Exceptional sales reps who build long-term relationships with clients are experts at asking the right questions. Train your team on these 21 open-ended questions for sales to help them guide leads through the pipeline, close more deals and boost revenue.
What Makes Open-Ended Sales Questions So Powerful?
Asking open-ended questions for sales is an effective technique for a number of reasons. Firstly, they demonstrate that your sales reps are genuinely interested in what your potential clients have to say. Unlike closed-ended questions, which leave little room for the prospect to share their concerns, needs and unique situation—open questions inspire trust.
In addition to trust, open-ended questions are a natural way to build rapport and engage the buyer. People tend to be passionate about themselves and their line of work, and showing genuine curiosity with these types of questions is a great way to get them talking. Instead of leading with a sales pitch or value proposition, you're making the initial conversation about them. Most clients would rather tell you about what's going on in their company than hear a generic pitch. The information they provide is valuable data that reps can use to find out what matters to buyers, so they can find an angle to solve their pain points.
Open-Ended vs Closed-Ended Questions for Sales
Open-ended sales questions elicit longer, more detailed responses than closed-ended questions, which rarely inspire more than a “yes,” “no” or another single-word answer. When sales teams use dead-end questioning methods, it's easy for them to get into a rut and sound robotic and disinterested to prospects.
Lead Ins for Closed-Ended Questions
- Have or has
- Was or were
- Could or can
- Would or will
- Do or did
- Is or are
Lead Ins for Open-Ended Questions for Sales
Potential customers are more likely to engage with, trust and provide detailed information to reps who show genuine interest and curiosity in their situation.
The Four Levels of Open-ended Sales Questions
Asking open-ended questions for sales is an excellent technique for drawing customers in, qualifying them and understanding their needs. They work equally well over the phone and in person. These types of questions allow reps to position your business as the ideal solution for problems they're currently facing and goals they're trying to reach.
There are four levels of open-ended questions sales reps can use to gather data and gradually probe a little further as the prospect moves through the pipeline:
- Level One: Getting to Know Prospects
- Level Two: Gathering More Background Information
- Level Three: Eliminating Doubts and Concerns
- Level Four: Closing the Deal
Below are 20 open-ended questions for sales, with examples for each of the four sales levels. Once your sales reps complete the open-ended sales questioning levels, they'll be able to deliver a personalized pitch, positioning your company's offering as the ideal solution.
Level 1: Getting to Know Prospects
In the past, sales teams led with a pitch, instantly trying to convince prospects to spend money before gaining any understanding of their needs. In today's competitive marketplace, buyers are savvy to traditional sales tactics, making them more skeptical and hesitant. That's why modern reps must have exceptional people skills and charm so they can engage customers personally, demonstrate warmth and inspire trust.
Level one questions establish rapport and help reps get to know the individual, how they operate and their company's situation. More than anything, these questions should resonate on a personal level. The aim is to get the buyer talking freely so they provide as much information about themselves and their company as possible. At this stage, reps should be listening more than talking while taking the time to demonstrate empathy and establish a bond.
1. What Motivated You To Take This Call?
When establishing trust and rapport with a potential client, it's crucial that sales reps put the power in their hands as much as possible. The more they let the buyer lead the conversation, the more in control—and less manipulated—the buyer feels. Decision-makers are weary of salespeople due to decades of the same pushy tactics. It's important for sales reps to demonstrate a desire to help solve their pain points, and this starts with showing a genuine interest in their needs.
This question also gets to the bottom of two all-important points: It defines the main issue the buyer is looking to solve and how urgently they need to solve it.
2. What Would Make This Appointment Worthwhile for You Today?
This unassuming question goes further to break the ice and set the tone for the ensuing interaction. It shows that your sales reps go the extra mile to put clients' needs first and are confident enough to risk hearing a skeptical answer. Your team should aim to be perceived as trustworthy above all else during the first level of open-ended sales questions.
This question also provides critical information about the client's expectations, giving reps a clue as to the best avenue to pursue when positioning a solution.
3. What Part of Your Industry Do You Enjoy Most?
Keep in mind that reps should ask at least one open-ended sales question that's seemingly unrelated to the pipeline. Their aim is to inspire a long-term bond with each client, which means getting to know them on a personal level. The holy grail for sales reps is befriending prospects so that selling is more of a process of peer-to-peer support.
Finding out what they enjoy about their work can also provide a window into their goals and aspirations. Plus, when sales reps are armed with this information, they're in a better position to align solutions with the client's priorities.
