There are good questions.
There are very good questions.
And then there are questions that lead to sales.
Everyone can ask questions. However, the trick to close more deals is to ask the right questions that add value to the prospect qualification process. As a salesperson, you need to get the maximum input from the client to grasp their requirements and pain points. Such questions lay the foundation of a learning experience for you and your prospect. The more you know about your lead, the better are your chances to nurture them towards a successful conversion into buyers.
To get the most out of your interactions with a prospect and to build a solid rapport with them, every salesperson should learn the skill of asking sales open-ended questions. In this post, we will discuss open-ended and close-ended questions and what to ask when to get a complete picture of your prospect’s requirements.
What are Open-Ended Questions?
Open-ended questions have the capacity to initiate and sustain a conversation simply because they do not follow a Yes/No approach. They not only trigger an elaborate response, but they may also vary from person to person and hence reflect a unique perspective, which may further steer the conversation ahead.
Consider objections: when a prospect speaks for at least 30% of the entire interaction, the sales conversion rate improves drastically. Alternatively, a drop in prospect engagement adversely impacts the conversion rates. Clearly, it is essential to have an interactive discussion with the prospect, which is only possible if you ask them sales open-ended questions.
Characteristics of Sales Open-Ended Question
Open-ended questions have the following traits:
- They are conversational in nature and implore the prospect to talk more
- They often lead with Who, What, Why, When, Where, and How
- They do not follow any script or established pattern
- Responses to open-ended questions are rather subjective and unique as they make the client think and answer based on their feelings, insights, and experiences
- They require thought not only for responses but also for follow-up questions
When Should You Ask Open-Ended Questions?
Sales open-ended questions carry out the following tasks:
- Gain insight into the business and relevant processes
- Build a meaningful connection with the prospect
- Lay the foundation for deep, explorative discussions
Thus, given their role, open-ended questions can contribute significantly to qualify leads, nurture them, and to close the sales eventually. Naturally, a client would be more eager to participate in conversations involving open-ended questions as these questions focus more on them than any product or service. Further, they are more effective in gathering lead details as you can gain the information straight from the horse’s mouth.
In a nutshell, they are handy when you wish to receive a thoughtful or reflective answer from your prospect and establish a trusting relationship with them.
What are Close-Ended Questions?
In contrast to sales open-ended questions, close-ended questions elicit a crisp and specific response. They are often used as a strategy to gain control over the conversation and manipulate it in the direction that you consider fit.
Characteristics of Sales Close-Ended Question
Close-ended questions are characterized by the following:
- They demand a quick, succinct, and to the point answer, which is largely factual in nature
- They often begin with verbs like is/are, do/did, could/can, would/will, have/has, etc.
- Responses to closed-ended questions are objective and deliver valuable hard data
When Can You Ask Close-Ended Questions?
One may think that a single word response could be a dead-end question, but close-ended questions also serve a determined purpose. Accordingly, they can be used for:
- Obtaining hard data from a prospect
- Extract functional responses
- Push the sales process forward
Thus, one can see that close-ended questions are useful in the mature stage of the sales process, wherein you need hard data to qualify the lead and move the sales process forward.
Close-Ended Questions vs. Open-Ended Questions
Now that you have a broad understanding of open-ended and close-ended questions and how they differ from each other, let us illustrate the differences through a couple of examples:
|Sales Close-Ended Questions||Sales Open-Ended Questions|
|Would you recommend our product or service?||On a scale of 0-10, how likely are you to recommend our product or service? What made you choose the said rating?|
|Do you enjoy using the XYZ product?||Why did you purchase the XYZ product? What attracted you towards it?|
|Do you like the new and improved features that we have introduced?||What do you think about the new features that we have introduced? Do you have recommendations on how we can make it better?|
|Is that your final decision?||If I may ask, what made you take this decision?|
|Have you ever heard of XYZ product?||How did you come across the XYZ product?|
|What is your organization’s best quality?||How can the best qualities possessed by your company help accelerate its growth?|
|Did you have a good experience with our customer service?||How do you feel about our customer service?|
|Are you happy with your current vendor?||What are some of the qualities of your current vendor that leave you unsatisfied?|
|Would you consider purchasing our product again?||What would make you choose our product again?|
|Did you find what you were looking for?||How can we help you find what you are looking for?|
|Would you be interested in making the purchase today?||What would make you close the deal today?|
|Do you have any questions for us?||What questions can we answer for you now?|
|Did you find this discussion useful?||How can we make this discussion more useful?|
From the above, it becomes obvious that open-ended and close-ended questions are interchangeable. All you need to do is make a few tweaks to get the answer that you want.
