Catalytic Management Consulting
Accelerating Growth, Driving Performance

Ask Open-Ended Questions When Making Sales Calls

Ask open-ended questions . . . that’s a key part of making sales. But what exactly is an open-ended question? “The traditional definition is that open-ended questions are ones that can’t be answered with just ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ However, I would take this a little further and say that really good open-ended questions can’t be answered in 25 words or less,” explains Shelley F. Hall, Principal, Managing Director of Catalytic Management LLC (Boston, MA). “The best questions dig deeper and ask the prospect to think!” Comparison questions and consequence questions are the highest form of discovery questioning.”
EXAMPLE:  You know the prospect’s revenue is not growing or is bouncing up and down. Asking the prospect to compare the last three years revenue figures will result in a discussion about the ups and downs of their business . . . and why the revenue figure has gone up or down or both. The follow-up question would then be a consequence question such as, “How has this fluctuation affected your business?”

Seek Understanding

“When you fail to ask open-ended questions, you’re stuck with ‘yes’ and ‘no’ answers or very short answers that don’t lead to discussion. Therefore, you learn very little about the business that will help you determine what products or services you offer that may be meaningful to the prospect,” says Hall. 

The questions you ask should help you understand where the prospect has pain that you can remove. Before presenting your services, it’s essential that you learn what the prospect likes and dislikes about his current banking partner and their services. Furthermore, the questions should enable you to customize your presentation so that it fits what the prospect needs. Don’t waste time on products/services that may be nice to have but are not important to the prospect.

To better understand the business, Hall recommends asking questions like . . .

  • What types of financial services have worked best for you? Why do you believe these services helped you manage your business?
  • What do you like most about your current banking partner? What would you change?
  • If you could change anything about how your company manages its financial aspects, what would that be? Could you share why you feel that’s important?
  • Would you compare your financial needs of three years ago to your needs today?
  • What financial services do you believe you may need in the next three years?

Customize Your Presentation

Asking open-ended questions isn’t enough to score sales and build long-term relationships. You have to customize your presentation to match your services or products to the prospect’s specific problems. These are the problems you should have uncovered during the discovery phase.

“If you don’t ask follow-up questions or deliver a generic sales presentation, you’ve wasted your time and the prospect’s time and worse, you have not earned their respect,” Hall says. “You should also have examples of how you have solved these problems in the past. Naturally you can’t mention the names of other clients, but you can say things like, ‘I’ve worked with other retail businesses who have had a similar problem and we solved their challenge with our You’ll Never Run Out of Money Again Account’.”

Tips for Success

For more effective open-ended questions, Hall offers these tips:

  • Ask the prospect if you may ask them a few questions that will help you determine if your institution is the right fit for their needs. Tell them right up front that if you ask any question that they feel is sensitive or confidential, to tell you and you’ll move on.
  • Position your questions from a positive perspective so the prospect knows that you’re asking because you care about the right solution for them. Act like a consultant!
  • Avoid sounding like a detective trying to solve a murder. Don’t pepper your prospect with lots of questions at once – take your time and give the prospect time to think before they respond.
  • Be sure that in your desire to elicit in-depth responses that you keep the questions short and on target. Long questions that could have multiple answers will only confuse the prospect and will ensure that you don’t get the full information you’re seeking.
  • Try to ask questions that require a follow-up question so you are sure to get the full picture.

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