Recently, I found myself thinking about Street Epistemology (SE, to its adherents) and how some of the lessons I learned in the business world dovetail neatly with SE concepts. I spent some time thinking about how selling and marketing concepts can be incorporated into the SE lexicon: expanding SE’s reach, and making SE interactions more efficient and trenchant. A concept known as SPIN (not the political type!) can change minds and alter the way SE practitioners engage with ILs (interlocutors) in a positive way.

SPIN is an acronym that stands for Situations, Problems, Implications, and Need Payoffs.  The book, “SPIN Selling”, written by Neil Rackham, describes how the best salespeople listen to their clients attentively with “Elephant Ears”, ask good questions, and in turn, sell more.  Rackham and his team of investigators interviewed and observed the best salespeople and investigated what made them successful.  According to Rackham, SPIN works when a salesperson carefully examines how they currently sell, recognizes where they are deficient, and carefully navigates the SPIN process to arrive at a sale. 

One afternoon in the office, I was engaged in a conference call with a company that was trying to identify problems they had with their business of breeding expensive puppies. My company was established to provide cloud-based monitoring for all things analog and digital.  From temperatures, switch positions, humidity, to most anything else, my company’s hardware and cloud-based software solutions could monitor, trend, analyze, and alarm as well as or better than almost anything on the market.  My product was the “Internet of Things” (IoT) before there was an official IoT. When I asked, “What is the main problem you’re hoping to resolve?  The customer responded, “Of our eight puppy delivery trucks, on average, two puppies die during every delivery trip and on each truck.  My first thought was, “This must be costing them in the pocket book and they need a solution to their problem!”  The SPIN process teaches that almost everyone, when asked questions about their problems, will respond with their implied needs.  Initial answers are typically brief and sound something like this:  I need a car, I need a haircut, I need a new girlfriend / boyfriend, etc.  Rarely, if ever, will someone respond with their explicit needs such as: I need a car because mine caught on fire and my parents won’t let me use theirs, mine is costing me too much money as it’s old and the door handle is falling off on the driver’s side, my girlfriend / boyfriend cheated on me and I found a note to their lover inside their diary, I need a haircut because I have a job interview tomorrow and I know how important nice hair is to the person who’s going to interview me because she used to be a hairstylist, and so on. To extract explicit needs, it’s important to follow the SPIN process very carefully and skillfully and put on your “Elephant Ears”.  For me to identify the true explicit needs of this company it was necessary for me to do some skillful SPIN selling. What they had given me was their implied need. They wanted to stop killing the puppies.  This is simply an outcome and not the problem itself.  To fix their problem, I needed to ask a lot of questions.   SPIN is about drilling down and listening with Elephant Ears to identify explicit needs.  People only change beliefs after they realize their explicit needs are not being met.  After many discussions about the problem, what they’d done to correct it to date, and other things about their business, I finally asked, “What’s actually killing these puppies?”  The conversation went on without my involvement on the other end of the phone for at least 10 minutes. They argued back and forth making points and counterpoints until it was agreed it was likely the temperature in the back of the trucks or an accumulation of ammonia vapor from the urine which was causing these puppies to die. I then inquired, is there anything else about delivering puppies which causes you and your team to lose sleep at night?  A conversation ensued, and someone suggested knowing where the trucks were at any time would be very helpful. (Implied Need) I probed more as to what the implications of this would be if fixed and if not fixed.  A discussion began, and the answers were: 1) this would help them predict when the puppies would arrive at their destination, or 2) it would help them with customer service. I said, “If I hear you correctly, either the high temperature, the ammonia, or a combination of both is likely killing the puppies on long trips around the country?”  Almost in unison, I heard the response on the other end say, “YES!”  I then asked, “What are the implications to the business if your business doesn’t solve this problem?”  Once again, another discussion ensued.  The responses were: 1) upwards of $600.00/puppy if it dies, 2) clean up after a dead puppy, 3) inability to deliver what was promised to their customers, 4) social media backlash and protesting if puppies keep dying, and the list went on and on.  In sales and in changing minds, it’s imperative to have the customer think on and express the implications of resolving and not resolving their explicit needs verbally.  By doing so, you can address them in the “Need Payoff” portion of the SPIN sell.  I reflected my understanding of their implications in my own words and they responded “Yes, there were, in fact, many negatives associated with not solving this problem.”  I then asked them, “What are the implications to solving this problem?”  The feedback to this question was swift and heartfelt: 1) they would all likely keep their jobs, 2) most if not all the puppies would live, 3) the company could live up to investors and public expectations, 4) social media couldn’t fault them for dead puppies, 5) the drivers could be more careful if notified of dangerous puppy conditions and pull over to ventilate the cage area – the list went on and on.  Then I went in for the (excuses the pun) kill.  I asked, “If I could monitor both the temperature and ammonia of your puppy delivery trucks while they’re traveling down the road and notify both the company and the truck driver of the situation in time for the driver to pull over and ventilate the puppy area, would this be a benefit to the company, puppy store owners, your investors, and the public?  The answer I received back was a resounding “YES!” I then asked, “If I could track each and every truck while its moving down the highways and byways of our country and display this information for you on a website, would this be of benefit?”  Once again, I could imagine the heads nodding on the other end of the phone as they said emphatically, “YES!”   

