To truly uncover what your buyers want and need, your salespeople must be experts in asking open-ended questions.
Asking open-ended sales questions—and making an intention to listen to the response thoughtfully—allows your reps to connect with prospects and customers and gather the information needed to recommend the best possible solution.
In fact, an open-ended questioning process can lead buyers towards a decision much more effectively since they’ll be verbalizing exactly what they need in a solution.
Use this guide to understand open-ended questions and the best ways your salespeople can use them on sales calls.
What are Open-Ended Questions?
Open-ended questions are designed to encourage a person to give a full, meaningful answer using their 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).
Examples of open-ended sales questions include, “What are the most difficult challenges your team faces today?” and “What would a successful outcome look like to you?”
Why Do Salespeople Need to Use Open-Ended Discovery Questions?
When your reps ask effective open-ended sales questions, they give the prospect an opportunity to explain themselves, to provide more details, and to convince themselves that the purchase is right for them.
Effective open-ended questions also give salespeople greater insight into what motivates prospects, so they can provide more value.
When Are Open-Ended Questions Most Useful in the Sales Process?
Open-ended questions are an important tool at every stage of the sales process.
During a cold call discussion, open-ended questions can help the salesperson understand what the prospect’s current priorities are—and focus on them.
During the discovery stage, open-ended questions can help uncover important information such as the decision making process, and the what a buyer needs in order to make a purchase.
During later stages, open-ended questions help the prospect and sales team to work together and co-create the right solution.
At each stage, the goals of open-ended questions should be to:
- Gather meaningful information
- Ensure the customer feels heard and valued
- Move the prospect further along the buyer’s journey
Examples of Good Open-Ended Sales Questions
The right open-ended questions are powerful tools during a sales discussion, but your sales reps might need some ideas to get started.
Below are some examples of good open-ended sales questions. The types of questions have been divided to make it easy to find the right questions for the specific situation.
Problem questions help the salesperson understand the buyer’s priorities and how they think about their problems and challenges.
Examples of open-ended problem questions:
- What are your top business priorities right now?
- How would you describe the problem you’re trying to solve?
- What challenges have you faced in the past when trying to solve these problems?
- How much does the problem cost you and your company?
- Is there anything else about the situation that worries or frustrates you?
- If there is a current supplier, why are you considering an alternative?
Solution questions help the salesperson begin to formulate a customer-centric solution.
Examples of open-ended solution questions:
- What would an ideal solution look like for you?
- What are the must-have criteria for a solution?
- What are the nice-to-have criteria for your solution?
- What is your timeline for solving these challenges?
- What are the qualities you’re looking for in a solution provider?
Process questions help the salesperson understand what steps will be necessary in order to close the sale.
Examples of open-ended process questions:
- How will you go about making your buying decision?
- Who else may influence this decision?
- What additional information will you need in order to make a decision?
- What has worked/not worked for you in the past when making similar purchases?
Budget questions can be asked after rapport and trust have been built. They help the salesperson formulate an appropriate solution for the buyer. They can also help the buyer to find solutions for budget shortfalls, so that they can get the solution that is best for them.
Examples of open-ended budget questions:
- What is the budget range you have in mind for solving this problem?
- What will happen if the budget isn’t enough to fully fund the solution?
- Are there other sources of funding that could be explored if necessary?
Probing questions can be asked at any point of the sales process to gather deeper information and get the prospect to engage more thoroughly in the conversation.
Examples of open-ended probing questions:
- Can you tell me more about that?
- Can you give an example?
- How did that impact you?
- How do you feel about that?
How Your Sellers Can Implement Open-Ended Questions to Uncover Customer Needs
Teach your salespeople to prepare a few insightful questions before a sales call, and use them when the time is appropriate. Remind them to go with the flow of the discussion, and not to make their questioning feel scripted.
You can challenge your team members to convert their commonly-asked closed-ended questions into open-ended questions. For instance, “Are you happy with your current supplier” can become “How would you describe your current supplier’s performance?”
Reps can even learn to convert closed-ended questions on the fly. When they notice that they’ve asked a closed-ended question and received a one-word answer, they can follow up with the open-ended version of the same question.
For instance, the rep may ask, “Is this on-time delivery important to you?” and the prospect may say, “Yes.” The salesperson can then ask a follow-up question such as, “Can you talk more about how receiving deliveries on time affects your business goals?”
The answer will provide more information for the salesperson to use in the sale, and the customer will have taken ownership of their own reasons for wanting the feature/benefit.
Train Your Sales Team to Ask Better Open-Ended Questions throughout the Sales Process
Use this guide to asking open-ended questions to coach your reps to get the most out of their conversations with prospects and customers.
Paired with active listening skills, the right types of sales questions will give your salespeople all the information they need to recommend better solutions and close more deals.
Check out our Conversations with Confidence training course which can teach your sellers how to ask the right probing questions to uncover customer needs and advance sales faster.