Hurlstone & Partners SPIN® selling for 21st Century salespeople

Dave Tickle runs a technical sales agency called Hurlstone & Partners, specialising in heating and ventilating equipment. Operating out of Birmingham and Bury, Hurlstone and Partners covers much of the UK dealing with consulting engineers and contractors. This was not always so.

Back in 1980, Dave joined Haden Young, a major electrical contractor, as a Project Manager. Haden Young were developing a customer centric focus and thought it might be helpful if their Project Managers had some sales training. David’s reaction was predictable; “Me? Sales training? You must be joking, I am an engineer, not a seller!” His protests were futile and off he went to the sales training programme along with a dozen other Project Managers.

The first thing he was asked to do on the course was to write down adjectives describing his experiences with salespeople. As Dave recalled the doubleglazing and encyclopedia sellers he had encountered, the negative adjectives flowed. Within minutes he was feeling very uncomfortable indeed about the selling role.

However, by the end of the first day his view of selling had changed radically and he was beginning to find the course engaging. Mainly because the research on which the programme was based revealed that successful salespeople didn’t adopt the dubious tactics he had experienced. On the contrary the most successful people seemed to concentrate on exploring and understanding their customers’ needs, rather than pushing their products. This was in direct contrast to his experience of the salespeople he had encountered.

At the end of the four days, he was converted. “It completely changed my attitude to selling” he recalls. “I now recognized what effective selling really is – certainly not what I had been exposed to in the past.” The course Dave had attended was Huthwaite’s SPIN® selling skills programme.

A few years later, a client asked Dave if he had ever considered moving into selling and within a matter of months he found himself with a new role as a Technical Sales Engineer. Dave recalls “SPIN® had changed the way I approached customers as an engineer, but now I could use it for what it was really designed to do – sell.” Over the next few months Dave found the customer centered, diagnostic approach of SPIN® to be really effective in his new sales role.

The years passed and Dave found himself with a family and eventually became a partner in his own company. A couple of years ago his son, Alex, joined the firm and in 2006 Dave thought it time he too went through SPIN® sales training. Like his father back in 1980, Alex didn’t really see why he was going on the course. After all, his father had attended twenty-six years ago, surely things must have changed in the world of selling since then. Could this training programme still be applicable in today’s world? Reservations or not, Alex decided to attend with an open mind, even if he did admit on the first day to not knowing quite why he was there!

“All I can say is that it has changed the way I sell”, says Alex, “I never realized just how much time most sellers spend talking about their products and services. I think what I have really learnt, is the importance of exploring the customer’s needs by asking smart SPIN® questions, then shutting up and listening to my customers responses. This is clearly just as important today as it ever was”.

Dave Tickle has achieved his goal of making SPIN® the sales ethos for Hurlstone and Partners. Is this the first father and son SPIN® partnership? We can’t say for sure, given the millions of salespeople who have read the books about our research or attended our SPIN® selling skills programmes. But it has been a milestone for the people at Huthwaite, who were involved in the original research, to realize we are now training the second generation of salespeople.

Tony Hughes Managing Director of Huthwaite comments, “It’s thirty years since Huthwaite pioneered research into selling skills. From there we have continually validated and updated our work, across a wide range of markets including Information Technology, Medical equipment, Manufacturing and Financial services. We have been delighted to find that the SPIN® model is just as effective today as it was when we conducted the original research. The fundamentals of successful selling remain the same, focus on your customer and their needs so you can match your solution to what they want. In every market we have investigated, this approach is always more successful than aggressively pushing products and services at the customer.”