One of the recurring complaints I hear from sales leaders and sales managers is that their sales teams don't ask open-ended questions. Open-ended questions are necessary to acquire all kinds of information that will make it easier to sell to the client and their stakeholders. Some part of the reticence to ask these questions may come from the fear that there may be a lack of business acumen to address the response to the question.
Without the use of open-ended questions in B2B sales discovery, salespeople deprive themselves of information, priorities, their past experiences, or their preferences. This is like trying to land an airplane blindfolded. Not to worry, as you will find these five open-ended questions that will help you have your client answering your questions and moving you closer to being able perform better in the sales conversation.
What Are Your Current Initiatives or Projects?
By asking your client to share with you their current initiatives and their projects, you learn what they are trying to improve, which can help you find alignment. Even if none of their initiatives or projects line up with what you sell, you leave this question with a sense of what is important to them now or in the future.
Much of the time, the fact that a client agreed to a meeting with a salesperson is because they believe they could benefit from a conversation about something they believe needs to change. By accessing their initiatives, you may be able to show how what you sell can help with the other outcomes that show up in the initiatives.
What Are Your Most Important Priorities?
When you are speaking with a leader and decision maker, you can be certain they have priorities. Knowing what is important to your client can also help you to learn what the organization is working on. While we don’t believe qualifying early is a good practice in this environment, you may find that your prospect will not be able to pursue one improvement project until they complete something else.
Often, your prospective client has you sitting with them because they are interested in how you can help them with something important to them, giving you the opportunity to help reprioritize their priorities, especially if what you sell will help them with other priorities.
This is the second open-ended question that will help you find alignment with your prospective client.
What Are the Strategic Outcomes You Need, and What Does That Look Like?
This question will cause your prospective client to tell you what results they need. A lesser salesperson will pitch their product without knowing how to position its ability to deliver the strategic outcomes the client needs. The second half of this question will require the contact to tell you more about the implications of the outcomes.
This is one of the more important open-ended questions, even though it can illuminate what your prospect needs. It may also allow you to engage in a conversation about what exactly they need to do to deliver the strategic outcomes.
What Have You Tried in the Past?
Ask the decision maker what they have tried in the past, and how it worked or why it didn’t. Accessing information about their past attempts at change will prevent you from failing. You’ll also be able to better understand what your decision maker will need to learn before they can do what they need to succeed in the future with your help.
You may also learn why some of your competitors failed the client, which educates you on how to beat them in competitive pursuits. You can always learn from asking open-ended questions. This is the first of two questions that address the buyer’s journey. This one helps you understand their experience to this point.
Tell Me About Your Team and Their Readiness.
This question can help your client to address their ability to make the change that will allow them to improve their business and their future results. Much of the time, your sales champion may not have thought about their team and what they might need to be able to do the work to support a significant change.
This open-ended question can start the conversation about consensus, which they’ll need to be able to move forward. The sooner you can open this conversation, the better your chances of winning the deal because the longer someone is left out of the conversation, the easier it is for them to withhold their approval.
This is the second question to address the buyer’s journey, and it works by helping you gain access to their team.
Open-Ended Questions in Discovery
It is important to acquire the information you need to better help your clients. The more time your client spends answering your questions, the better you can shape the sales conversation for them.
Those who fail to ask open-ended questions have less information to work with when pursuing a relationship with the client and their business. A better salesperson will find they have an advantage in a contest by knowing more of what is inside their client’s mind, and how best to help them improve their business results.
Even though you need to ask open-ended questions, you must also ask the other types of questions you will need throughout the sales conversation. Leaving this article, make a list of the open-ended questions that will serve you and your client by helping you to create a greater understanding of their position. This approach will also help you know what counsel to provide, what advice to offer, and the recommendations that will ensure you and your client succeed together.