GuidesCustomer research30 open-ended sales questions to use during the sales process

30 open-ended sales questions to use during the sales process

Last updated

16 March 2024

Author

Dovetail Editorial Team

For sales-based businesses, engaging with people is not just a formality—it's the basis of the industry. Conversations containing purposeful questions build rapport and trust. Questions, when asked in the right way, can reveal why customers are drawn to your products or services and how your offerings can improve their lives or resolve their problems.

Open-ended questions are the key to meaningful conversations. When you chat with a potential customer, asking the right questions can smoothly move you from building rapport and trust to the closing stage. The outcome? A quick and effective process that shapes a positive buying experience for your customer. Experienced salespeople understand a positive experience usually leads to repeat purchases.

In this article, we uncover the secrets of mastering open-ended questions. Learn not only what to ask but when to ask it. Improve your sales success rate and increase customer retention.

Get ready to revolutionize your approach by transforming routine customer interactions into impactful, lasting connections.

What are open-ended sales questions?

Open-ended questions usually invite more than a one- or two-word answer. They encourage the customer to provide more detailed responses than closed-ended sales questions, which tend to be answered with a simple "yes" or "no.” They are designed to be conversational and require a bit of thought to answer.

Open-ended questions are about more than facts and figures. They inquire about the prospect's personal feelings and thoughts. An open-ended question usually begins with what, why, or how, for example:

  • What brought you here today?

  • Why did you choose this product?

  • How did you hear about us?

Why are open-ended questions effective?

Open-ended questions are usually more effective than closed questions because they allow you to actively listen to your prospective or current customers' responses so you can provide appropriate assistance.

Selling a product or service that doesn't meet a customer's needs can lead to dissatisfaction and decreased customer loyalty. Open-ended questions help pinpoint prospects' needs, revealing how your product or service can address them.

What is the most powerful question in sales?

A powerful sales question is an open-ended question that reveals valuable information about potential customers. These questions delve into their priorities, whether it's price, specific benefits, or trust and reliability.

Knowing these priorities, obtained through open-ended questions, empowers you to make necessary adjustments and successfully close the sale.

What are good open-ended questions to ask customers in retail?

In retail, the key is to keep customers satisfied for repeat business. Ask open-ended questions about price, product quality, and how customers discovered your brand. Understanding these aspects allows you to adjust pricing, offer products, and tailor marketing efforts to maintain a steady customer flow.

Why sales teams should ask open-ended sales questions

These types of questions are an invitation for the prospect to have a conversation with you. They'll share valuable information about themselves, why they may need your product or service, and how you can help them purchase a product or service suitable for their needs.

Engage prospects

Open-ended questions help you to engage with prospective customers. You can ask a prospect questions like: "What brings you here today?" or "How can I help you?" The customer is often looking to solve a problem or enhance their lifestyle. They may respond with details about what they are looking for and how it will apply to their lives.

For example, they may reveal they have children or enjoy a particular sport or activity. When the potential customer divulges these details, you discover what the customer cares about. You can continue to ask more open-ended questions to gain even more insight into those details and, at the same time, build a strong relationship with the prospective customer.

Pain points

While responses to open-ended questions help you understand their need for your products or services, they will also inform you of their pain points. Pain points are challenges or inconveniences that customers face when using your industry’s products and services.

Examples of pain points include:

  • Customers experience frustration and inconvenience due to the frequent replacement of low-quality products

  • Customers feel deceived or unhappy when they discover unexpected charges that were not clearly communicated

  • Affordability, including if customers perceive the products or services as overpriced

  • Customers find it challenging or frustrating to use the product, leading to dissatisfaction and potential disuse

Build trust

When a prospect describes their pain points, sympathetically acknowledge them and explain why your product or service differs from others in your industry. At this point, you've built trust with the prospect by recognizing the pain points rather than disregarding them as unimportant concerns.

What makes excellent open-ended sales questions?

Open-ended sales questions are designed to transition the sales process seamlessly from one stage to the next. An excellent open-ended sales question will get you through the selling stages while providing a positive experience for the customer.