4. What's Working Well With Your Current Process?
Remember that a successful close doesn't necessarily rely on a client needing to solve a problem. Reps can effectively position your company's offering as an effective way to make their current process even better. Prospects might have no idea that opportunities for further optimizations and improvements exist. However, instead of jumping in and pitching at this point, reps should take note of the information they gain for later.
5. Is There Anything You Wish You Could Improve About Your Day-to-Day Operations?
Perhaps it’s budget, time constraints, or something else entirely. Regardless, this is important information to consider in your sales approach. From the start, sales reps should have a clear understanding of potential roadblocks and issues the prospect is facing.
Level 2: Gathering Insights and Background Information
Level one involves asking discovery questions for sales and making surface-level inquiries. Level two is about gathering deeper insights into the prospect to qualify them and learn more about their pain points, how the organization defines success internally and what they want their processes to look like in the future . When qualifying leads with open-ended questions for sales, a rep's aim is to check they're in a position to purchase and establish where they are in the buying process.
The acronym BANT can help you communicate level two priorities to sales reps:
- Budget: Do they have the money to spend?
- Authority: Is the rep speaking to a decision-maker?
- Need: Is there an urgent need to solve the problem?
- Timing: Can a timeline be established?
The open-ended sales questions below allow reps to discover deep insights into the challenges a prospect is facing while ensuring they're qualified to buy. Unless the customer is already enthusiastic and leaning toward a purchase, it's best to plant seeds instead of explicitly going in for the sale.
6. What Challenges Have You Faced Keeping Up With Competitors?
Everyone in business is in the same position when it comes to increased competition. Make sure reps have thoroughly researched the relevant industry and discovered who the market leaders are. They can tap into concerns the prospect may have about tools and solutions that may give competitors an edge.
This question can also offer insight into the clients' knowledge of an available solution. If they're not well-versed in the latest technology or best practices, it presents an opportunity for the rep to educate them. It also gives the rep an idea of how urgently the prospect needs a solution without explicitly asking.
7. How Quickly Would You Find a Solution in an Ideal World?
Now that the sales rep has a foundational understanding of the challenges the buyer faces, they can begin to qualify them. Knowing how urgently and quickly the prospect is looking to solve issues is vital for building an accurate sales pipeline. For example, if the timeline is short, the rep will want to maintain pace and keep up regular contact. If they're not in any hurry, the rep should take a more relaxed approach to avoid seeming overly pushy.
8. What Are Your Thoughts on Our Product or Service?
This open-ended sales question gives the rep insight into how well they're coming across and how well the prospect understands your proposed solution. If they seem despondent or unsure, the sales rep could send out an e-book or testimony from a previous customer. Letting the buyer browse this in their own time is a non-forceful way of educating them on how your company is poised to improve their process.
This needs-based question can also tell sales reps what they should focus on during future conversations. Understanding what might stop them from making a purchase is vital for closing a deal.
9. How Has Budget Held You Back in the Past?
Train reps to leave money talk until trust and rapport are firmly in place, but always ask a budget-related sales-qualifying question before moving on to level three. Wasting time with prospects who aren't in a position to purchase is a primary cause of pipeline bottlenecks.
This question lets them delve into financial matters without explicitly asking if they can afford your product or service. Gauging their answer is simple. If money is no option, it'll be clear. If they express that budget is a common reason for their problem, the rep might need to propose a lower-cost solution or accept that they won't be moving forward.
10. How Would We Move Forward if You Chose Our Solution?
Of course, your reps should have already conducted enough research and aimed to approach C-suite professionals before getting to this point. In case there's any doubt, this is the best open-ended question to determine whether the prospect is a decision-maker. Needing to consult with a senior colleague to close the deal might slow down the sales process significantly.
Level 3: Eliminating Doubt and Concerns
With a trusting relationship and need to buy established, it's time to start asking more probing questions for sales. Reps use level three open-ended sales questions to drill down into the barriers holding the prospect back from purchasing so they can appease any doubts. When a buyer feels like your team already understands their previous problems, they'll believe you're in a stronger position to deliver on your promises.
You can also think of the questions below as preemptive objection-handling questions because they give reps a chance to appease concerns before the prospect addresses them.
11. How Might Change Negatively Impact Your Operation?
Understanding the insecurities a prospect has regarding change helps reps empathize with them deeply. Plus, continuing to build trust throughout each level of the open-ended sales questioning process is vital to ensure the buyer continues to believe in the rep's desire to genuinely help them. Most people are unsure of change, even if they have a problem that urgently needs solving. Your sales team can learn exactly which fears they need to alleviate through this line of inquiry.
