Ask the Right Questions – Winning more business means knowing how to ask. Learn to use open and closed-end questions with prospects

Imagine you get a telephone call at your office from a male vendor you’ve never met before who asks you, in quick succession, this series of questions:

“How long have you been in business?
How many employees do you have?
What’s your budget for my type of equipment?
Who do you buy from now?
Will you be the person making the final decision?”
What would your reaction be? If you happen to be male, you may think this caller is a no-nonsense type of guy who’s just a little short on personality. But if you’re a woman, chances are you think the caller is rude and pushy, and you are very unlikely to send business his way.

Let’s look at the flip side of this situation. Say you’re speaking for the first time with a female entrepreneur who asks you this series of questions:

Ask the Right Questions

“What were some of the difficulties you encountered getting your business off the ground?
What challenges might affect your equipment budget?
How do you feel about your present supplier?
What would you look for in a firm to replace that supplier?”
If you’re a woman, you may find this entrepreneur’s questions thought-provoking, interesting and engaging. However, a man being asked these same questions by a female entrepreneur is likely to have the opposite reaction, and feel that he is being unduly probed, asked to reveal feelings and emotions to someone he has just met.

Why would men and women have such different reactions to individuals asking the same sets of questions? The answer has to do with how men and women use language differently, and with our own individual styles of communication.

Why Alter Your Style?

The secret to success in every interaction with prospects is to ask effective questions, then listen carefully to the answers. As a business owner, it’s vital you evaluate your own style of communication and learn to ask questions that enable you to put your prospects at ease and gain valuable information concerning their needs.

There are two types of questions: open and closed-end. In unfamiliar or stressful situations, such as a typical sales transaction, men tend to rely on closed-end questions, while women favor open-end questions. The key to successfully overcoming objections and closing more sales is learning to use both types of questions with ease — even under pressure.

Closed-end questions can be answered with “yes” or “no” or a simple fact. All of the questions asked by the male vendor in my first example were closed-end questions. These are good conversation starters.

Open-end questions are “thinking, feeling, finding” questions. They reveal the emotion behind the answers and can give you a lot more information concerning your prospect’s state of mind and actual needs and desires. All of the questions asked by the female entrepreneur above were open end. By asking open-end questions and listening to the answers, you’ll be able to understand your prospect’s objections and offer solutions to overcome them.

If you ask only closed-end questions such as — “Who is your present supplier?” — you may never find out that supplier is frequently late on deliveries and requires 10 days advance placement on all orders. But by following the closed-end question with the open-end query — “What do like best about your present supplier?” — your prospect is likely to volunteer that information. Then, if you’ve been listening carefully, you’ll be able to offer a solution that meets his needs such as, “Just suppose you could get the low pricing you’ve come to expect but with guaranteed on-time delivery and only 24-hour advance notice on all orders?”

Closed-end questions are more than good conversation starters. They’re great conversation “closers” too. Let’s say you’re speaking with a prospect on the telephone and your goal is to close for an appointment. Use a very specific closed-end question such as, “Is Tuesday at 3:00 good for you?” And continue naming dates and times until you have an agreement. If you’ve asked great questions, listened carefully to the answers, and provided solutions that meet your prospects’ needs, you’ll succeed time after time.

Practice Makes Perfect

Here’s an easy exercise to get you thinking about ways to use both open and closed-end questions with your prospects.

1. Take a sheet of paper and draw a vertical line down the center separating the page into two columns. Put the heading closed-end above the left column and open-end above the right.

2. On the left, list all the “yes or no” or fact-finding questions you would like to use with prospects on the telephone or face-to-face. Make this list as comprehensive as possible. Remember, you need information from your prospects in order to determine if they are qualified, and to help you overcome objections and close.

3. In the right-hand column, loosely transform each of the closed-end questions you listed on the left into open-end questions. For example: (closed-end), “Have you considered remodeling your bathroom?” (Open-end) “What sort of remodeling changes would you like to see made to the bathroom.” It’s simple once you get the hang of it.

Subscribe Scroll to Top