The goal of a salesperson is to assure your customer that you have the solution to their problem. To do that, they have to know what the problem is. You have to be sure that your sales representatives know how to ask open-ended salesquestions to ensure successful deal closings – and that you can do the same. Open-ended questions are an important foundation for any sales strategy because they allow you to understand your customer’s wishes and needs with subtlety.
What Is an Open-Ended Sales Question?
An open-ended question is not one with a simple answer. When trying to understand a customer’s motivations and goals, you don’t want curt “yes” or “no” answers; you want them to deliberate and talk at length. You want to know about their point of view, and open-ended sales questions are what make that happen. The questions are conversational and extend the discussion between you and the customer while revealing important details to the sharp-eared sales associate that can be used during the sales process and in closing a deal. The more the client says in response to the first question, the more details you have to ask further questions.
The clearest example of an open-ended versus a closed-ended question is “Do you have any questions?” versus “What questions can I answer?”. The first could prompt a simple “no,” and then there is a lull in the conversation. The second, however, prompts your listener to deliberate longer and ask several questions that they may have otherwise not thought of.
Questions usually asked by sales representatives include fact-gathering questions, goal-oriented questions, and rapport-building questions. All of these are good and useful to the sales process, but each needs to allow for an open-ended answer and tie in with the larger goals and needs of the client.
Benefits to Open-Ended Question
There are many things that asking open-ended questions does in equipping you with better sales skills. For example:
- It allows you to build trust and rapport with the customer, as it demonstrates your interest.
- You can learn more about the customer’s wants and preferences, as well as define needs, goals, challenges, and other data.
- It places you as the expert in the discussion, presenting the value you bring to the table.
- This will all place you closer to closing a deal.
Open-Ended Rapport-Building Questions
Rapport-building questions start off the conversation and get your customer talking, and help you understand the person you’re working with. It can also make you both more comfortable with a more personal connection and allow you to begin gathering the necessary information.
- Can you tell me your priorities for this meeting?
- What is your background?
- How is business going?
- Would you tell me your upcoming plans for the year?
- What would you like to see improve?
- What is your biggest challenge right now?
- How do you evaluate vendors in the field?
- Could you list your concerns in this area?
Open-Ended Qualifying Questions
These questions can help determine the interest level of your customer in how you’ve approached the conversation. It can also let you know how to proceed. Not every customer is going to buy what you’re selling, and it’s important to figure out how much a customer is committed.
- What’s your timeline for this to be resolved?
- What do you see as the next steps moving forward?
- How do you make a decision regarding this?
- When do you think you should assess these solutions?
- How should we move forward after this?
Open-Ended Priority Questions
These questions are useful for discovering and addressing roadblocks or concerns your customer may have and further understanding their priorities and where their needs lie. These are questions that should be carefully constructed so as to not steer the conversation toward something your product doesn’t fix. Be sure to treat each client as an individual, and don’t assume you know their priorities based only on similar customers.
- What would you like to achieve in the upcoming year?
- What concerns do you have about making this change?
- Does it have a financial impact?
- How is that problem changing how you operate?
- What isn’t working in the current setup?
- What improvements are you hoping to gain from this?
- What is your current budget in this area?
- What would prevent you from making this change right now?
Open-Ended Discovery Questions
A discovery question should be clarifying and probing, provoking thought and deliberation in your customer. The better you understand the customer’s wishes, the better you can tailor a solution to their needs.
- What are your intentions for the future?
- Can you elaborate on that?
- What are your reservations?
- Could you tell me about a specific budget you have in mind?
- What is not working well with the current process?
- What have I not covered that you’d like to hear more about?
- How did that affect your business?
Open-Ended Goal-Based Questions
These help you discover the wishes and wants of your customer if you listen closely. When you know what’s holding them back from achieving their goals, you can better assist them with a solution. Focusing on the benefits of your product and how they attune to the goals of the customer can also help close a deal.
- Why do you think this solution isn’t working?
- How is the problem affecting your business?
- How important is that to your business? How will that change in the future?
- What do you want this meeting to achieve?
- How should we assess the success of this?
- What could we do to avoid similar problems?
Responding to the Answers to Open-Ended Questions
Be sure to ask your questions without rushing into them or being pushy. Show your genuine interest. Your questions should, fundamentally, make your customers talk for as long as they want, and you need to be sure to listen to them and provide useful conversation. Be patient and don’t interrupt; everything you hear can be helpful in a sale.
Learning How to Ask the Right Questions
Increasing your experience with sales and discussions will allow you to keep a better ear out for information that is useful during conversational sales. When you know what to look for, you will find the conversations and subsequent deals going easier. Contact Shapiro Negotiations Institute to learn more about sales and negotiation consulting.