Open-ended questions are one of the most effective sales techniques you can use as a salesperson to generate more sales and help your customers.
And in this article, I explain how to do it.
With the publication of the bestseller salesman Spin Selling in 1988 there was a substantial change in the sales landscape.
In contrast to the leading sales approach of the time, ABC (Always Be Closing) took a completely different approach, consultative selling.
And what was the consultative sale about?
Basically, it is an approach in which the salesperson, in addition to acting as a salesperson, acts as a consultant, helping the client to find the best possible solution to their problem.
At the heart of this type of sales is putting the customer at the centre of everything, which is the same approach taken by serious CRM strategies.
And what is the main tool that a salesperson has to carry out the consultative sale?
Although any type of question can be valid depending on the concept and many believe that finding the right question is almost an art, the truth is that it has a lot of science.
The proof is the framework invented by Neil Rackham, the author of SPIN selling and after whom his book is named:
- Situation questions.
- Problem questions.
- Implication questions.
- Need questions.
This framework requires a different set of questions to be asked at each stage of the sale, but almost all of them have something in common:
These are open-ended questions.
What are open-ended questions?
We could define as open-ended questions all those that cannot be answered with a YES or NO.
For example, if I were to ask you:
– Are you satisfied with your current sales?
Practically the only possible answer is a yes, a no, or something like that.
The problem with these questions is that:
- They do not offer too much information to the seller.
- They do not force the client to think much about his problem.
However, open-ended questions provide much more context and help the client to really think through the problems they may be experiencing.
Why are open-ended questions so important in a sales process?
Customers almost always know what they want, but it is not so common for them to actually know what they need.
The perfect example is one of Henry Ford’s most mythical phrases:
Ford customers knew they wanted to get around faster. They didn’t know that what they needed to do so was a combustion engine.
Be careful, that doesn’t make the customers ignorant or anything like that. It’s not your obligation to know. But if you want to be a successful salesman, you should be able to find out what they need.
And the only way to achieve this is through open-ended questions.
How to ask open-ended questions?
As I said before to ask effective open-ended questions you don’t need to have a special spark (although it helps), it’s not an art. On the contrary, it is very scientific, and there are about 4 ideas you should always respect:
- Ask more generic questions at first and more specific ones later.
- Ask questions in the most critical areas of negotiation.
- You don’t want to fly before you walk.
- You have to practice in a structured way.
Ask more generic questions at first and more specific questions later
With my family I usually play a very silly game, but quite fun.
We each put a post-it on our forehead in which the player on our side has written the name of a character.
That way, everyone can see the character except himself.
The game consists of asking questions that are answered with yes or no until you can guess the character.
If you want to be successful, you need to start with the most general questions (is it a woman? is she a real character? is she still alive? is she an artist? ) before going on to more specific questions to narrow down.
With a client you have to do the same.
When you start the sales process, even if you’ve done some research, you’re probably missing a lot of background information.
You have to close these gaps before you can go deeper into the client’s problems.
Questioning in the most critical areas of negotiation
At the most important moments of the negotiation, such as when you are presenting the benefits of your product or when the client shows objections, you have to cross-examine the answers to your questions to make sure you understand what the client means.
It’s not a question of repeating everything twice like a parrot, but this kind of questioning and cross-examination will help you get to the bottom of those issues you’re not sure you understood the first time.
You don’t want to fly before you walk
Many novice salespeople make a critical mistake when they start using open-ended questions:
They ask too deep questions before they have created a comfortable and trusting atmosphere.
Imagine that you go to a dealership and the first thing the salesman asks you is
– Can you tell me exactly where you live, if you plan to have children soon and how many so that I can recommend the best car for your needs?
Even if the commercial did it with the best of intentions, it would probably backfire. To you and to anyone else.
To avoid this, you have to make sure you create a pleasant climate and prepare the ground so that when the time comes to ask the most personal or incisive questions, the buyer is comfortable and responds.
You have to practice in a structured way
To be able to fine-tune what open-ended questions you ask and when, you have to practice, but not in any way.
Although the sales process will be different with every customer and the questions you use as well, you will see that there is a common thread that is repeated very often.
In this framework, the use of a sales pitch, even if it is a flexible one, will allow you to test which questions work best . But to really check reliably which arguments work better than others, you have to measure everything.
And the best way to do this is with a CRM.
Therefore, if you want to professionalize the use of open-ended questions, you should form small arguments with them, try out some of them to see which ones are more successful and group the numbers of your results with a CRM to measure it well.
And the best CRM to do this is Efficy.
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