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The Power of Open Ended Sales Questions In Starting Conversations

open ended sales questions
Open ended sales questions are a powerful qualifying tool. However, a typical prospecting conversation begins this way:

Salesperson: "Are you in the market for a new CRM?"

Suspect: "No."

Game Over.

This how nearly all initial prospecting conversations are carried out.

Seems normal enough, doesn't it.

The salesperson *is* qualifing. But it's on a very literal, black or white, this or that level. Can you do this? Yes. Will it take you a long time before you reach a suspect who says "Yes," and becomes a prospect? Probably.

Why is a closed ended sales question a poor way to begin a prospecting conversation? Because you haven't gotten over the trust hurdle yet. Saying, "No," is an all too easy choice for your suspect. Even if it's not the truth--even if they badly need what you offer--the instinct for them is to err on the side of caution and send you on your way.

This is Problem #1 with asking closed ended sales questions. The conversation never gets started in nearly all cases. And the reason is usually not because of lack of fit! Fear, plain and simple, is taking over. So as the salesperson you must sort through many suspects to find one prospect who will overcome the gulp factor and tell you the truth.

And now where have you gotten yourself? Into a conversation with a prospect who is already actively looking for the solution you provide. Sounds good? What does it also mean? That they are already in conversation with other providers of whatever it is you do.

So Problem #2 with beginning using closed ended sales questions is when you succeed, you end up inviting yourself into competitive bidding situations. Terrible? Not necessarily. At least you're talking to prospects who have the first component of Fit: Need for what you offer. But is this the best way to prospect?

How To Use Open Ended Sales Questions to Effectively Start Prospecting Conversations

What if you could begin conversations with prospects who weren't aware they needed your product or service, but in the process of you starting that dialogue came to that realization? What position would you be in then?

Being in a crowd of vendors is nowhere near as effective as being the trusted advisor who came along and helped the prospect 'wake up' to the fact that they needed the thing. And open ended sales questions will help you do that.

Let's go back to the beginning of our CRM prospecting conversation, and use open ended sales questions:

Salesperson: "Would it be okay if we spent a couple quick minutes finding out if we're a fit at all? If we're not, that's all right."

Suspect: "I guess so."

We do need permission to speak. And when the suspect commits to the process this way, they're much more likey to give honest responses.

Salesperson: "I appreciate that. Could you share with me how you go about keeping track of prospects and customers now?"

There's the first of our open ended sales questions. The suspect can answer any way they please. And the usual thing is for them to start describing the process of how they do what you asked about.

From there, we can Read, Feed and Lead with more open ended sales questions:

Read their feedback by listening carefully to what they say;

Feed it back to them by asking for confirmation that what we heard was correct ("So just to make sure I understand...you're saying that the salesperson has to navigate through six screens to enter all the information about a new prospect?");

Lead them to further detailed responses and realizations with follow-up questions ("Do you think that's about right, six screens, or too many and too long?").

Beginning a prospecting conversation with a close ended sales question frequently shuts off your suspect and even when it does succeed puts you in a room with competitive vendors.

Starting a prospecting conversation with open ended sales questions results in deeper answers and better understanding of the suspect's world. You are viewed not as a product pusher but as a problem solver. Your objective is to find out whether what you offer is a fit or not for this suspect's situation; that attitude carries across to your suspect. When prospects qualify In, you may discover needs for other services or products you can provide, that you never would have found if you had begun with a Yes/No question. This way is far more effective.

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Jason Kanigan

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