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The Value of Open Ended Questions in Sales

Aug 17, 2007
Open-ended questions are one of the salesperson's most vital tools (if followed up by listening). They help gather information, qualify sales opportunities and establish rapport, trust and credibility. With such core value to the sales process, the professional leaves little to chance when it comes to owning a repertoire of powerful open-ended questions.

Questions that are answered by more than a simple yes or no;questions where the prospect or customer gets directly involved in the sales discussion. The key here is to ask the question and let the prospect or customer give you their answer- no leading- no prompting.

Consider the difference between the following statements, "Are you happy with your sales team?" and "Tell me about your sales team..." The material covered is identical, but the likely answers are very different especially since this is a closed question. The expected reply is a "yes" or "no". If a salesperson asks that question and gets one of those answers, then the ball is back in the salesperson's court to encourage a fuller response. A client may chose to say more, but often they do not.

The second question already encourages the client to explore the issue. A salesperson gets more information this way, and the meeting seems less like an interrogation. It also allows the salesperson to uncover needs that they may not have heard by asking questions in the other format. "What" and "how" are great words to start a question with, since they cannot be answered with a simple "yes" or "no" response.

This principle can be used by anyone trying to get a conversation going. If you are talking with someone you don't know very well, ask them open ended questions. If you think of a "yes or no" question, put it into a more open ended version. You've given the other person an opportunity to talk for a while, and the conversation is moving and, in sales, you are uncovering what they really need.

Just in case you've not had a chance to put yours down in writing, here are some of favorite open ended questions(you'll likely have several additional questions that are specific to your industry but these'll get you more than started). Write down the one's you find valuable and commit them to memory, or make them as a handy reference near your desk when you are tied for the right words with someone you are talking to.

Information gathering

What prompted you/your company to look into this?
What are your expectations/requirements for this product/service?
How do you see this happening?
What is it that you'd like to see accomplished?


What do you see as the next action steps?
What is your timeline for implementing/purchasing this type of service/product?
What are your thoughts?
Who else is involved in this decision?
Establishing rapport, trust & credibility
How did you get involved in?
What kind of challenges are you're facing?
How do you measure that?
What other issues are important to you?

Finally, when you have someone that absolutely won't open up, try using a bridge statement. Bridge statements force the prospect or client to share information. By using phrases such as "I see", "what else?", and "anything else?" you are gathering as much information as possible. Think of your questioning as a highway, if you get off too early you are truly leaving money on the table. Plan out your questions in advance and don't be afraid to use silence to find out as much as possible about your client.

Finally, good questioning is critical to the sales process. Learning as much as possible about the potential client is key to solving their problems and issues. By asking good questions and listening, the client will often close themselves which takes one major step out of your sales process. They will also view you as someone who is helping them, not selling them.
About the Author
Tim Hagen is the President of Sales Progress LLC. Tim has been doing sales consulting for over 20 years in a variety of industries and has been instrumental in creating strong sales programs. He can be reached at http://www.SalesProgress.com or 262-240-1077.
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