Sales tip – open and closed questions

Sales Tips

Research consistently shows that  in successful calls buyers talk more than the sellers and the sellers ask more questions.  So, no other skill set has received more attention in sales training than the art and science of asking questions.

Every sales training company has created their own model for asking questions and each model is a little bit different than the next.  But, they have a lot in common – including the notion of open and closed questions.  So, a sales tip or two about the use of open and closed questions seems worthwhile.

Let’s start with some definitions.

  • Closed Questions. Questions designed to solicit an explicit answer from the customer.  Example: My experience is that the first problem we discussed is the most important – would you agree?
  • Open Questions. Questions designed to encourage the customer to talk and or for you to develop understanding.  Example: Where are you experiencing the greatest difficulty ..?
  • Major Myth. Open Questions are better (more effective) than Closed Questions.  In fact one of these two types of questions is not universally better than the other – it’s all about “under what conditions” does one tend to be more effective than the other.

If you want to take your questioning skills to the next level, then understanding when each of these types of questions is particularly effective is a worthwhile undertaking regardless of the questioning model you use.  Let’s start by exploring some conditions when Closed Questions tend to be particularly effective:

  • Testing Alternative Solutions. “We’ve explored two approaches which one do you think would have the most support – A or B?”
  • Redirecting the Conversation. “I think that sums up our first topic, can we move on to …?”
  • Bring Closure. “So, how many days of technical support will you need during …?”

Let’s take a look at conditions under which Open Questions tend to be effective.

  • Initiating a Discussion. “So what changes have occurred since we last …?”
  • Taping into Attitudes and Feelings. “So how do you think the staff feels about implementing the new …?”
  • Developing a Shared Vision of Success. “If you make a change, what would your 3 top priorities be?”

Being skilled at formulating and asking questions is a fundamental requirement for sales excellence and becoming more skilled is harder then it looks at first glance.

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©2012 Sales Horizons, LLC

About Richard Ruff

For more than 30 years Dr. Richard Ruff and Dr. Janet Spirer - the founders of Sales Horizons - have worked with the Fortune 1000 - such as UPS, Canon USA, Smith & Nephew, Boston Scientific, Owens & Minor, Textron - to design and develop sales training programs. During his career Dick has authored numerous articles related to sales effectiveness and co-authored "Managing Major Sales", a book about sales management, "Parlez-Vous Business" which helps sales people integrate the language of business into the sales process, and "Getting Partnering Right" – a research based work on the best practices for forming strategic selling alliances. Dr. Ruff received his Ph.D. in Organizational Psychology from the University of Tennessee and a B.S. from Rennsselaer Polytechnic Institute.
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