Today’s accountant must know how to sell. Selling is really a value conversation. If your clients understand the value of your services, they'll quickly realise they want to work closely with you. It comes down to asking better questions... questions that ultimately help your client see the way forward as buying a service from you.
The SPIN Cycle was developed by Neil Rackham in 1988.
The acronym is made up of four lines of questions which help clients see what they really need (a service from you) if they want to overcome their problems and challenges and get to their goals quicker:
What’s really going on?
The first line of questions helps the client and the accountant understand the current situation. For example, if a client comes to us requesting a Cashflow Forecast, there will be a reason why. Questions we might ask include:
- How is your cashflow right now?
- How long has it been like this?
- Why has the bank asked for a Cashflow Forecast?
- What have you tried up until now to improve your cashflow?
Seek first to understand - if you don’t ask enough questions about the current situation, you run the risk of jumping to a conclusion and offering a service that won’t resolve the underlying problem.
For example, if you simply do the Cashflow Forecast and don’t gain an understanding of what's going on in the client’s business, chances are high that they’re going to need more bank finance in the future (and the bank might say no next time).
What are the problems?
Problem-solving selling is the most effective sales technique. This second line of questions is about the problems your client is experiencing right now. In the cashflow example we might ask:
1. How are you managing with paying the wages / suppliers right now?
2. What has been happening with your credit arrangements with your suppliers?
3. How is the cashflow situation affecting your personal life?
4. Have you asked for an overdraft extension before and, if so, why do you think the bank is asking for a Cashflow Forecast now?
These questions are designed to help your client link their current problems with the situation they find themselves in.
What will the impact ultimately be if we don’t solve these problems?
Drill down into the pain to help the client feel the likely consequence of inaction. Questions from the cashflow example might be:
1. What will happen if we don’t resolve the underlying cashflow problem?
2. What do you think the bank will do if this overdraft extension is insufficient?
3. What security have you provided to the bank and what will ultimately happen if you can’t repay the overdraft?
Impact questions galvanise the client to act (buying a service from you) to avoid the consequences.
What do we need to do now then?
Only when the client understands the true impact of ignoring their problems will they see the value in working with you. Questions from the above example might be:
1. Are you interested in how we could work together to satisfy the bank’s requirements and also solve this cashflow problem once and for all?
2. What do you think we need to do here, apart from just providing the bank with a Cashflow Forecast?
3. If we were to start a project around cashflow improvement - which would also meet the bank's requirements - what do you think it should be?
The needs questions demonstrate the value of fixing the problems by dealing with the root cause, e.g. poor credit management or pricing, compared to simply applying a band-aid fix, e.g. just the Cashflow Forecast. They also help your client understand the linkage between the services you offer and the problems these solve.
Note that we’re still asking questions as opposed to providing solutions.
The client has a choice as to what they will do; you’re just helping them see what the options are. Of course, if they ask you for your opinion as to what you think they should do, you should offer that solution in the form of a service. Resist the urge to try to solve the problems for them in this meeting or discussion - if the answer was that easy, the client would have done the work already.
Your goal is to achieve conceptual agreement to provide the service that will solve the client's problems. You can then follow up with a proposal.
Remember, selling is simply a matter of solving problems; you’re not here to push a service. It’s up to the client to make an informed decision about the way forward.