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47 Open-Ended Questions For Sales That You Need to Know

What if there was a way to get inside the heads of your prospects and customers? It would make work a whole lot easier for your sales reps, that’s for sure. 

While it’s impossible to read the minds of your leads and accounts, there is a way to pull valuable information from them during your talks. It’s a skill your salespeople can develop and use to better serve your client base.

It’s called open-ended questioning.

With open-ended questions, you can gather insights from the horse’s mouth and use them to enhance the buyer’s journey and improve customer retention.

So let’s dive into what this is all about and how you can use open-ended sales questions to improve your customer insights.

What's an Open-Ended Question in Sales?

An open-ended question is a question you ask to gather more information. In sales, open-ended questions (or discovery questions) are a consultative sales approach. It’s a practice salespeople use to qualify leads, build rapport, promote trust, and earn credibility. When done properly, it gives salespeople more insights into customers and their needs.

What's an Example of an Open-Ended Question?

Open-ended questions have several key characteristics:

  • They’re conversational in nature.
  • They use the 5 Ws (who, what, when, where, and why).
  • There’s no particular pattern, formula, or structure (a.k.a. they’re natural).
  • They require thought before giving an answer (not a simple yes or no).
  • They’re subjective to the person since it’s based on their perspective and feelings vs. facts.

A great example of an open-ended question is:

“What do you dislike about the current CRM you use?”

The purpose of open-ended sales questions is to initiate dialogue between the prospect and sales rep. This is vital to learn more about the customer and their needs (and how you can help them). 

Now, there are two types you can ask — broad and specific open-ended sales questions. A broad, open-ended sales question helps salespeople to get prospects to open up and begin talking. 

An example of a broad, open-ended question is:

“Can you give me an idea of what’s happening in your department?”

Specific open-ended sales questions are helpful for when the prospect doesn’t share much information after asking a broader open-ended question. 

An example of a specific open-ended sales question is:

“You said there are knowledge gaps in your division. Can you explain where?”

When to Ask Open-Ended Sales Questions

Open-ended questions can help in a variety of sales scenarios. It can assist with sales prospecting, as well as grow relationships with current accounts. When you ask the right questions, it can even create opportunities to identify new ways to target and help your customers. 

Remember, the goal is to make learning about your leads and accounts painless. So the idea is to make it feel natural vs. like pulling teeth. 

The best time to use open-ended sales questions is when you need to:

  • Qualify a lead you’re pursuing
  • Learn pain points and needs of a prospect or customer
  • Understand the benefit your product/service will have for them
  • Find out objections and hurdles 
  • Discover how their process works 
  • Gather feedback about an account’s experience with your product (for upselling/cross-selling)
  • Build rapport by asking questions about the account’s issues and priorities

This isn’t an all-inclusive list of ways to use open-ended questions for sales. But it should give you an idea of how you can use them to benefit you and your customers. 

When coming up with questions, just keep the following in mind:

  • Start with broad questions and then ask more detailed questions as you get answers (think of an inverted pyramid). 
  • Be a good listener and show curiosity.
  • Keep it personalized — avoid generalized questions that sound prepared vs. natural and genuine.

What Are Closed-Ended Questions?

It’s not always easy to frame questions with an open ending. Especially when you’re used to asking closed-ended questions. These tend to begin with:

  • Is/Are
  • Would/Will
  • Was/Were
  • Do/Did
  • Which
  • Could/Can

When you begin your questions with these words, it typically leads to a yes or no answer. And often, the conversation will end there — unless you continue probing. Unfortunately, this may rub some people the wrong way, causing them to look for ways to exit the discussion. 

Closed-ended sales questions aren’t all bad, though. It can be useful for confirming information. So consider using them to repeat back what you learned to ensure you understand. 

Examples of closed-ended questions include:

  • Is this your first time using a product like ours?
  • Could this benefit your department?
  • Have you ever had an issue with….?
  • Do you think your hiring process is efficient?

Why Are Open-Ended Questions the Most Effective?

In sales, you’re consistently seeking information on your leads and accounts. Because with the right intel, you can enhance your strategies and yield better results. For example, when you learn more about a target groups’ pain points and hurdles, you can prepare your sales outreach to address them. 

In your emails or sales calls, you can bring up the pain points and how your product or service resolves them. And then beat them to the punch with a counter to their objection. 

For instance, if they have someone higher up in the hierarchy who has to approve the purchase, then your salespeople prepare a whitepaper or presentation. Give this to your prospects or accounts to help them get C-suite buy-in. 

Unfortunately, you won’t be able to develop strategies like this when you rely on closed-ended questions. It doesn’t help you discover new information unless you ask a ton of the right questions. So not only does this come off as presumptive, it can also grow irritating. 

Open-ended questions feel like you’re genuinely interested in the person, and it allows them to open up on their own to divulge details and insights. It helps your credibility, builds rapport, and makes the person feel in control (vs. being interrogated).

What Are Some Good Open-Ended Questions for Sales?

What are good open-ended questions to ask leads and accounts? Well, it depends on the scenario. So we put together a list of 47 open-ended questions based on your goals.

7 Questions to Qualify Prospects

Sale qualifying open-ended questions are perfect for prospecting. Here’s what you can ask to learn more about a lead.

  1. What’s your budget like for this project?
  2. What’s your timeline for purchasing a solution?
  3. What are your concerns right now?
  4. Can you explain your decision-making process?
  5. What’s changed since the last time we spoke?
  6. How soon are you looking to get started?
  7. What are your thoughts?