False Open-Ended Questions
Before we delve into the art of asking open-ended questions, a word of caution against false open-ended questions.
False sales open-ended questions are basically close-ended questions disguised as open-ended questions. Let us explore them further with the following example:
“Is there any issue, in particular, that you would want to discuss today?”
On the surface, the salesperson may think that this is an open-ended question. Why wouldn’t it be? It asks the prospect about the issues that they wish to discuss, which could eventually lead to discussing the possible solutions. Right?
The question does not truly qualify as a sales open-ended question simply because the client can respond to the questions with a “Yes” or a “No.” Hence, it becomes apparent that the question may not truly initiate a dialogue.
So what can one do now?
Try the following instead:
“What are the particular issues that you want us to focus on today?”
Now, you can see that the prospect cannot reply in a yes/no manner and will elaborate upon the issues that they are facing.
As a rule of thumb, before asking any apparent sales open-ended question, test if a question can be answered in a yes or no form. If yes, then it is a false open-ended question and may need to be restructured.
Best Practices on Asking Sales Open-Ended Questions to Customers
Before we explore the different examples of open-ended questions, here are a few Dos and Don’ts that you must keep in mind:
1. Encourage Responses Rather Than Interpreting Them
The point of asking open-ended questions is to understand the user’s perspective. If you find yourself making assumptions, giving explanations, or interpreting what the lead is saying, it simply means that you are not doing the most important thing - Listening.
Allow the prospect to convey their point of view. Refrain from interrupting their narrative and engage in relevant follow-up questioning. Finally, ask them questions to narrow down the conversation right to the specifics where you may plug your product or service.
2. Display Curiosity
To be a good salesperson, you need to be a good listener. And to listen more, you need to show your curiosity. Curiosity allows you to probe further and get the prospect talking about their business and its pain points. Further, it also acts as a trust-building exercise as the client feels comfortable discussing their issues.
In fact, you can build better rapport with the client by taking a genuine interest in what they have to say even if it is unrelated to your product/service. In doing so, you are sending a clear message that you are willing to dedicate your time to the client, even if it doesn’t benefit you in terms of sales.
Given that prospects often participate in several interactions with innumerable sales reps, they have the sixth sense to weed out genuine interest and curiosity. As the famous saying goes, “You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.” In this case, they are the ones judging you.
3. Go Off Script and Improvise
When you find a prospect opening up to you, the last thing that you would want to do is go by a script and derail the entire conversation. Personalizing a conversation is an essential sales skill. Using generic questions will surely sabotage the rapport that you are trying so hard to build.
All the sales open-ended questions that you pose to the client must pertain to their business name, size, type, and needs. Further, these questions are tailored depending on the stage of the sales process at which the prospect stands. Most importantly, it must be linked to the context of ongoing or previous communication. Asking the same questions over and over again or steering the conversation in a haphazard manner is only going to cast doubt on your sales abilities.
4. Speak, But Also Learn Silence
A seasoned salesperson understands and appreciates the art of ‘strategic silence.’
Also known as the ‘dead air’ technique, popularized by Michael Hyatt, reps utilize the power of silence to nudge the client towards sharing more details. Trust your instinct to know where the conversation is headed and accordingly choose to keep quiet. Remember, it is always better to say nothing than to say too much.
5. Avoid Aggressive Interrogations
You may think that getting answers is your primary role. So you equip yourself with the best sales open-ended questions and start unloading them on the client one by one.
Stop right there!
Bombarding your prospect with questions will not only put them on the backfoot but will also make them highly uncomfortable. You are not running an interrogation center. The purpose of open-ended questions is to give the clients a gentle push towards meaningful conversations. Sending them hurtling down this path will end up in sheer disaster.
A good practice would be to intersperse sales open-ended questions, closed-ended questions, some friendly banter, anecdotes, and even jokes. This mixed-approach not only makes the conversation less intimidating, but it also establishes trust.
6. Diversify Your Responses
Active listening calls for responding at the right time amidst a conversation. However, if every second comment is an “I see” or “that’s intriguing,” then you might probably just wear out your prospect. As stated previously, clients have mastered the art of identifying those displaying fake enthusiasm and curiosity. So, you might want to listen to the responses and react accordingly. Furthermore, brushing up on your responses to avoid sounding monotonous can make you appear genuinely involved in the conversation than sounding like a mere parrot repeating a bunch of phrases.