12. How Have You Approached Solving the Issue in the Past?
Reps can learn what to focus on when recommending solutions by understanding what the prospect has tested in the past. This is especially useful if they've previously used a similar product or service. It's a good idea to get more information about how they measured success and which metrics they reported on.
13. What's the Issue With Your Current Solution?
If the customer is currently using a similar product, they must think something can be improved because they're speaking with your company. Reps should learn about the prospect's current workflow to determine how your company's product will add value and avoid the issues they've had before.
14. Why Would You Choose Another Vendor Over Us?
This is a very direct open-ended sales question that can offer insights that would be impossible to get any other way. It also simultaneously demonstrates confidence and humility, showing that your sales team can acknowledge that your solution isn't the only one available. If the prospect suggests another vendor and provides a reason, the rep can conduct research and return with objections and a fresh value proposition. The information they get from this question can also be useful to the product development and marketing teams.
15. How Would You Implement Our Proposed Solution?
This is the first (but not the last) visualization question in the list. Including questions that encourage the potential client to envision using your product can be a potent tactic. It allows reps to gain insight into how well the customer understands the proposed solution so they can help fill any gaps.
16. What Questions Do You Feel I Haven't Answered?
Even if a rep feels like they've provided the necessary information to move to closing, the buyer may think otherwise. They should always check if there are any questions or anything the prospective client feels has been missed. It's also another question that demonstrates humility and promotes trust.
Level Four: Closing the Deal
Training sales representatives to ask questions throughout the sales pipeline ensures they're getting maximum information each step of the way. The more data they gather about who the prospect is, how they see their company moving forward and how they want to solve problems and reach goals, the better.
Ensuring reps understand reciprocal dialogue is the key to building lasting relationships and learning enough about clients' needs to make a customized closing pitch. The questions below will help your sales team see from the customer's perspective, allowing them to prove that they have their best interests at heart. They also encourage the buyer to visualize what a solution would look like and how it can positively impact their bottom line.
17. Which Business Goals Can You See Our Product Solving?
During the closing stage of questioning, train reps to ask plenty of visualization questions. By inspiring the prospect to imagine solving business goals with your product, you create a positive association. Plus, it sets the stage for the rep to continue the conversation by elaborating exactly how your company can help them improve the process and ultimately make more money.
18. How Would Overcoming Challenges To Meeting Hitting KPIs Impact Your Bottom Line?
After the initial question above, reps can go a step further by guiding the prospect to imagine how using your product or service could impact revenue. At this stage, your team can endeavor to discover the KPIs they're hoping to improve and tailor the final pitch accordingly.
19. Which Element of Our Solution Appeals To You Most and Least?
With this open-ended question for sales, reps can find out exactly what the buyer likes and dislikes about the solution. It's another opportunity to appease any concerns and helps them gauge how likely they are to close.
20. What Would Be the Most Valuable Content or Resources I Could Send?
Before delivering a final value proposition, reps should always ask if there are any resources that could help them solve their problems. They might be speaking with someone who isn't a decision-maker and could use your team's help giving a presentation to the C-suite decision-maker. The rep can send them a package with all the necessary information and sales pitches, giving them even more knowledge of your output and going over and above to help them personally.
21. What Can I Do To Earn Your Business?
Finally, this powerful question puts the ball firmly back into the prospective buyer's court. By asking such a direct question, the rep can uncover the remaining hurdles preventing them from making a purchase. In the final pitch, this information can be the difference between closing the deal and losing the client.
Sales Questions to Avoid
As important as it is to train reps in the correct questions to ask, you should also clarify what they should avoid asking:
- Focusing on the company instead of the solution: Ensure reps understand they must never talk at clients but should always maintain a dialogue. Asking them questions about your company could make the prospect lose interest fast.
- Loaded, biased or negative questions: Avoid making assumptions, being pushy or framing the buyer's choices as negative or misinformed.
- Closed-ended questions: Yes or no questions are particularly ineffective during the sales process. Unlike open-ended sales questions, they keep the ball in the rep's court and don't inspire a two-way dialogue.
Creating Successful and Engaging Sales Interactions
Asking the right questions requires reps to have expert product knowledge, exceptional people skills and the confidence to gently drive the conversation toward closing. Reps who are passionate about your product and know how to show this to clients do best because they can convince prospects that they're invested in mutual success. What's more, these questions provide a wealth of information that can help you improve your sales process, product line and value proposition.
With an intelligent forecasting solution, you can do that and improve your forecasting accuracy. Learn more in our guide, “Fundamentals for Successful Sales Forecasting.”