Neil Rackham

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Neil Rackham is an author, consultant and academic who is widely recognized as one of the founders of modern sales theory. He is a leading authority on "consultative selling," an approach he pioneered and documented in a bestselling book SPIN®Selling (McGraw-Hill).[1] The book, translated into more than 30 languages, remains a classic and a staple of business school curricula three decades after its 1988 publication. It was named the No. 1 sales book of all time by Inc. magazine in 2013 [2] and introduced a new paradigm for big complex transactions in the worlds of sales and negotiation.

Founder and former CEO of Huthwaite Inc., a sales performance improvement firm, Rackham is considered one of the most creative thinkers in the field and, as one sales commentator described him, “perhaps the most respected voice of all time in sales.”[3] His theories, outlined in several bestselling books and scholarly journal articles, are recognized around the globe for their originality and foundation in scientifically-measured evidence and facts. More than half of all Fortune 500 companies train their sales forces today with methods derived from Rackham’s research and conclusions. [4]

“Neil Rackham has done more than any other business thinker to advance the field of sales,” said Philip Kotler, distinguished professor of international marketing at the Kellogg School of Marketing at Northwestern University.[5]

Rackham has been a consultant to executives and board members at more than 40 of the U.S. Fortune 500 companies, including IBM, Xerox, AT&T, Citicorp, GE, Microsoft, and Oracle, as well as to professional services organizations such as KPMG, Booz Allen, and McKinsey & Co., where he served as external adviser on negotiation, sales and channel management from 1992-2000.[6]

He is currently a visiting professor at Portsmouth University, Cranfield School of Management, and Sheffield University, all in his native England, as well as at the University of Cincinnati, and is a frequent lecturer at conferences, business schools, and corporations around the world.

Early Life[edit]

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Neil Rackham was born in England and spent some of his early years in Borneo, where his parents were civil servants. He was later educated at Totton Grammar School, Hampshire, England and then studied psychology at Sheffield University where he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1966.

He continued as a post-graduate research fellow in psychology at Sheffield through 1969, developing new tools to study and measure the role of interpersonal skills in successful negotiating and selling.


Rackham’s work as a research fellow led to his first books, The Evaluation of Management Training (Gower Press, 1970), written with Peter B. Warr and Michael William Bird; Developing Interactive Skills (Wellens Publishing, 1971), co-authored with Peter Honey and Michael J. Colbert; and Behaviour Analysis in Training (McGraw-Hill UK, 1977), with Terry Morgan.

From 1970 to 1974, Rackham served as managing director of Performance Improvement Ltd., improving high-level job skills for clients such as IBM, BP, British Airways, Xerox and Honeywell.

In 1974, he founded the Huthwaite Research Group, which later became Huthwaite Inc., a global research and consulting firm based in Northern Virginia, and, Huthwaite Ltd., based in the United Kingdom.

Having developed methods for measuring interactive behavior in his research fellowship, Rackham produced a series of seminal articles that focused on practices and behavior associated with successful negotiations: Developing Negotiating Skills[7] (Industrial and Commercial Training) and The Effective Negotiator — Part I: The Behaviour of Successful Negotiators [8] and Part 2: Planning for Negotiations[9] (co-authored by John Carlisle, Journal of European Industrial Training).

Deciding to apply these same methods to the world of sales and explore effective behaviors in successful business-to-business selling, Rackham sought the support of major multinational companies including Xerox and IBM, and raised an initial $1 million for a landmark study.

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The project, the first to scientifically measure selling and buying behavior and by far the largest study of its kind, involved a team of 30 researchers who studied 35,000 sales calls in over 20 countries. The research spanned 12 years. [10]

It led to the publication of Making Major Sales (Gower Press, 1988), a book that had a tremendous impact on the world of sales in Europe, and then to two New York Times business bestsellers — SPIN®Selling (McGraw-Hill, 1988) and, one year later, Major Account Sales Strategy (McGraw-Hill) — earning international acclaim for its author.

The theories behind these books, seen as controversial at first,[11] have since been recognized as game-changers in the world of selling.


