Open ended questions are essential for sales success. They allow reps to get inside the head of prospects and better understand their pain points.
The right open-ended questions help ensure that reps are building rapport, uncovering pain points, establishing need, and clearly articulating the value of their offering.
Below are 26 open-ended sales questions that will help you resonate with any potential buyer.
We’ll cover the difference between open and closed sales questions, talk about how to use them in your business, share examples, and highlight critical mistakes to avoid.
What Are Open-Ended Sales Questions?
Open-ended sales questions are part of consultative sales. Consultative sales is a style where the sales rep discovers problems and then helps the customer solve them with the sales rep’s products or services.
Open-ended sales questions are also called sales discovery questions because they are designed to get to know the prospect better. Core DNA says these questions begin a conversation with the prospect and are used both during the initial stages with a prospect as well as with the close.
Characteristics of Open-Ended Sales Questions:
They are conversational.
They usually involve Five W’s: Who, What, When, Where and Why; and also How (which some people call the Six Ws—even though How isn’t technically a W).
They don’t have a set pattern, meaning there is no formula or structure to them.
They usually require thought before someone answers.
They are subjective in nature rather than objective, meaning they are about personal feelings rather than facts and figures.
The Objective of Open-Ended Sales Questions:
Open-ended sales questions are designed to create a dialogue between the sales rep and the prospect. They are probing questions used to get a prospect to talk more about their business.
When used in a sales call, the questions enable the sales rep to learn more about the lead’s pain points and needs. The open nature means there isn’t a specific answer; they are designed to facilitate an exchange of ideas. They can also be used to build engagement and help create rapport between the rep and the prospect.
Open-Ended vs. Close-Ended Sales Questions
While these questions seek more information from the source and are answered in the prospects own words, close-ended questions lead to specific answers, like a yes or no, or a multiple-choice option.
Richardson Sales Training distinguishes open-ended questions as those which allow the control of the conversation to flow between sales rep and prospect, while close-ended questions leave the control in the hands of the sales rep alone.
When Should Reps Ask Open-Ended Sales Questions?
Ideally, sales reps should ask as many open-ended sales questions as they can throughout the sales process. The more you learn about a prospect, the more consultative you can be to help them with their goals.
However, the obvious time to ask open-ended questions is in the qualifying stage with a prospect. Sales training organization The Brooks Group says, it gives you the opportunity to learn everything you possibly can about the prospect’s needs and wants. Through asking sales discovery questions, the sales rep can find how their product or service can help the prospect.
26 Examples of Open-Ended Sales Questions (By Category)
Different sales discovery questions are appropriate for different situations. Preparing ahead of time can be useful to help you cover all the areas you want to in the qualifying stages.
Remember, as Sam Parker, sales trainer and author of Just Sell.com says, you are asking the prospect to answer the question. You want to hear what they have to say, meaning no leading, no prompting, and no interrupting.
When you first get a lead, you need to clarify where they are in the buying process. These questions can determine the interest level of your potential customers as well as what they think of the process so far. They can help you manage your sales funnel by letting you know what you need to do next—or whether you should move on for now.
1. When do you need to get this issue resolved?
2. What’s your budget?
3. How are you currently solving this problem?
4. Who else needs to be involved in this purchase decision?
Needs-Based or Pain-Based Questions
When you want to discover the prospect’s wants or challenges with their current situation, try Needs-Based Questions, aka Pain-Based Questions. When you are preparing these, be cognizant of what needs your product or service typically serves. In other words, don’t ask about areas that your product or service does not address. Each of the following questions seeks to discover more about what is and isn’t working with the current system the prospect employs.
5. When do these issues arise?
6. What is this problem costing you?
7. What would you change about your current solution?
8. Have you given up trying to fix the problem?
Impact or Benefit-Driven Questions
When you want to know how to close a customer, try Impact or Benefit-Driven Questions. Benefit-driven questions help you discover which features are the most vital to your prospect, so you can get right to what interests them most about your product or service. To prepare, review the features and benefits of your product or service so you can ask appropriate questions of potential customers.
9. How important would you say solving this problem is to you?
10. What happens if you don’t fix it?
11. What would it mean to your business if you could rely on a trustworthy supplier?
New Future or New Reality Questions
These questions are constructed to help you show the potential customer arriving at their goal and how your product or service gets them to that point.
12. How do you think changing this area could improve your day-to-day work?
13. What would you want to achieve in the next year by making this change?
14. If time and money were no object and you had full authority to do whatever you want, what would you change about your current system?
When you are faced with an objection to your product or service, respond with an Objection-Based Question. These questions are designed to uncover potential objections before they come up in the sales process.
15. The common objection is, “I need to discuss this with my supervisor,” so the question could be: Who else is involved in making these types of decisions?
16. The common objection is, “I can’t afford this right now,” so the question could be: What budget do you have allocated for something like this?
17. The common objection is, “I am not interested in your product or service right now,” so the question could be: When are you intersted in learning how I can save you X% with this product/service?
Buyer History Questions
Use Buyer-History Questions to understand the potential customer’s past experiences or purchasing habits. These questions seek to determine their past experiences, and discover how often the prospect or organization makes these types of decisions.
