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One ritual that separates high-performing sales representatives from their counterparts is their ability to ask the right questions, blend these questions tactfully in their conversation with prospective clients, and have sharp listening skills for the answers.
If you are a sales representative and this area is not something you have a stronghold on, don’t worry! It is a practiced skill that any salesperson can learn and develop as a habit. It is a fact that when asked correctly, open-ended questions provide a deeper insight into the minds of clients and help to discover truths to which direct close-ended questions may allude to.
Before we provide you with our list of 35 powerful open-ended sales questions for various discussion stages with a client, let us first understand the basic difference between open-ended and closed-ended questions.
Open-ended questions don’t have any pre-set answers to choose from, and the answer giver is free to choose their own words to formulate an answer. Hence the number of potential answers is client-specific and practically infinite. At the same time, closed-ended questions come with the answer built-in in the form of yes/no, agree/disagree, a scale, etc., and have a limited number of answers.
Why ask open-ended sales questions?
While you may feel that you know your products and services like the back of your hand but to maximize sales unless you truly know what your clients are looking for. You are in a position to offer your product and service as a relevant solution; the use of that knowledge is limited. The only way to truly offer relevant solutions to your customers is to ask questions.
Open-ended questions make the prospect reflect and think, and hence they can share their feelings and opinions. The prospect thinks he is being heard, so he tries to share information.
The prime purpose of asking open-ended questions is to get information. Additionally, these questions serve many purposes. Open-ended sales questions are vital to building rapport with clients and understanding their pain points, needs, current situation, and expectations.
Once this information is uncovered, it is easier to confirm if the prospect is a good fit for your product or not, and if yes, you can fine-tune and customize your pitch and focus on the benefits your solution can offer to the client’s problems.
To help you better formulate your selling strategies, these 35 Open-ended sales questions are divided into sections. You can jump to specific sections as per your need.
Initial open-ended questions to build rapport
One thing to remember about open-ended questions is that they need not be complex. In fact, at the rapport-building stage, one should ask genuine questions that help you build trust, set a genuine connection with the prospect, and help build an environment for the rest of the conversation to follow effortlessly.
Some of the examples of rapport-building questions that can be asked are:
1. How is the business going for you? Is it better or worse compared to the previous year/ the last we spoke?
2. Do you have some expectations so that I can make the time you took out to meet worthwhile today?
3. You mentioned you plan to retire in a few years. Have you started planning for it?
4. It was great to know a brief background about you over the call earlier this week. Would I like to know the long version of your story?
There is no need to go through each question in every sales call. Still, based on the client, time available for the meeting, and conversation flow, you may ask some or all the questions for icebreakers and may even discover some common areas of interest.
Building a good rapport is of immense value since, many times, it leads to a shorter sales cycle.
Open-ended question for qualifying a lead
Qualifying questions are a critical tool to understand if you are talking to a viable prospect. As a sales representative, you need to know the potential customer's interest level and where they are in their buying process.
These questions help you collect specific information efficiently, including needs gathering, pitch planning, and an effective close to a sale.
Some examples of questions to qualify a lead:
5. How are you dealing with the issues currently?
6. Do you have a budget in mind?
7. How is a purchase decision in your organization arrived at?
8. Is there a timeline you are looking at to resolve the concerns?
9. What might cause you to change the current service provider?
10. How are you involved with the use of this product?
11. If you were to replace your current plan, what would you like to see improved?
12. Will we need anyone from other departments (finance, marketing, etc.) before we get started?
13. Have you been through this process before?
14. Where do you see your competitors surpassing you?
15. How do you see your needs changing or growing?
16. Are there any features of other products that you like in particular? Which of them is the most important?
Instead of reciting the qualifying questions, use them as a road map of one leading to another, listening carefully and often asking appropriate follow-up questions.
Some of the follow-up questions that you may ask:
- So, what you are saying is…..?
- Why is that so?
- Oh, really?
- Is that similar to what you said earlier about X?
- Circling back to the beginning, have you tried solution A before?
These follow-up questions will help you dive deeper and allow you to peer gracefully into the customer’s business without intruding.
Opened ended questions for needs gathering
When the objective is to discover prospects’ wants or challenges with the current solutions, gathering questions are asked. As a sales representative, you have to be very meticulous in asking questions to understand the pain points for your buyers and be realistic about what your product or service can serve.
