Open-ended questions are essential for your sales strategy and closing more business. They allow sales reps to discover a prospect's goals and challenges tactfully without being pushy.
Using better open-ended questions will help to:
- build rapport
- position yourself as an expert & thought leader
- uncover pain points & challenges
- define true need
- discover goals
- show the value of your offering
What is an Open-ended Question in Sales?
Open-ended sales questions are questions you a prospect for the purpose of discovery and a way to start a meaningful dialogue. These types of questions are meant to be conversational while uncovering critical details to advance the sales process.
How do you ask Open-ended questions?
You have your first prospect meeting - Awesome! You’re hyped for the sales meeting, ready to assess “Good Fit” potential of your prospect. Now you run preflight inventory:
- arrived 15 minutes early ✓
- groomed ✓
- prospect & company research ✓
- slide deck ✓
- discovery and qualifying questions (I guess so). Big red flag for me!
I’ve attended hundreds of sales meetings where I’ve heard the broad, non-specific questions making the sales rep sound like an amateur. I was once part of that club and didn't understand how asking the right questions would impact my overall chances of success.
Question Asking Tips
- They are prospects not suspects - So, don't interrogate them.
- Keep it natural - So, avoid the mechanical list of questions.
- Have patience - So, slow the process down & let the prospect do 90% of the talking.
- Be the expert - So, if you don't know the answer say you get them one.
- You're there to help not sell - So, drown the conversations with jargon & tactics.
- Be solution oriented - So, position your product or service as "the" solution.
Avoid Closed-ended Questions
Most sales reps rely on the same three types of sales questions:
- General fact gathering questions
- Goal assessment questions
- Safe, flattering questions to build rapport
While these types of questions are valuable, they’re more effective when combined with more powerful types of sales questions. Ones that allow the prospect to share their biggest challenges and opportunities.
Open-ended Questions Examples
Asking good open-ended questions early in the sales process is the best way to start a healthy dialogue and assess good fit potential. However, what are the best open ended questions? Here we've compiled examples of the top 7 questions to ask:
1. Fact-Gathering Questions
Ask one or two fact-gathering sales questions to gather background, insight and context that’ll help you learn about how your prospect’s unique business.
However, limit these types of questions as they offer little value to the prospect. Asking too many of these questions can damage your credibility and make you sound uninformed.
- "What do you consider your priority product or service?"
- "What's the purpose of your website?"
- "What's your Competitive Edge?"
Questions to Avoid
- "How long have you been in business?"
- "What size is your company?"
- "How many people do you employ?"
Why? Because you “should” know the answer to these questions. Don’t let the prospect feel you’re not prepared.
Discovered Fact Usage: I’m able to reference any of these facts while in conversation and sound like a rock star. Here’s my CRM dashboard below…
2. Goal Assessment Questions
I use goal-assessment questions during the discovery process to reveal what the prospect wants to achieve. This might be a personal goal, like a promotion, a functional goal, like meeting a sales goal that quarter, or even a company-wide goal, like increasing customer retention or lead quality.
As a salesperson, you’ll show how your product or service will help the prospect achieve their goals.
Example open ended question: “What do you hope to accomplish in the next year?” You can also ask the prospect to explain projects they’re working on and how those projects help them reach their top-tier objectives.
3. Priority Questions
Priority questions uncover the buyer’s most important goals and challenges. A well-crafted priority question is a great follow-up to a series of goal-assessment questions. Don’t assume that you know the prospects’ priorities based on past customer experiences and treat each prospect as unique.
Without using priority questions, you might base your entire sales approach on a false premise. Examples of priority types of questions:
- “What does success look like for your sales team?” and
- “What would you like to achieve this quarter?”
4. Thought-Provoking Questions
Effective thought-provoking questions reveal new information and ideas to the prospect, potentially re-framing their worldview.
A successful thought-provoking question can help the salesperson establish his or herself as not one of a salesperson, but one of a thought leader, which fosters trust.
Thought-provoking questions begin with phrases like “Did you know…?”, “Have you heard…?”, etc. Share information like surprising statistics, new strategies and interesting trends to pique the prospect’s interest while building credibility.
5. Hypothetical Questions
Hypothetical questions get the prospect to visualize the future without your solution. Example questions (framed in the negative):
- “What happens if you don’t achieve [PRIMARY GOAL]?” or
- “Would you be concerned if your situation hasn’t changed over the next few months?”
Now use positive Hypotheticals to show how your product or service will improve their business. Ask your prospect what it would be like if, in a few months’ time, their current situation improved because of the positive impact of your product or service.
Positive hypothetical questions allow the prospect to:
- Visualize working with your company
- Seeing a world where your solution plays a key role
- Differentiates your company from the competition
6. Clarifying Questions
Unlike other types of sales questions, clarifying questions are often closed-ended queries. These questions help confirm past answers and make sure you’re reaching the right conclusions. It’s best to ask these types of questions right after the prospect has revealed key information or pivotal fact.
For instance, the prospect mentions the company has a problem but has taken no significant steps to solve this problem. Here you’d respond with a question asking them to explain the steps taken. This might involve asking the prospect how long the problem has occurred and whether they’ve seen any measurable results.
7. Objection-Surfacing Questions
Get straight to the point
Objection-surfacing sales questions include:
- “What reservations do you have about [specific detail of the product]?” and
- “Are you ready to move forward?”
OK, so what happens when there are objections?
While exploring the prospect’s concerns can be nerve-wracking (for both parties), it’s important to get any objections out in the open so you can address them head-on. Be transparent and never defensive.
Remember, you’re there to be helpful so don’t move forward until all objections are clear… otherwise, anything to come from here on out is pointless… and you’ll never close the deal.
If you don’t know the answer to a question or concern… DON’T GUESS! You’ll only risk the prospect of seeing your self-doubt and you will lose credibility! Keep in mind that hiring a new vendor/partner can be stressful for the prospect. They simply want to make the best decision on a long-term relationship.
A reply I like to use: “That’s a great question. So I can get you the most accurate answer for your situation, would it OK if I connect with my technical team and reply tomorrow?”. They will respect your humility and honesty. BTW - No one has ever said no me when I ask that question.
You can’t be an expert in all things and you need to accept that. Once you do, you’ll be able to navigate a better response without ever compromising your position.
Having a logical flow to your questions will yield productive, accurate answers from your sales prospects. By using a better framework of sales questions, your meetings, and calls will be like conversations instead of interrogations which is a win-win.
Remember the goal of your sales questions is to assess a good fit potential and show thought leadership in the prospects vertical. If you do this, your prospect will include you in their decision-making process.
If you think you need a little sales advice or bounce an idea, you may reach me on Twitter. Good luck!