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Open-ended questions allow you to gather information, establish rapport and qualify a sales opportunity. This type of question cannot be answered with a simple yes or no response, so your customer needs to think about the answer. Closed-ended questions limit conversation, while open-ended questions solicit details. Resist the urge to lead, prompt or interrupt to get the best results in selling to customers with this technique.
Open-ended questions allow you to confirm your understanding of the customer’s business problem. Asking the right questions enables you to uncover all you need to know throughout the sales cycle and establish a strong relationship. The discovery process can reveal or expose hidden facts about the environment to reduce the risk of selling the wrong solution or promoting an option the customer can’t afford.
By asking open-ended questions, such as to whom should you speak about business challenges, you can identify the right people who can provide critical information on key issues. Once you make these connections, you can ask clarifying questions to the proper decision-makers. This strategy enables shortened decision cycles and lowers the cost to make the sale and raises profits.
Using a customer-centric selling strategy, you focus on letting the customer talk first. Later, you repeat back what she's said to ensure you’ve understood. By focusing on business outcomes, you can make a long-term customer, not just a single purchase. Paraphrasing allows you to demonstrate your competency and builds trust. Establishing the facts also builds a mutual commitment. Avoid guessing or assuming, because these actions tend to be counterproductive to achieving positive outcomes.
Asking a few short questions typically initiates a constructive conversation. Engaging in small talk by starting questions with words such as "why," "how" and "when" can allow you to ascertain your potential customer’s personality type and adjust accordingly. Learning more about your potential customer allows you to commit, without reservation, the time and resources required toward pursuing the sale. Establishing a strategy of using common open-ended questions collected for your business allows you to quality leads more effectively and learn more about the characteristics of your customers sooner. Ask about the top strategic challenges, regulatory issues and business metrics. The answers should then enable you to ask additional questions so you can position alternative options. In the event that new information conflicts with prior data, you can communicate and gain understanding of the true situation to remain competitive.
Tara Duggan is a Project Management Professional (PMP) specializing in knowledge management and instructional design. For over 25 years she has developed quality training materials for a variety of products and services supporting such companies as Digital Equipment Corporation, Compaq and HP. Her freelance work is published on various websites.