Some of the examples of open-ended questions sales need gathering include:
17. What would your ideal situation look like?
18. Many clients report problems with X, Y, Z areas. How are these areas affecting you? What do you think about them?
19. Why isn't this particular technology/service/product/situation/issue working for you right now?
20. What goals do you hope to accomplish in the short-term and long term?
21. What are the current roadblocks in meeting your goals (revenue, profit, etc.)?
22. What are your company’s biggest priorities this year?
Once you have clarity on the current pain points being faced by your clients, you can realign your approach to present so that it addresses their pain points, and they can see a real value addition in moving ahead with the solution presented by you.
Open-ended questions for driving impact
Once you identify the needs of a customer, you would like to know what it takes to close this customer. Here, impacts or benefits-driven questions help in discovering features that are most important for the prospect.
To ask these questions, you should know the features and benefits of your products/services in detail.
23. If these problems remain unresolved, how will it affect future revenues?
24. If you were to make this happen, what does it mean for you personally?
25. How would implementing these solutions affect your competitiveness in the market?
26. How do you think the company directors evaluate the success of this solution?
Some of the impact questions specific to an industry/product may include the following:
27. How important is patient privacy for your hospital management software?
28. If you could outsource social media management, how would the saved 30-60 minutes every day be useful?
29. If leads management and allocation are automated, how will this help employee satisfaction?
30. Help me understand the impact of not being able to find technical resources to maintain the current solution?
With the answers to the above questions at your hand, you can explain to the clients how your product can make their vision a reality
Open-ended questions on new future/new reality
Through these questions, you will have information on what your prospect thinks about your solution and how it can improve their lives.
Some open-ended questions for understanding your customer’s expectations are:
31. If you work with us instead of your current supplier, what are you hoping will be different?
32. If you were to describe the situation three years from now, in what ways it will be different from what it is today?
33. What is your goal for next year after making this change?
34. If time and money were not objections and you had full authority to do whatever you want, what changes will you bring in the current system?
35. How would you define success - for yourself, your business, and our work together?
Being equipped with knowledge on the impact of your solution for the client, you can then paint a picture for them of where they want to be and how working with you can help them reach there.
Open-ended hypothetical questions
Open-ended hypothetical questions make the prospect visualize a future without your solution. You shouldn’t be scaring the customer with a pessimistic discussion, but this helps you understand the areas most impacted if the solution is not implemented as per the client.
Some of the open-ended hypothetical questions that can be asked include:
36. What happens if you don’t achieve your goals?
37. Will it concern you if your situation doesn’t change in the next few months?
Here, after listening to the client's answers carefully, you can use positive hypotheticals to explain how your product/service can improve their business. Ask your clients how will they feel when the current situation will be improved in few months’ time after the positive impacts of your solution or when their company performs better than the competitor.
Open-ended questions to clarify objections
When a client expresses objection to your product/service, you can respond with an objection-based open-ended question. Also, as a sales rep, you would already be aware of the usual potential objections in closing the sale. Hence, it is a good idea to ask these questions to uncover some of the objections regarding budget, decision-maker, timelines, etc.
Some of the open-ended questions to clarify objections are:
38. Who else is involved in making these types of decisions?
39. What is your allocated budget for something like this?
40. Any concerns so far?
A sales representative needs to be curious about answers to these questions and appreciate constructive criticism. At the same time, the response to such questions gives an opportunity to clarify any misconception or misunderstanding.
Common mistakes to avoid when asking open-ended questions
When you ask a lot of valid open-ended questions for selling, make sure you don’t make these common mistakes that many sales representatives do and jeopardize their sales:
- Answering your questions.
2. Forgetting to listen to the client’s response patiently.
3. Interrogating clients than engaging in a conversation.
4. Asking too many “why” questions and not paying attention to the tone of the query.
5. Jumping to the solution too fast.
Open-ended questions for retail sales are essential tools you need to harvest qualified leads. The more a client talks, the more you learn. Make the most of your time with the client to understand the client's business and expectations.
Be sure to offer adequate information with transparency. This will build trust with the client. A logical flow to your questions will result in useful and accurate answers from your sales prospects. Using this framework of sales questions, your calls and meetings will be more like conversations than interrogations, which is a win-win.
Also, it is always advisable to write a 5-minute debrief after your client call to not miss out on any details in the follow-up calls. Always remember asking the right questions should be part of your sales process, and if, at present, it is not so, start it immediately.