Sales aren’t about convincing or persuading a person to buy something—it’s about offering a logical solution to a problem a customer or prospect is challenged with.
Of course, you hope that your prospects will end up purchasing your company’s product or service rather than the competition’s. Before that happens, however, your salespeople must find out everything there is to know about the buyer’s specific problem and determine exactly what it is they need in order to solve it and win their business.
And asking open-ended questions is the number one way to do that.
What Are Open-Ended Sales Questions?
Open-ended questioning is designed to encourage a full, meaningful answer using the subject's own knowledge and/or feelings. They are the opposite of closed-ended questions, which encourage a short or single-word answer (Yes or No questions, for example).
Open-ended questions also tend to be more objective and less leading than closed-ended questions.
Prepare Questions Ahead of Time
Before the sales conversation, it’s important that your sales reps spend some time creating a list of specific open-ended questions they’d like to ask their prospect—along with several follow-up questions for each.
This pre-call planning step of the sales process will ensure the salesperson goes into the conversation confident and ready to listen to the answers they receive.
The Importance of Active Listening
Talking typically comes easy for a sales professional, but actively listening to the response a person gives is a skill they must continually work to improve upon.
Coach your reps on the importance of letting the prospect or customer answer each question in detail, as well as how to listen for important information and additional opportunities. They should pay attention not only to the words spoken by prospects, but their tone, gestures, and facial expressions as well.
To find and understand the answers hidden within your prospects, make sure your reps are asking these three types of open-ended sales questions:
1. Needs-Based Questions
Your sales reps might think they know exactly why the prospect or customer needs your product or solution, but they should never assume.
Needs-based questions focus on revealing the dominant buying motivations—which include needs—but also have to do with desires, feelings, tastes, etc.
To develop needs-based questions, your reps should first determine what needs your product or service actually fills for your customers. Once they’ve listed these needs, they can work backwards to figure out what they have to ask your prospect to find out how much each need matters to them.
Someone selling real estate might list out the following needs that a high-end, 6-bedroom home fulfills:
- Lots of sleeping space
- Swimming Pool
The questions the salesperson or agent might ask to uncover if those needs are important to the prospect include:
- How often do you have out of town guests?
- Tell me about your business associates?
- How often, if ever, do you entertain outdoors?
2. Benefit-Driven Questions
Hopefully, your salespeople are confident in your offerings and trained with the features and benefits they provide. But remind them to resist jumping right into “feature dumping” during a sales conversation. Not every benefit will be relevant to every prospect.
They need to first identify that the buyer’s unique situation calls for the features that drive the benefits.
To develop a good set of benefit-driven questions, have your reps list every feature of your product, then list the corresponding benefit next to it. To do that just have them ask, “What does this feature do for my customer?”
- Feature: It’s painted orange
- What does that do for my customer? It’s easy to see from a distance
Then, your reps can create a question relative to that benefit.
A question that could be asked: How often do you have to find or locate this product from a distance?
Here are some more examples of open-ended questions that are benefit-driven:
- How important is longer-lasting wear to you? (feature: triple-coated; benefit: lasts longer)
- How important is it to you to own a vehicle that’s better for the environment? (feature: zero exhaust emissions; benefit: reduce air pollution and protect the environment)
3. Objection-Based Questions
Your salespeople aren’t in the business of outmaneuvering people during the sales process. Instead, they should be using a consultative sales approach that helps them address and overcome common objections that might arise.
Across every industry there are a few common objections that salespeople will hear from time to time:
- “I want to think about it.”
- “Your price is too high.”
- “I need to talk to my boss.”
To counter these familiar hesitations, coach your salespeople to ask questions early on that relate to these objections, such as:
- “What type of processes do you use for purchases like this?"
- “Who, other than yourself of course, will be involved in making this decision?”
- "What type of budget do you have in mind for a project like this?”
Getting to the root of these common objections off the bat will help your reps better execute their sales strategy, and avoid more difficult roadblocks further down the path.
To take this one step further, have your reps list the most common objections they hear from people about your offering, and then develop a question or two that addresses the objection while creating a positive spin.
Objection: “Your competitor has better delivery.”
Question: “How familiar are you with our new delivery policy?”
Asking effective open-ended probing questions is a skill your sales team must master to be successful at selling.
The IMPACT-U® Online Sales training program teaches sales professionals a 6-step consultative selling process that they can apply with every opportunity. They’ll learn to create a pre-call plan that includes qualifying questions, open-ended questions for sales and follow-up questions to uncover exactly what a buyer needs and wants in a solution.