Sales reps need to be able to engage their customers in conversation if they want to make a sale. One of the best ways to do that is by using open-ended questions.
Open-ended questions allow the customer to talk, and by doing so, the prospect will feel more engaged and connected to the sales rep. In addition, open-ended questions can help uncover hidden needs and wants that the customer may not have been aware of.
Should you play 20 Questions in consultative selling?
It’s a campfire favourite and you can also play the game online. Everyone takes a turn thinking of something, or someone. It can be a celebrity, athlete, historical figure, and the other people must guess who that person is by asking questions. However, they can only ask you Yes or No questions. Is it a woman? Is she Canadian? On and on until the 20 questions are up.
The game is amusing, and it’s particularly funny watching your fellow playmates somehow get as far away as possible from who you actually had in mind.
Bringing this game into the office can demonstrate how wasteful asking close-ended questions can be.
As soon as you can ask open-ended questions, the game changes completely and for sure the first question that is going to be asked is, "What are you thinking about?"
"I'm thinking about a pink elephant." There you have it, we've just shortened the process considerably to find out what the person is thinking about.
You get it, if you want to be efficient in your consultative selling conversation, it’s not only about the quantity of questions you ask, but it’s also about the types of questions you ask.
What are closed-ended questions?
Closed-ended questions are questions that are answered with predefined multiple-choice options, like Yes/No responses, opinions from Strongly Agree to Strongly Disagree or a range of options depending upon the context of the question, like a scale “On a scale of 1 to 10 how happy are you with this product?”.
The pros and cons of closed-ended questions in sales
- Easy to answer
- Answer is clear and easy to understand
- Enable to collect quantifiable information
- Sound scripted (especially when asking them in sequence)
- Don’t allow to collect detailed information
- Feel unpersonal
- Keep the sales rep talking instead of listening
What are open-ended questions?
Open-ended questions by definition ask for responses that are not limited to a set of options, but rather allow people to answer based on their complete knowledge, feeling, and understanding.
The pros and cons of open-ended questions in sales
- Feel natural
- Collect deeper insights, feelings, opinions...
- Make the speaker feel heard
- Place the salesperson in control of the conversation
- Hard to identify to key insights
- Give a stage to people who like to hear themselves talk
3 mistakes to avoid when asking questions in sales
Going through a pre-set list of questions
A sales call isn’t meant to collect answers as a survey would. Don’t fall into the trap of going through your list of questions and mentally ticking the boxes when the prospect gives you an answer. This is one of the best ways to deliver a poor experience to the prospect and to burry your sales opportunity to the ground from the start.
Interrogating the prospect
No prospect accepts to meet with you to go through a police interrogatory and get qualified based on your criteria. If you want the prospect to erect a wall of resistance, use the interrogatory technique, and that’s what you’ll get.
Providing "automatic" response to every answer
Again, the sales call isn’t about you, it’s about solving for the prospect and really listening. If you just say “That’s great!” or “Awesome” every single time the prospect talks, you’re not helping the conversation and you’re mostly going to sound like a sleazy sales person.
Benefits of asking the right questions in sales meetings?
Building trust and rapport with your prospect
People buy from people they like and trust. If you want to be successful in sales, it is essential that you learn how to build trust and rapport with your prospects. One of the best ways to do this is by asking consultative questions that allow them to share their needs and concerns.
When you ask the right questions, you show that you are empathetic and truly interested in helping your customer find the best solution for their needs.
Here’s what you can do to leverage empathy and build trust in sales:
- Put yourself into the buyer’s shoes
- Ask questions that exhibit genuine curiosity
- Listen, but make sure it’s empathetic listening
Collect information from prospects
Prospects buy products or services to solve their problems. However, the problem may be poorly defined or only partially understood, so reps need to ask questions to get prospects talking about their issues. These questions address:
- The nature of the problem
- Who is experiencing the problem (internally and external repercussions)
- The current impact on the company (decline in sales, slow growth, declining business, long-term sustainability, etc.)
- The personal consequences (pressure, termination...)
- How long has the problem been around?
- What has been done to try to solve the problem?
- How much did the remediation cost?
- The overall cost of the problem
Most of these questions are open-ended and will allow potential customers to share a great deal of information about the issue, but also the emotions attached to it.
Stay in control and develop your expert status
To stay in control of the sales call, you need to have a clearly defined goal and know where you need to be at the end of the call. By asking questions to help you validate critical steps of your sales process, you’ll be able to move smoothly down your process while having a natural conversation.
According to the Challenger Sales, "More than 53% of what drives B2B customers’ purchase decisions is the salesperson’s ability to teach the customers something new or challenge their thinking."
In order to bring some insights to the conversation, while letting the prospect find the answers, you can use questions starting with “Could it be”.
Developing strong consultative selling skills and learning how to ask the right questions at every stage of the sale are critical development steps to be more successful in sales.
To dig deeper into consultative selling, download our free guide on Baseline Selling: A Step-by-Step Walk-Through.