Introduction to Open-Ended Questions

This is the third article in our series on sales questions.  If you haven’t had a chance to read them, you should take a look at the first two articles in this series; “Why, The Importance of Sales Questions – Part 1” and “Five Reasons Why You Need To Use Sales Questions – Part 2.”  We also did a audio podcast “Asking The Right Sales Questions Can Lead to Sales Success.”  All of these can give you a good foundation for using sales questions.

Two Types of Sales Questions

As you start to master using sales questions, the first thing that you will notice is that sales questions fall into two categories:

  1. Open-ended questions
  2. Close-ended questions

Both open-ended questions and close-ended questions are important.   When you use them correctly, your sales will start to skyrocket.  You will start to see dramatic improvements in:Open-Ended Questions Give You The Information sales strategy workshop michael carter

  • Your sales numbers
  • A shorter sales cycle
  • More satisfied customers
  • More money in your pocket

In this article, we will take a close look at the open-ended questions.

The Open-ended Question

If you want to understand the prospects problems or challenges, you need open-ended questions.

If you want information about the person you are selling to, you use open-ended questions.  If you want your prospect to relax, you use open-ended questions.

You want to use open-ended questions when you want them to think about the answer they give.

Open-ended question seek out answers that require the prospect to think.  You use open-ended question when you want the prospect to give you an unfiltered response.  In most cases, you never ask a question that you don’t know the answer to.  This is not the case when you decide to use an open-ended question.

The Five W’s and an H

If you have ever taken a journalism course you probably remember who, what, where, and why.  This represented the key information you needed when investigating a story.  This is known as the five W’s and an H.  Five W’s and an H represent the six (6) questions to be used in any investigation.  In the early stages of the sales process, that’s exactly what you are doing.  You are investigating why someone would invest in your product or service.  The five W’s and an H are who, what, where, when, why, and how.

  1. Who, other than yourself, will be involved in making the buying decision?
  2. What is the most important benefit you expect to gain from this purchase?
  3. Where will you be using this service?
  4. When do you need to have delivery?
  5. Why are you considering this purchase now?
  6. How will the buying decision be made?

When searching for information and trying to establish rapport, use Open-Ended-Questions.  Here are the three main characteristics of the open ended question:

  • They ask the person to reflect and think.
  • They provide you with their feelings and opinions.
  • They hand control of the conversation to the other person.

That last point is important. You hand control over to the other person.  If you are going into a close, a decision point, never use an open-ended question.  You don’t want to lose control.

When to Use Open-Ended Questions

I think by now you understand that one of the reasons we ask questions is to get information.  So when do you ask open-ended questions?

The two main phases of the sales process where you will use open-ended questions are in the warm-up and the needs analysis.

The Warm Up

One long held belief is that if they don’t like you, they won’t buy from you.  How do you get them to like you?  By letting them talk.  The best way to do this is to use open-ended questions.  Research has also shown that the more you let someone talk the more they like you.  It’s also a fact that if a prospect likes you they are more likely to buy from you.

It’s a good idea to start the warm-up stage of the sales process by asking open-ended questions.  This could be your first visit or your tenth.  Don’t start off the meeting talking about business.  Talk about what they want to talk about.  Your goal is to help them to relaxed and comfortable with you.

Open-Ended Questions To Use In The Warm-Up

In the warm-up, ask questions about them and their company.  Look for items in their office that tell you something about them outside the office.  Some of these may not follow the 5 W’s and an H, but they show how you can arrange your questions to get to the same end:

“That’s a nice picture, how old are your kids?”  Everyone likes to talk about their family.

“I see you are a golfer, do you get out much?” This is good if you have seen pictures of them on a golf course or golf clubs in the corner.

“Wow, you’ve been with the company for 10 years, did you start off in this office?”  This is because you saw a service plaque on their desk.

As you can see, none of these questions can harm you in the sales process.  Each one of them gives the prospect a chance to talk and for you to listen.  They relax and you get information that can help you in the sales process.  I would suggest that you take some time to develop a list of open-ended questions that you could use in the warm up.  This is best done during your pre call planning.

Open-Ended Questions to use in the Needs Analysis

One of the most important parts of the sales process is the needs analysis.  This is the stage of the sales process where you gather the information you will need to develop your solution.  You want information that tells you what you need to do to make the sale.  Your goal is to understand their buying process, their challenges, and their needs.

“Why did you decide to see us today?”

“What lead you to look at our company?” This allows them to start to describe their current challenges and their reason for looking to make a purchase.

“How do you like the service you are getting from your present provider?”

“What improvement would you like to see in a new solution?”

“Where do you expect to see the biggest benefit for this solution?”

“What challenges are you looking to solve with this solution?”  If they are using a competitor’s product or service now, we need to know how we get them to switch.

“Who in addition to yourself will be involved in making the buying decision?”  You need to make sure you are communicating with the decision maker.

“How does your company make its purchasing decisions for this type of product?”

“How soon do you need to have this solution in place?”

“If we could improve on what you are currently doing, what improvement would you like to see?”

In the needs analysis we need to understand what they are looking for.  What they will base the buying decision on.  These examples are generic, but they are examples of open-ended questions you could ask to help you uncover needs.

Keys to Using Open-ended Questions

  • Use open-ended questions when you want the prospect to think before they answer.
  • Use open-ended questions when the answer won’t hurt you and it can provide you with more information.
  • Never use open-ended questions when you need to maintain control.
  • Never use open-ended questions in the close.

Now you should understand what open-ended questions are and when they can be used.  Take some time to write out ten open ended questions.  Write out five that you could use in the warm up.  Then write out five you could use in the needs analysis.

Open-ended questions can contribute greatly to your sales success, so learn how to make the most of them.  In the next article we will talk about the first of the close-ended question, the tie down.

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