The stages of the sales process can include:

  • Building rapport

  • Qualifying the prospect

  • Gathering information on the prospect's past experiences and buying habits

  • Finding out why they need the product or service you offer

  • Learning how the prospect thinks the features of your product or service will benefit them

  • Overcoming objections

  • Closing

  • Following up after the sale

Once you build rapport, you'll want to gather information about the prospect's interest level with qualifying questions. With good sales questions, you'll be able to gauge whether the prospect is seriously intending to purchase your product or service or is just browsing with little or no intention to purchase.

Qualifying questions determine whether the potential customer is a good fit for your product or service and help identify how likely they are to make a purchase. If there are budget constraints or their decision-making process consists of more than one person, you may have to ask additional qualifying questions before pressing on to the next step.

Their level of interest will also determine whether you proceed with the rest of the sales process. By asking qualifying questions, you can work out if they have an urgent and timely need for your product or service, or if they are just browsing.

After the qualifying questions, the next set will help you learn why the prospect is inquiring about your product or service, the benefits it can bring them, and whether they've used this product or service before.

Asking good open-ended questions when faced with objections may help you overcome them. You can ask prospects about any further concerns or why they may still be hesitating to purchase the product or service, allowing you to address their responses.

Finally, asking the right closing questions will help you to complete the sale.

What are the 4 types of questioning techniques in sales?

Now you know to ask open-ended questions during the sales process, you'll need to know how to ask these types of questions. Each of the four techniques is designed to gain more information about the thought process of the potential customer by forming questions in a specific format.

Probing

These questions can provide insight into why the prospect is considering purchasing your product. For example, a potential customer may have come to your business hoping for a better price than what they’re already paying for a similar product or service.

A better price is a general term, but with probing questions, you can quantify what they mean. Anything lower than what the prospect is paying might make them happy, or maybe they're expecting to pay half of what they're currently paying. In this case, you can ask probing questions to understand what they mean by a better price.

Leading

These types of questions directly focus on the subject you want to discuss. You would ask a leading question to move a conversation in a particular direction or produce a desired response or result.

Questions asked in the closing stage of the sales process are usually leading questions because they aim to provoke a purchase.

Focused

This technique is a chain of questions focused on specific areas of concern, also known as funnel questions. The chain starts with a general question and then narrows into more specific questions about that subject.

For example, you would start by asking a simple, non-threatening question to learn whether they've used this particular product or service before. If they have, you can explore further to find out where they purchased it and what challenges they experienced using other products or services that may have prompted them to look elsewhere.

Hypothetical

Questions based on possible ideas or situations are hypothetical. You can use hypothetical questions to prompt potential customers to visualize how your product or service can improve their circumstances or solve their problems.

For example, you can ask questions that start with "What if…" or "What would happen…" You can also ask them how they envision the future if their circumstances don't change or problems aren't solved.

30 examples of open-ended sales questions

Open-ended questions can engage potential customers and guide them to a successful purchase without using an aggressive or superficial sales approach.

Here are some examples of open-ended sales questions in the different stages of the sales process. These examples will help facilitate a successful sales conclusion and a greater rate of returning customers and referrals.

Building trust and rapport question examples

1. How has your day been so far?

2. Is there something specific you'd like assistance with today?

3. Where did you hear about us?

4. Have you experienced our product or service before, or is this your first time?

5. What initially attracted you to our product or service?

6. Do you have any specific questions regarding our products or services?

7. In what ways do you anticipate our product or service influencing your family, professional, or personal lifestyle?

Needs and pain point question examples 

8. Why are you looking for a product or service like this one?

9. If you purchase this product or service, how do you expect it to affect your everyday life?

10. If you've used this product or service before, what do you think about it?

11. Can you tell me more about that?

12. Why are you looking to change your product or service?

13. How do you expect the features of the product or service we offer will benefit you? 

14. What concerns do you have in making a change to your product or service?

Qualifying question examples

15. Which services or products have you previously used? How much did you pay for them, and what was the value like in terms of price and benefits?

16. What do you think about the price of our product and service?

17. Who else would be involved in making a purchasing decision?

18. Do you have any questions about our product or service that I haven't answered yet?

Objection question examples

19. What concerns do you have so far?

20. What else would you like to discuss?

21. When would be a good time to talk about purchasing this product or service?

22. What would stop you from making a purchase today?

23. Exactly what do you mean when you say you're looking for a better price?

Closing question examples

24. Who else are you comparing us with?

25. What can I do to help finalize your decision?

26. Do you have any other concerns that would prevent you from purchasing today?

27. What would it mean for you personally if you bought our product or service today?

Follow-up question examples after closing

28. Who referred you to us?

29. Now that you're a customer, what can we do to make sure you have a positive experience with our product or service?

30. What is your contact information so you can receive product or service updates and special offers?

Tips to ask effective open-ended sales questions

Knowing what questions to ask is only part of completing a successful sale. How to ask these questions is just as important as what questions to ask. You don't want to seem as if you're conducting an interrogation or just running through a script, as this will make prospects uncomfortable. 

