Revealing the mystery behind open-ended questions in sales

open ended sales questions

To reveal why your open-ended questions in sales are more important than any of your spot-on answers, let me relate a conversation I recently had.

A young couple was telling me about their new car buying experience. Her Nissan Cube had been totaled in an accident (fortunately no one was hurt) and she wanted a replacement that offered an interior somewhat like the Cube’s.

They identified the Jeep Renegade fairly quickly as a vehicle that would work for them. They headed out to a nearby Jeep dealership to take a look. You probably know the sales “ABC” axiom – Always Be Closing – and this is exactly what the salesman they hooked up with did.

As they told me about the experience, they said he constantly pressured them into “sitting down” to go over “the numbers.” He was doing his best to close and obviously putting his needs above theirs.

They walked off the lot and went to a second dealership. The salesman there asked a lot of questions, explained that they were family-owned, and when my friends signaled that they were about to leave, he gave them his card and simply said to let him know if he could give them any more information or help them out in any way.

They went back to their car, talked about the good feeling they got from the salesman, and immediately trudged back onto the new car lot and bought the Jeep.

Both salesmen described here wanted to sell the car; there’s no doubt about that. Both salesmen knew that they had to get their prospects sitting across from them to see what the financial challenges of the sale would be. Only then would they be able to pull together a deal that would be appealing to the buyers.

Lead with open-ended sales questions

The first salesman failed because he was pushing to the “end game” too quickly. The second salesman was successful because his way of “leading” was to let the customer do the leading by asking open-ended questions. He realized that by asking these questions and giving good answers he could develop:

  • Rapport,
  • Trust, and
  • Respect.

When these three qualities define the relationship between the salesperson and the customer, sales will happen. And even more importantly: Repeat sales and referrals will happen!

Being able to ask good open-ended questions is one of the most important skills to develop. You must be able to ask questions that are relevant to each specific prospect; you can’t have a list of three questions and apply them to everyone, although you should have a good – and relevant – open-ended question or two that gets the conversation flowing.

When you ask the right questions and – hear this, it’s important – listen to and process the answers, you are well on your way to being seen as an expert and advisor rather than a salesperson.

As soon as your prospects begin to relate to you as a trusted advisor, sales will begin to flow.

What are open-ended sales questions?

I’ve been referring to “open-ended sales questions” here and I want to make sure that you understand exactly what I’m talking about. Open-ended questions are those where the person will answer in a few sentences, versus a word or two.

Going back to our car salesmen, if one of them were to ask, “Are you planning on buying today?” – that would not be an open-ended question.

However, a question such as, “What features are most important to you?” would be a good open-ended sales question.

How these questions are strung together is a strategy good sales professionals use to lead the conversation. The trick is to listen to the answers, process that information, and use your increased understanding to formulate follow-up questions that allow prospects to see how your product or service will solve their problems…or, frankly, not solve their problems!

If you feel you need help coming up with the best questions, ask if you can work alongside the best salesperson in your company and carefully listen for the questions that draw out important information from clients and prospects.

Get this skill down and you’ll be on your way to becoming the top salesperson.

No question about it!