If You Want to Sell Successfully, Ask the Right Questions

Bonus: 25 open-ended sales questions.

The probability of a purchase increases many times if the client speaks at least 30% of the time while discussing the deal. The seller’s task is to talk to the client. Ask the right questions to do that. 

Open-ended questions cannot be answered with "yes" or "no." They imply detailed answers and encourage the speaker to think and share his thoughts and feelings. Such responses contain important information for the seller. This also helps to establish a trusting relationship with the client, find out his goals and needs, predict risks and find the best solution.

Here are the main points from the article on the art of open questions from Business2Community.

Ways of Asking an Open-Ended Question 

Compare the following ways of asking questions: "Is there anything we can discuss?" and "What topics should we focus on today?"

In the first case, the speaker can answer just "yes" or "no," and you will not be able to advance any further. Though, the answer to the second question will help guide the conversation in the necessary direction. 

  • Start with question words (why, how, what).
  • Use narrative sentences that imply the answer. For example: "Please tell me about..." Do not rush the speaker with a response. He will need to take some time to think.
  • Do not start a sentence with the combination of "you" + a verb ("Have you tried ...?").

What Goes After the Question?

#1. Help the client to open up and do not interpret his answers

Imagine that you are interviewing a famous person and you have a tight time limit. You need to collect as much material as possible. Thus, ask questions that require detailed answers.

Later you can analyze the information and choose the key facts. For now, your task is to learn as much as possible. Do not interrupt or judge the speaker. Just listen to him carefully.

Think through a sequence of questions (from more general to special ones), for example:

  • What was your biggest/most successful purchase over the last year?
  • What problems did you manage to solve with it? 
  • How did you benefit from it?

#2. Show genuine interest

The best sellers are usually great listeners by nature. They show interest in other people and love communicating.

The interlocutor feels when you are interested in his story and will eagerly share his problems.

Only sheer interest inspires confidence. False interest, on the contrary, turns the speaker away. The client might think that the seller tries to deceive him into concluding a deal.

#3. Sometimes it’s better to say nothing

Many sales managers are quite talkative. Though, the best of them master the art of strategic silence. The resulting pause will cause the speaker to tell more.

For example, your client shares his challenges when hiring staff and suddenly stops. Do not comment or ask any additional questions.

Let the speaker think. As a result, you will be able to get more information.

Knowing when to say nothing comes with experience.

Ways of Asking Open-Ended Questions 

#1. Do not interrogate 

Communication should be natural. Otherwise, the interlocutor will get the feeling that he is talking to a chatbot with a pre-written script. No one likes to feel like they are being interrogated.

Mix open-ended questions with closed ones, joke, and tell funny stories. This way, communication will seem informal and build trust. Help the interlocutor relax, and he will open up to you.

#2. Do not abuse emotions

Fake enthusiasm is annoying. If the manager emotionally reacts to every client’s statement, it will quickly drive him mad.

#3. Don't answer your own questions

You might have already discussed a similar question with other clients and are sure that you know all the answers. Though, the more you talk, the less the client will tell you. 

For example, you ask about the problems the client's business faced last year. Without waiting for an answer, you add: "Another client told me that X was the most difficult for him."

Your interlocutor might have answered differently. Though, when he heard about X from you, he might agree. Keep your opinion to yourself and let the client express his thoughts.

#4. Do not rush the client with an answer

Sales managers have their own KPIs, and many of them are time-bound. Though no matter how tough your deadlines are, do not cut back on time to communicate with the client.

The biggest mistake a seller might make would be to jump from one question to another and not let the speaker tell you everything he wants. By doing so, you might deprive yourself of valuable information.

People tend to go back to answering previous questions if they recall something important. Do not deprive them of this opportunity.

#5. Listen to the client

Experienced sellers admit that a large part of their job is simply listening. This advice seems obvious, but being attentive and staying curious is not that easy.

Master active listening skills to understand exactly what the client wants to say. If you're not ready to listen, there's no point in asking open-ended questions.

Rephrasing the interlocutor's words is one of the active listening methods. This way, you will ensure that you understand the point correctly. The client will feel that you carefully listen to him. For example: "So, you believe that...?"

Another tip: refrain from making notes while the interlocutor is speaking. Doing something simultaneously will distract both you and him. If you need to make some notes, wait until the client finishes his thought.

What Questions Should Not Be Asked 

#1. How much can you afford to spend?

You are unlikely to get an honest answer to such a question. Assume that the client has the money to purchase your product, and you simply need to convince them to pay.

Most likely, the interlocutor is aware of the amount in question. The seller’s task is to offer something more valuable than the client expected. Then he will be willing to pay more.

#2. What is your main pain?

The client’s response to this question may be: "If I don't find a solution, I won't get a promotion". Though the real pain lies in the unpleasant emotions, he will face in this case. Usually, deep pain lies in the plane of feelings: fear, uncertainty, disappointment, and others.

#3. How clients evaluate the quality of your goods or services?

This is another question that you are unlikely to get an honest answer to. Even if you really want to offer a solution that will improve the product, the client will hate to admit his failures.

#4. What goods or services are you willing to pay for?

Your interlocutor understands that your goal is to sell. There is no need to focus attention on this especially. Otherwise, the client will get a feeling that you focus on money and not on solving his problem. 

#5. How can I help you?

Such questions show the manager’s incompetence.

The best way to find a way to help a client is to ask him the right questions and come up with solutions yourself. The customer should not tell you what to do.

#6. Could you please tell me more about your business? 

This way, you show that you did not bother to search for information on the potential client's company. If you want to get more information than you can find in open sources, ask the client the right questions regarding the details of their business.

Bonus: 25 Open-Ended Sales Questions

Questions for building trust:

  1. How is your company doing? 
  2. What are you doing now?
  3. What are your plans for the coming months? 
  4. How was your vacation?
  5. What are your weekend/holiday plans?

Questions about the history of previous agreements:

  1. What did you like when using similar products before?
  2. Why did you decide to purchase this product/service?
  3. How did you make the deal?
  4. What difficulties did you face during the purchase?
  5. Who consulted you before making a deal?

Questions to identify desires, goals, and obstacles:

  1. What worries you the most? 
  2. What results would you like to achieve?
  3. What prevents you from achieving your goal?
  4. Why do you believe now is a good (wrong) time to try something new?
  5. What will help you to progress in the work on the project?

Questions for dealing with objections:

  1. What do you think about our offer now? 
  2. What other questions should we discuss before moving on?

Questions regarding consequences: 

  1. What will change if we start cooperating?
  2. How will management react if you can solve the problem? 
  3. How will this decision affect you personally?

Clarifying questions:

  1. Could you please tell us more about it? 
  2. Could you please clarify this?

Closing questions:

  1. When should I call you back/When can we meet?
  2. What decision-making method do you use in your company?
  3. What shall we consider/do for successful cooperation?