Here are some tips for gathering the information you need in a way that makes it a positive experience for a potential customer.

More listening, less talking

For active listening, you'll want to minimize distractions, not only noise and interruptions but also internal distractions. Don't focus on your thoughts about other things or about how to respond to what the customer is saying. Focus on their responses to your questions.

When you ask the question, do not lead, prompt, or interrupt the prospect while they’re answering. To reassure the customer you’re listening to them, occasionally repeat what they said to let them know you have understood their responses.

Pay attention to nonverbal cues

Nonverbal responses can be just as effective as verbal ones. Paying attention to the tone of their voice, facial expressions, and body language will provide insight into the emotion motivating their verbal responses. Then, you can ask more questions based on their nonverbal reactions.

Demonstrate sincerity and curiosity

A prospect can recognize when your need to sell them a product or service overrides their need for it. If you're not genuinely curious and empathetic about the prospect's situation, this can impede your ability to close the sale.

However, genuinely wanting to know the answers to your questions and sincerely wanting to help someone resolve an issue or enhance their current situation will build trust and rapport, rather than making them feel like they're just another sale.

Keep it personal

Since every prospect is different regarding what they care about, why they may consider your product, and how urgent their need for your product is, tailor your conversation and the questions you ask to that particular prospect rather than relying on a universal exchange. 

Keeping the discussion personal will assure the prospect you are hearing them and are addressing their specific needs.

Mistakes to avoid when asking sales questions (what not to do)

The sales process and your questions are designed to build relationships. To successfully close a sale, you need to build trust and make prospects feel comfortable with your business.

Here are some things not to do. They will deteriorate the prospect's interest and rapport with you and your business.

Talking and not listening

Just as it's important not to launch into a monologue about how great your product or service is, it's also important not to answer your own questions. The reason for asking potential customers questions is to gather details on their thought process, not to tell them what you believe their thoughts are or should be.

If you answer your questions, this plants a suggestion in the prospect's mind, interrupting or altering what they were about to share with you. This will deprive you of important information.

Remember, listening is a key element of asking sales questions. If you're not paying attention to the answers, the prospect can interpret your act of asking questions as insincere. You'll also miss out on valuable information that might have made the difference between closing and not closing the sale.

Interrogating potential customers

Too many follow-up and rapid-fire questions or interrupting responses by asking another question can seem like an interrogation rather than a conversation. The prospect can feel as if you're being intrusive and not understanding what they need.

Having a mental checklist of questions that tries to direct responses rather than lets the responses dictate the questions can cost you sales.

Focusing on "why" questions

Even though most open-ended questions start with "what," "how," and "why," too many "why" questions may seem accusatory. "Why" questions may make the prospect feel defensive when answering the question, if they answer at all.

Replacing "why" questions with ones that start with "what" or "how" may help to make the prospect comfortable. For example, instead of asking the prospect, "Why are you here today?" ask, "What's brought you here today?"

Another example is not to ask, "Why did you stop using the product?" and instead ask, "What provoked your decision not to use the product?" or "How did you come to the conclusion not to use the product?"

Another method of softening the accusatory tone of "why" questions is to precede the question with "Can you help me understand …" For example, "Can you help me understand why you're here today?" or "Can you help me understand why you stopped using the product?"

Ask open-ended questions for consistent sales success

The purpose of learning when and how to ask open-ended questions is not to manipulate or intimidate prospects into purchasing your product or service but to genuinely understand how your product or service can help them. Presenting yourself as helpful builds trust and rapport and uncovers the needs, issues, and pain points the prospect may be experiencing.

Building trust and rapport and discovering the particulars of how your product and service can help a potential customer will be beneficial for not only one successful sale but many more in the future.

Asking these types of questions will ensure the prospect-turned-customer will be happy with your product or service, will return for more purchases, and will refer you to others, exponentially increasing your sales.

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