Fast forward a couple weeks, I had a purchase order and a trial under way.  All this was because of SPIN.   Anyone who’s capable of “putting on their elephant ears” and “asking good questions” could have done the exact same thing.

In my opinion, SPIN can change minds and the way SE (Street Epistemology) practitioners engage with ILs (interlocutors) in an extremely positive way. When someone says, “I have a belief in a God,” some SE practitioners follow with questions such as, “What specific God are you referring to?”  “What leads you to believe the Bible is true?” etc.  Unless the cost of making a decision is low, it is difficult to change one’s behavior or consider another alternative.  When you buy milk at the store, the decision and risk of what to buy among the available alternatives is low.  If you buy the wrong milk, say 2% instead of Skim, or 1%, it’s only a couple bucks, right? It’s not a big deal.  Low-risk decisions are evaluated more quickly and without much consideration of the alternatives.  We may not go through all the mental gymnastics of our decision or seriously consider our explicit needs for a low risk purchase or change of perspective.  We may only require our implied needs be met in this case.  If, for example, you are put in charge of buying a new phone system for your company, there is a very clear implied need for a phone system.  What about all the explicit needs therein such as the ability for conferencing, muting, interfacing with other telecom devices, forwarding to cell phones, etc? The decision here is much more complex and the implications to you and the company can be extensive.  These implications are the explicit needs which must be met before any meaningful choice of what system to purchase can be made.  As SE practitioners, if we in any way start questioning an IL’s God belief, it’s a “BIG” deal to the IL. If we enter our questioning lightly and only consider the obvious and implied issue, “This person believes in a God, why do they believe in a God?” we are missing a very important step in what should be a successful process.  I wonder how our IL’s responses would change if we asked the following questions?

  • Is it a problem for you if someone you know holds beliefs you believe are wrong and possibly dangerous to him/her self and others?
  • What is life like for people who believe in true things over false things?
  • What would be the implications of someone only believing in true things?
  • What would be the implications of someone believing in a false God?
  • What are the implications of someone having a belief (or non-belief) in a God?
  • What are the implications of believing in a God to a person’s immediate Family?
  • How would someone’s life change if they didn’t believe in a God, or Ghosts, or Karma?
  • How do you think most God-fearing families would treat their family member if they left the church?
  • How is a person’s life who doesn’t believe what you believe in X different from yours?
  • What would be the implications to you personally if you stopped believing in X?
  • How might a person approach their family if they firmly believed something others may disagree with?
  • Would it be worth it to change ones opinion if it may indirectly cause derision within oneself or others?

Lastly, after asking probing questions to expand implied needs and beliefs into explicit ones, it is imperative to ask good “Need Payoff” questions. This closes the loop on all the questioning and puts a ribbon and bow on your efforts.  Without the Need Payoff questions, the individual or IL cannot easily and mentally connect your suggested solution to the identified explicit needs / beliefs.  Some examples of Need Payoff questions might look like this:

  • If a person could find a way to believe what is true, shed themselves of what is false and keep the peace in their family, would this be a benefit?
  • If a person had more time to spend with their family on Sunday and had acquired a belief in something which fulfilled their life in a better way, would this be a benefit to them and their family?
  • If someone believes their spouse is abusive and there is a solution that can rid them painlessly of this situation, would they see any benefit in taking a chance to make a change in their life?

As you know, this site is called Gateway Beliefs.  This being the case, it’s important (in my mind) to draw a clear parallel to this point  Whenever we engage in any sort mind expanding activities as SE practitioners, we are selling critical thinking, whether we are conscious of this or not.  When SEing we’re helping people open their minds to the possibilities outside of their traditional way of thinking. It’s important we enter these conversations thoughtfully and with great care.  If we enter our conversations with a mindset believing the implied beliefs posited by our IL are their explicit need, we are selling a solution without in many ways drilling down on to our IL’s true needs. How these people will feel and the implications of changing their own minds is huge and risky.  Most beliefs have much deeper meaning to our ILs.  Our job is to blow up implied needs to explicit and help our IL’s better understand all the implications of doing nothing or doing something to fix the situation they find themselves in. I believe if SE practitioners put on their Elephant Ears and drill down with thoughtful and probing Socratic questions, they can actually expose the deep seeded and hard to draw out explicit needs and beliefs of our IL’s .  In doing this, SE practitioners can truly help our IL’s move their lives in a positive way one Socratic question at a time.



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