When qualifying, you bring value to your prospects, clients, and yourself through the questions you ask -- but only if they're good questions. Allow me to introduce you to a concept I call "high-value questions."

Simply stated, a high-value question for sales is one that creates a learning experience for either the questioner (you), the person being questioned (your prospect or client), or both. Naturally, the best high-value questions provide insight for all parties concerned.

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One characteristic of most high-value questions is that they are open-ended instead of closed-ended. I suspect you've heard this distinction before, and perhaps you're applying it already. Let's make sure you're using open-ended questions to their full value.

You might be familiar with open-ended questions, but maybe not closed-ended questions, which you usually want to avoid.

Open-ended questions and closed-ended questions both have their place in sales conversations. Sometimes you're only looking for one-word answers, like the number of employees a prospect has, or their company's annual revenue.

But when it comes to your initial discover calls with prospects or new customers, open-ended questions can go a long way towards building trust and rapport, getting to know the prospect and their needs, and simply building a positive relationship. Let's dig into how to do it well:

How to Ask Open-Ended Questions

If at the end of the meeting, I ask a prospect or client, "Did you find this meeting helpful?" that's a closed-ended question since they can only answer "yes" or "no." And while it's good to know that they found the meeting helpful, unless they volunteer some elaboration to their answer, you don't know in what ways they experienced value. Maybe they're just being polite.

On the other hand, I could ask, "We've been through a bit of a process to get to this point, have we not? Can you tell me the value you feel you've received by going through this entire process?"

Now what happens? Your prospect or client clearly articulates their perception of the process, which helps you to get even clearer on your value. In addition, asking your prospects and clients about value actually helps them reinforce it in their own minds. The net result is you become more preferable and earn the right to ask for referrals.

1. Transform any question into an open-ended question.

So here's your action step for the next few days. Start to pay attention to the questions you are asking your prospects, clients, and everyone else you encounter. Did you just ask a closed-ended question when an open-ended question would have yielded more information for both parties? Where appropriate, start to turn some of your closed-ended questions into open-ended questions.

2. If you ask a close-ended question, follow it up with an open-ended one.

Here's a quick little trick I discovered that might help. If you find yourself asking a closed-ended question, you can always open it up at the end. For example, if you start by asking "Did you find value in this process?" you can follow it up with, "If so, please tell me in what ways."

3. Use open-ended questions to start a conversation, not to run through a script.

Remember that open-ended questions are designed to start a conversation with people. You shouldn't be surprised or thrown off if the answers to an open-ended question lead to tangential offshoots, and you should have a plan in place for if that happens, because it means your open-ended questions were successful.

Make sure you're also actively listening to the answers to help you build rapport with prospects and become one of their trusted advisers.

There is so much to this topic that I couldn't possibly cover it in just one blog post, so you can expect me to revisit this concept in future posts. In my next article, I'm going to give some very specific high-value open-ended questions that you can use to bring value to your prospects, clients, and yourself very quickly.

Examples of Open-Ended Questions

Here are some open-ended, high-value questions that reps can ask their prospects -- along with the closed-ended alternative phrasings you'll want to avoid:

Closed-Ended Questions Open-Ended Questions
What's your main business goal? What are the top priorities of your business at the moment?
What did you focus on last year? What are some of the best decisions you've made related to ___?
How are you doing? How are you feeling about your current situation related to ___?
What's your five-year plan? If we were meeting five years from today, what needs to happen for you to feel good about your situation related to ___?
What are your long-term goals? What opportunities do you see on your horizon?
What are your roadblocks? What challenges do you see to making those opportunities happen?
Why are you looking for [Service]? If we were to work together, what are the top two or three outcomes you'd like to see?
What are your KPIs? How will you be measuring our success related to those outcomes?
What if we don't hit our goals? What's the biggest risk of you not making progress on this situation?

Want to learn more about sales qualification? Check out our comprehensive guide to sales qualification here.

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 sales qualification

Originally published Dec 8, 2018 10:50:00 AM, updated October 30 2019

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Sales Qualification