Ask Open-​Ended Questions (Like These!) To Qualify Prospects

BY Jessica Helinski
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Open-​ended questions can be the key to really getting buyers to open up and share valuable information that can help you decide whether you should pursue their business. While most reps know that the best way to qualify prospects is to dig in with questions, they may not realize the type of questions matters. “Unless you ask the right questions, you won't uncover the right needs or understand the right problems to solve,” Tony Alessandra writes for HubSpot. “Not having that information could cost you the deal from the very beginning.”

Open-​ended questions: Why they’re better

These questions have an edge because they encourage dialogue; buyers have to give a response that is more than “yes” or “no.” “You’re not going to learn much about your prospect by asking questions that result in yes or no answers,” says Bill Cates. “You need to ask questions that allow the prospect to give detailed answers.

Start each discussion with these questions

Alessandra points out that open-​ended questions are the best way to initiate any dialogue with a prospect. They should be your first line of questioning as they will guide and shape the rest of the conversation. “When you first hop on a discovery call with a prospect, it might be tempting to jump to the questions you know will give you a clear indication of the prospect’s interest,” he writes. But, instead, kick things off with open-​ended questions. To give sellers some inspiration, Alessandra shares examples of questions that can be used to engage buyers and garner some valuable insights. Below are just a sampling of his suggestions.

Could you tell me about your business?

It’s best to start out with broad open-​ended questions, especially if you aren’t super familiar with the prospect. Plus, they intimidate or stump the buyer. “They put your prospect at ease because they allow any type of response,” Alessandra explains. “This is a non-​threatening way to begin. Listen to what your prospect says and what they omit.” This question is a great way to open up dialogue and get a feel for how the prospect views their own business. 

What are your goals for the next [3, 6, or 12] months?

A question like this digs a little deeper, giving you insight into what the prospect’s goals include. You can learn more about where they hope to grow, as well as their timeline. You can then follow-​up by asking about their boss’ goals and how all of the goals align with your product or service. “Use a logical sequence for your questions,” Alessandra suggests. “Prospects like to know where your questions are headed. If they can't tell, they may suspect you're manipulating them. By following keywords and asking sales questions in a logical order, you will keep your intent clear and build trust.”

How does your company evaluate new products or services before buying?

This is one of the most important open-​ended questions you can ask a prospect. You will find out how new purchases evolve and who has a hand in the purchasing decision. Again, it’s a basic, non-​threatening question that gets the prospect talking while also helping you learn more. Want to learn how to elaborate on this question? Check out the episode “Smarter Decision-​Maker Identification” from the Sell Smarter podcast for advice on further exploring the response to this open-​ended question. 

Don't forget: Prospects are qualifying you as well. This is a time for you to demonstrate credibility and professionalism to immediately establish trust with the buyer. As SalesFuel CEO C. Lee Smith believes, salespeople should also consider how the buyer qualifies them. Their perception has significantly more impact on whether a sale is made than how the seller perceives the buyer. This is the subject of his book Sales Cred, which focuses on the importance of establishing credibility from the very first qualifying call. In addition to adding open-​ended questions to your call, also implement Lee's tips to establish your own credibility. 

Photo by Metro Creative Graphics, Inc.