Set aside a preset time period (at least 30-minutes).   –   Unlike the days of Socrates, we cannot simply cavort on one topic for an entire day.  Our MTV minds are simply not accustomed to such concentration.  A preset time period is not so that you can stop when the time is up… it is a minimum for how long you should explore.  The temptation is to concede the point after the first hole in logic.  This would be a gross error on both parties, regardless of which side you are arguing.
  4. Begin with a statement  –  just like normal Socratic method, we must choose sides… pick a side and explore with questions… its that easy!
  5. Ask any question but “Why”  –  Why questions are an example of opinion questions.  In the Socratic method we must explore facts, logic, and assumptions (and foundations of all these in society, prejudice, culture, etc.).  Avoid Why type questions whenever possible.  It is OKAY if you are the only one asking questions.  If you are the only one asking questions, you must ask on behalf of BOTH SIDES of the debate.
  6. End with 2 statements  –   no-one likes to feel as though time was wasted.  When the time is up (or when you both agree to stop), both parties should make a summary statement to capture how far (or how close) both parties have come along the path to enlightenment and truth.
Here are some real-world examples I’ve recently engaged in:
  1. Sales Call.  I often have sales calls and sales meetings.. and based on one of my favorite sales books, I try hard to use questions to help sell.  The hardest part was “opening with a statement”, and then being willing to be “moved from my own position”.  Here is what worked:
    • Statement: “You need Karmaback to help your company grow.”
    • Sample Questions: “Does your company want to grow?”, “Do you know what Karmaback is?” “Do you believe Karmaback can do what it says?”, etc.
    • Closing Statements:  “COMPANYX needs to grow, and Karmaback can help.”  vs.  “COMPANYX needs to grow, and has bigger problems than what Karmaback can solve”
    • My openness…  In order for this debate to work, I (as the salesman) had to be open to change… I had to be open to the fact that maybe MY STATEMENT was false.
  2. Family Dispute. My kids are great test subjects.  They are active, willing, and can easily handle 30-minutes…. not.  (10-minutes was the best I could do.  More would have been better)
    • Statement: “You need to learn to throw the football like a pro.”
    • Sample Questions: “Do you like football?” “Do you know what football is?” “Do you know what a pro is?” “Can one learn to throw a football?”  “Can one learn to throw like a pro?”  “Which pro?”  “What is a need?” 
    • Closing Statements:  “I want you to learn to throw a football so I can play with you and get some exercise.”  vs.  “Papa wants me to learn to throw a football”
    • Kids: Sometimes, it’s good enough to get to the “intention” of the idea… 

In almost every case I’ve used the Socratic method, it has been helpful.. it usually changes “me” more than “them”.  And this is not a bad thing!  

The other magical thing.  Asking, and being open to being wrong, often wins business!