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Open or Closed Sales Questions, Which is Better?

4 min read
November 29, 2012

Last week, we asked an engaging question on the LinkedIn Group: Sales/Marketing Executives. The Sales Question: Have you found greater success in selling with open questions or closed questions in your industry? What seemed like a simple question yielded wildly different results. There was some great tactical advice mixed in with proven sales advice. Below are the top 5 comments and answers (of 33) to the question: Have you found greater success in selling with open questions or closed questions in your industry?

1. Ratio of Listen-to-talk

sales questions ration listen to talk

Hi Jon! We recommend this ratio of listen-to-talk … Early on: customer 90%, seller 10%. Most of the 10% is questioning Begin with open-ended Ask closed-ended to confirm, advance, close Mid-way: 50 / 50 Approaching the close: 10 / 90 Overall: 70% customer, 30% seller

2. Yes vs. No

sales questions yes vs no

Jon, the answer is in this thread itself.

Your original question is a closed one, so the theory says the only responses you should have got are ‘yes’ or ‘no’, yet no-one has responded in that way. The reality is we listen to what’s behind the question not the structure so, as others have said, it’s the quality that matters. If you do want a structure for your questions in a sales context, then look no further than SPIN.

3. The Real Purpose

Sales questions the real purpose

It seems to me to be rather difficult to keep track of whether an open ended or closed sales question would be appropriate at a given moment in a discussion. The purpose of the sales questions is to find out what the customer’s needs are and what the customer considers important. These type of questions would be asked by anyone wishing to genuinely help the customer. The object of the process is to fully understand the needs, the reasons behind those needs and the customer’s perception as to what is important and why. Ask whatever type of sales questions you deem necessary to accomplish these objectives and then tailor your offer to address those needs. Just like in medicine “you need to diagnose before you prescribe”. Ask whatever type of questions are necessary to get a complete diagnosis. It may also help to ask about the needs of your prospect’s customers as well because it will go a long way if you can also address some of those points in your presentation.

4. More factors.

sales questions more factors

Jon, I am going to put myself out on a limb here to say that greater success in selling has more to do with other factors than whether the question is open or closed. The quality of the question. Its relevance. Its context in the conversation. The unusual nature of the question. The fact that the question positions you as understanding the client’s situation. The questioning sequence. The fact that you asked questions appropriate to the level of decision-maker. If your questioning process develops dialogue and engages the mind so that people think about their situation in a new or different or more creative way, it doesn’t matter one little bit whether the question is open-ended or closed. The top 5% of income earners know this. It’s so second nature to them that they don’t consciously know what they’re doing and therefore can’t teach it. This is such an important conversation. I think sales trainers and sales managers have put far too much emphasis on open versus closed questions and not enough emphasis on developing a system that engages your target and positions you as the best possible choice.

5. The ‘Why’

sales questions the why

Jon, why do you ask this sales question? Do you plan to change your current process? Yes/No I see…..How do you plan to change your process?/or Why are you not going to change your current process? I totally agree with Jeff! You can not have a ‘normal’ conversation without using open and closed questions. Use all one type of question and it will get very uncomfortable for both of you. We actually tried this at a sales conference once, very interesting. This makes no difference of industry, making questions conversational is part of the art of selling. I think Michael, has a great point. Ask then listen, at least until you have the ‘real problem” and until you can speak to the solution. The sales process can be one and done, or many weeks.

Conclusion

Sales questions are definitely an art and not a science. There are best practices and strategies on how to use them, but at the end of the day, each question comes down to the deal, context, and execution.