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The Questioner's Art

Today we look at one of the nuances of the SPIN questioning model. It’s the “forking paths” dilemma: During a sales call, you uncover a buyer problem that has multiple implications, some of which lead, in turn, to further implications. How do you proceed? Do you use your limited time with the buyer to address all the implications (let’s call this path #1), or do you follow just one of the implications as far as it will take you (path #2)? Let’s suppose that you are selling vacuum cleaners, and your conversation with the customer has already established that she is dissatisfied with the carpet-cleaning capabilities of the vacuum she has now. The problem you want to explore is that the present vacuum cleaner leaves the carpets dirty. Within the framework you’ve established by asking Situation and Problem Questions, you begin to develop some implications. Because of dirty carpets: 1) her children can’t play on the floor, 2) her house will smell bad, and 3) her dog’s skin condition will not improve.

That’s an example of the first path. The second path might follow a pattern like this: Implication – her dog’s skin condition will not improve. Implication of implication – she’ll have to take the dog to the veterinarian. Implication of implication of implication – going to the vet is expensive, time-consuming, and depressing. You could pursue this even farther: the cost of the vet visits may, over time, amount to more than the cost of a new vacuum cleaner, and meanwhile, visitors to the home may be repelled by the funny smell, the sullen children, and the mangy-looking dog.

This could increase domestic tension, diminishing the productivity and well-being of every member of the family, and so on. Which path works best for your sale? Let your customer be your guide. Mastery of the questioner’s art depends not only on asking smart questions, but on really listening to the answers. Follow the direction that leads to where the customer wants to go.


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