7. Practice Patience
Remember, you are attempting to draw out a response that is based on emotions and experience. Thus, it may take the client a while to respond to your sales open-ended question. While everyone knows that you have your own goals to meet, nobody likes to be rushed. So bite your tongue when you feel the urge to move on to the next question and have the courtesy to let your client speak to their heart’s content. Hurrying onto the next item on your agenda will result in the loss of valuable information and trust.
Additionally, some clients may come back to previous questions after a while. Give them the freedom to bounce back and forth, and you may be rewarded with some vital insight. Most importantly, don’t directly jump to dishing out advice and solutions and resort to exploring the problems even further.
Examples of High-Value Sales Open-Ended Questions
Here are a few examples of open-ended questions that you can ask your prospects:
1. What is the biggest obstacle that you are facing regarding your current process?
This sales open-ended question is a great stepping stone to get the ball rolling and start exploring the client’s pain points. Once the prospect has listed the ongoing issues, you may follow up with a question that focuses on a specific challenge mentioned in the list. Use something like, “You mentioned being frustrated because of XYZ. Could you elaborate on this?”
2. What seems to be working perfectly in your current process?
Naturally, businesses would not want an overnight transformation in all their processes. While the company may be open to a few tweaks and upgrades, it may wish to retain certain essential processes that form the backbone of the operations. Asking this question allows them to discuss the well-functioning parts of the current process. As a sales rep, you may then talk about how your product/service enhances this core process and adds value to it.
3. What are some specific issues that are stopping you from tapping your full potential?
Companies may be unable to proceed further due to a variety of reasons. These impediments could be budget, timeframes, or something else. It is important to identify these roadblocks so that the sales rep can understand the issues faced by the organization.
4. What has been the best approach with respect to your previous solutions?
This question gives you an insight into the solutions that have already been tried and the corresponding results. It also sheds light on how and why the previous solution was chosen. On some occasions, the best solutions arise internally, but the company is unable to implement it effectively. Once you understand what has worked (and what hasn’t), you can easily plug your product or service.
5. According to you, what should an ideal process look like? What will it allow you to achieve?
While this sales open-ended question may be a bit of a risk, considering that your prospect may cite solutions that are beyond the scope of your product/service, it is well worth a shot to get an understanding of what they expect. Additionally, it lays the groundwork for the salesperson to personalize the conversation and relate it to the client’s requirements.
6. What are your major concerns regarding the business process changes?
This trust-building sales open-ended question will bring to prominence the concerns regarding the change in the current processes. It also subtly pushes the client to frankly talk about issues like time constraints or budget limitations, which were the common cause of resisting changes. Exploring this aspect allows you to address these concerns by proposing a robust solution for them.
7. Who are the other stakeholders, who we should involve in this conversation?
This question aims at discovering the true decision-makers. These executives are the individuals you must pitch to, and make them realize what you bring to the table. Excellent follow-up questions to this would be, “What do you think it would take to bring this team on board with our proposal?” or “How does the decision-making process work?” The responses to these questions will prepare you for future meetings with these decision-makers.
8. What can I do to aid you in finalizing this decision?
The ultimate goal of every interaction is closing the deal. Asking this question will set off the negotiation rounds, where you will have to make use of your prudence and instinct to offer the best deal that you can, depending on the client’s requirements. You will also have to deal with and handle client objections and address them.
In this background, this sales open-ended question is almost like the final showdown wherein you have to persuade the client that your product/service is the best fit for their organization.
9. What questions do you have that I may not have answered yet?
A better alternative to “are there any questions,” this sales open ended-question is a perfect way to end a discussion or presentation. Any client who is seriously and genuinely interested in your product will capitalize on this opportunity to ask more questions.
Bonus: Prompts to Probe Further
If you are stuck in a situation where you seek more information, try any of the following prompts listed below:
- So, what did you mean when you said [quote]?
- Interesting, how so?
- On a personal front, what does this mean to you?
- Why is that?
- Could you please clarify what you meant when you said [quote]?
- Can you, maybe, elaborate on ABC?
So, What are Your Key Takeaways From Here?
Intimately knowing your prospect can significantly improve your chances of closing a sale. And to know your prospect, you must possess the skill to ask leading questions that can grant you access to a wealth of information. As a salesperson, you can employ sales open-ended questions to assess your prospects and get them to open up about their business and issues.
Drilling the prospect with a list of questions will only make them clam up. On the other hand, a simple act of asking the right set of open-ended questions at an apt time can build trustworthiness and rapport with your clients. Furthermore, it allows you to offer better solutions to their business issues.
Most importantly, asking sales open-ended questions allows your client to feel heard. It reinforces the belief that they are having a legitimate conversation with someone who truly understands them.
As they say: if you take care of your clients, your business will take care of itself.