Also, you can discover the state of their relationship with their current provider, which can have significant implications for your sales process.
18. What has your past purchase experience been with [insert product/service]?
19. When was the last time you evaluated something like this?
20. Why or why not would you say you were satisfied with your past experiences with this vendor?
21. How would you describe the level of service with your current provider?
Rapport Building Questions
When you are working to establish a personal connection or build a relationship with the potential customer, you can use Rapport Building Questions. As Xactly.com explains, rapport-building requires you to get under the surface of the interaction and get to know the prospect. Without this relationship and information, you cannot consult the account. You have to know what they want and need so you can create a solution with your product or service.
22. What can we do to earn your business?
23. What motivated you to take this call with me?
24. Which other vendors are you evaluating?
25. What concerns do you have about making changes?
26. What have I not covered that you would like to know more about?
5 Tips to Perfect Your Open-Ended Sales Questions Technique
Once you have prepared your sales discovery questions for the different areas of the sales call, you must consider how to ask open-ended questions. From what order you ask the questions to how you transition from one area to another, your technique should flow naturally while allowing for unstructured conversation with the potential customer.
The Sandler Pain Funnel is an excellent example of how to ask open-ended questions. Sales reps that have trained in the Sandler method use a series of needs-based questions to uncover the prospects pain.
Similar to a traditional funnel, the pain questions start broad; i.e., “What are some things you would like to change about your current system/provider/product line?;” and then move to more specific questions, i.e., “Can you give me an example?”
The best open-ended sales questions techniques progress to uncover the underlying reason a prospect is experiencing pain in their business.
Here are a few tips for perfecting your open-ended sales questions technique:
Invert the pyramid. A pyramid shape starts broad at the bottom and builds up to a point. In open-ended questions, it’s a good idea to invert the pyramid, so the broad part comes first, and you work your way down to a point (much like the Sandler Pain Funnel example above).
HubSpot suggests asking a broad, non-threatening question to start, e.g., What should I know about your business? Then, look for areas that you should explore in greater detail from their response, eventually drilling down to specific questions that will reveal any areas of opportunity for you.
Exude curiosity. A vital component of this open-ended questioning process is showing a sincere interest. As Core DNA says, “Good salespeople tend to be good listeners, and good listeners almost always tend to be curious.” Perhaps more importantly, you are asking about something that is often very near and dear to the prospect (their business or career) and sharing an interest in it will help form a bond between you.
Keep it personal. Preparation is vital for a sales call. However, too-prepared can be dangerous. It is crucial to keep the exchange personal if you want to build rapport or gain the trust of the prospect. Giving them a script does not elicit the emotional engagement that open-ended questions seek to facilitate.
Get comfortable with “dead air.” You learn more from listening than talking. In the qualifying or beginning stages of the sales cycle, keeping your mouth shut can help you get the information you need. As Leadership Guru Michael Hyatt says, “you will often find that people volunteer amazing amounts of information that you would have never obtained any other way.”
“What” is your friend. When in doubt how to ask a question, remember that the word “what” is your friend. Most questions that begin with what encourage the answerer to elaborate. As Arden Coaching puts it, “questions that start with ‘what’ will be open-ended.”
5 Critical Mistakes Reps Make When Asking Open-Ended Sales Questions:
1. Answering your own questions. It can feel natural to nudge a prospect with a suggested answer that you heard from a similar prospect in the past. However, when the prospect hears your suggestion, it could change what they were going to share. Since you want to listen to what the prospect has to say, ask the question and practice zipping you lip right afterward.
2. Forgetting to listen to the client. Similar to answering your own questions, forgetting to listen to the potential customer defeats the purpose of asking open-ended questions.
3. Interrogating clients. Rapid fire questions that dig a little deeper than a person wants feel more like a cross-examination or an interrogation than a conversation, which is not going to help you build rapport.
Be sure that you follow up enough that you have a better understanding of what your lead was saying, but not so much follow up people wonder if they should have a lawyer present.
4. Asking too many “why” questions. Why is one of the Five Ws, however it is tricky. Sometimes when you ask why, you sound accusatory. As Arden Coaching points out, “Why did you do that?” is more pointed than “What did you use as the basis for your actions?” You can ask why, of course, but be careful how many times and the tone of the query when you do.
5. Jumping straight to a solution. Remember, this part of the sales process is about learning more about the prospect, not pitching your product or services. If you hear a problem that your product or service can help with, resist the temptation to share that information at the moment. Good sales come to those who wait.
Ready. Set. Question.
Open-ended questions for sales are the tools you need to harvest qualified opportunities.
Open-ended sales questions differ from other types of queries. Probing questions for sales give you the opportunity to listen to your potential customer and take a consultative approach to your sales relationship with them.
The best open-ended sales questions help you identify areas of opportunity in potential accounts. Sales discovery questions also reveal pain-points and needs that are not currently being met by the prospects provider. Perhaps most importantly, however, open-ended sales questions allow you to prioritize your prospects to optimize your sales funnel for efficiency and success.
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