7 Questions to Learn Pain Points

Understanding your customers’ issues helps to position your product or service as the best solution. Here are seven open-ended questions you can ask.

  1. What’s wrong with the current technology/service/product you’re using?
  2. What are some of the hurdles holding your teams back from reaching goals?
  3. What are the objectives and goals your business is trying to reach?
  4. What made you decide to book a call with me?
  5. What improvements are you looking to make within your department?
  6. What have you tried to resolve the issues you’re having? What happened?
  7. If you had complete authority over your current system, how would you change it? Why?

4 Questions to Reveal Objections

Being prepared for potential objections is critical to closing deals. So here are some questions to ask to reveal them in advance.

  1. What are your thoughts so far?
  2. What other areas of concern do you have?
  3. How would you evaluate your current service/product?
  4. What would stop you from making a change today?

3 Questions to Ask After Closing

You don’t want to cut communications with customers right after closing a deal. So consider asking open-ended questions to show you’re still interested in their success. You can also use this time to learn how they found you, so you can focus your attention on the right channels. 

  1. What service or support would help you become successful?
  2. What caused you to reach out to us?
  3. What made you decide to use our product or service?

9 Questions to Build Rapport

Your credibility and reputation are everything to leads and customers. So it’s ideal for salespeople to extend their questions beyond business to build rapport. Here are nine questions you can ask to get friendly conversations going. 

  1. What did you do last weekend?
  2. What’s happening in your company these days?
  3. How has your business changed after X event?
  4. I know your basic background, but I would love to learn more about you. What’s your story?
  5. I really admire the values your company has. How did you come up with them?
  6. You said you’re hoping to retire soon — what are you planning to do then?
  7. What were you doing before you were at this company?
  8. What made you join this project?
  9. I saw you downloaded our guide — what reason made you download it?

4 Questions to Uncover Aspirations

Understanding what motivates your customers helps with creating collateral and conversations that resonate with them. Here are some questions you can ask. 

  1. What are some of the goals you have for your division?
  2. What’s your top priority today? And why?
  3. Where do you see yourself in five to ten years?
  4. If you could turn back the hands in time, what would you change in your organization?

7 Questions to Gather Insights

You can never have too much information about your customers. But it’s not always easy gathering the right intel. So try using these open-ended sales questions to learn more about your audience. 

  1. Why is this your strategy today?
  2. Why do X over Y?
  3. How do you think you should move forward to improve productivity?
  4. How do you think you can avoid common issues like A, B, and C?
  5. What have you tried so far? Why didn’t it pan out?
  6. Have you considered X, Y, or Z? Why or why not?
  7. What would you say if I said I think you may have under-invested in finding a solution?

6 Follow-Up Questions to Continue Conversations

Open-ended questions are designed to spark conversations. So it’s good to prepare follow-up questions to keep discussions moving along in the right direction. Here are some follow-up questions you can try.

  1. How so? 
  2. Why is that?
  3. Can you tell me more about that?
  4. What caused that to happen?
  5. How’d that make you feel?
  6. Did it improve or get worse?

False Open-Ended Questions to Watch Out For

As you’re coming up with a list of open-ended questions for sales, you have to steer clear of false open-ended questions. These are questions that seem open but aren’t. 

For example, “Were there any problems you wanted to go over?” At first glance, it appears to be open-ended. But the person on the other end can easily answer this with a yes or no. So unless you encourage the conversation to go further, it could turn into a dead-end (especially if the customer says no). 

A better way to pose this question is to ask, “What are some of the problems you’ve been having lately?”

This isn’t a simple yes or no question since it’s asking them to explain their situation.

Mistakes to Avoid When Asking Sales Questions (What Not to Do)

Asking questions is a great way to learn about a person. But it can quickly turn into an annoying discussion. Pay attention to the person to watch for signs of exasperation. This can happen if you’re asking too many questions too fast to where it feels like an interrogation. Avoid this by limiting how many follow-up questions you ask. 

Here are some other mistakes you should avoid:

  • Sounding like you’re reading from a list of questions (this seems impersonal and ingenuine). 
  • Giving the same enthusiastic responses for every question (i.e., great! awesome!, etc.). Instead, use variations.
  • Answering your own questions or giving recommendations (questions are meant for the customer to respond). For example, “What problems are you facing this year? Some of our customers are going through X and Y). 
  • Moving on before the prospect or customer can answer (or answer completely).  
  • Not actively listening to the prospect (think of follow-up questions to prevent this). 
  • Offering a solution instead of using the conversation to learn about the customer. Talk about their problem further before hinting at a product or service to resolve it.

Start Using Open-Ended Questions to Build Relationships

Salespeople get a bad rap, especially when they’re fast-talking know-it-alls looking to close hard and fast. But, of course, this is nothing like you and your salespeople. You care about your prospects and customers and want them to know it.

And this is what makes open-ended questions a wonderful tactic to add to your strategy. It helps to gain more insights into their needs. And it enables you to develop a solution tailored just for them.

Hopefully, this guide helps you to make the most of open-ended sales questions. And if you’re looking to learn more about improving sales, then we invite you to watch the on-demand webinar “How Siteimprove saw 15x ROI from a single campaign” today!

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Peter Tarrant, Account Based Marketer, Tipalti

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