At the time, the conventional wisdom in the sales world was that "selling was selling" - that the techniques that were successful in smaller consumer sales worked equally well in more complex business-to-business transactions. Rackham’s multi-year research project turned this thinking on its ear and showed that, on the contrary, conventional methods developed for small consumer sales, such as widely used techniques for closing the deal, failed miserably when applied in more complex transactions. He found that greater success could be achieved in larger-scale transactions by focusing on a series of questions related to a customer’s situation, problem, implication, and need-payoff, or SPIN.[12]

Rackham’s premise in SPIN®Selling is that the most successful sellers are seen by their customers as consultants or problem solvers who are working in the customers’ best interest. “The best selling isn’t at all about your products and what you can offer. It’s very much about the customers and their need,” he has said. “People do not buy from salespeople because they understand their products but because they felt the salesperson understood their problems.”[13]

Rackham asserted that, instead of starting with a head-on sales pitch about their wares, the most effective sellers start with a series of questions about the buyer and then present their product or service as a way to meet the buyer’s needs.

His research showed that highly effective sales people talk about solutions and what they can offer very late in the sales process rather than up front. Similarly, he found that the more time the customer talks in a sales call, the higher probability that the sales call will succeed.

“SPIN was a revolution in the approach to sales,” said Charles H. Green, founder and CEO of Trusted Advisor Associates, “and still rings fresh today.”[14]

In its list of the “Top 10 ‘How To Sell’ Books of All Time,” Inc. magazine ranked SPIN®Selling No. 1, writing:

″Finally, this is the book that turned selling from an art into a science. While other sales books are heavy with anecdotes and assumptions, Neil Rackham examined hard evidence of actual sales performance and codified what works — and what doesn’t — in real world sales situations. A must-read for everyone who sells″[15]

SPIN®Selling remains one of McGraw-Hill’s all-time top-selling business books. It is currently Amazon’s best-selling book on sales.[16]

Other Publications

Among Rackham’s other books on sales and marketing are The Management of Major Sales (McGraw-Hill, 1991) with Richard Ruff; Getting Partnering Right (McGraw-Hill, 1996), with Lawrence Friedman and Richard Ruff, and the New York Times business bestseller Rethinking the Sales Force (McGraw-Hill, 2000), co-authored with John DeVincentis.[17]

In addition to books, Rackham has written more than 150 articles on marketing, selling and channel strategy including “Ending the War Between Sales and Marketing,” co-authored with Philip Kotler and Suj Krishnaswamy for Harvard Business Review (2006),[18]“Breadth of a Salesman,” with John DeVincentis, for McKinsey Quarterly (1998),[19]and “Why Bad Things Happen to Good New Products” for the Journal of Product Innovation Management (1998).[20]

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Consulting and teaching

Rackham led Huthwaite Inc. until 2003 and later became a strategic advisor to the firm he founded.

He has been a visiting professor of sales and marketing at Portsmouth University since 2006; a visiting professor of sales strategy at the Cranfield School of Management since 2008; an executive professor of professional selling at the Carl H. Lindner College of Business at the University of Cincinnati since 2011; and visiting professor of sales at Sheffield University since 2014.

He has also been a guest or visiting lecturer at numerous U.S. business schools including Harvard Business School, Wharton, Kellogg School of Management, Darden School of Business, Kelley School of Business, Ohio University, and Purdue University.

Honors and awards[edit]

  • Lifetime Contribution Award, University Sales Education Foundation, 2010, for outstanding contributions to professional selling
  • Lifetime Achievement “Stevie” award, 2010, “for his unique contributions to the sales profession”
  • Honorary Doctorate of Laws, Portsmouth University, 2009 “for his distinguished contributions to methodology, research and writing that have transformed our understanding of sales.”
  • Innovative Contribution Award, Instructional Systems Association-The Association of Learning Providers, 2002
  • Patron, Sales Leadership Alliance; Patron, Sales Performance Association; Honorary Fellow, Sales Training Association

Personal life[edit]

Rackham lives in Northern Virginia with his wife, Ava Abramowitz, a professorial lecturer in law at George Washington University Law School and the author of the Architect’s Essentials of Negotiation (Wiley, 2009).


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  5. ^ HSM Marketing Summit, June 2004
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  7. ^ Developing NEGOTIATING skills, Neil Rackham, Industrial and Commercial Training, Volume: 4 Issue: 6, 1972
  8. ^ The Effective Negotiator — Part I: The Behaviour of Successful Negotiators, Neil Rackham, John Carlisle, Journal of European Industrial Training, Volume: 2 Issue: 6, 1978
  9. ^ The Effective Negotiator — Part 2: Planning for Negotiations, Neil Rackham, John Carlisle, Journal of European Industrial Training, Volume: 2 Issue: 7, 1978
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