Every effective sales training course teaches sales professionals to ask open-ended questions. These are the questions that start with who, what, why, when, how, etc. Why are open-ended questions so universally taught?
- They solicit great information.
- They get the person talking.
- They allow you and them to find out if there is an opportunity.
- They can show your expertise, IF you ask the right questions.
All that sounds great, doesn’t it? Open-ended questions really are effective. But not 100 percent of the time. When not used correctly, they can make a needs analysis seem like an interrogation. They can be leading, forced, narrow, product focused and irrelevant. Sales pros can come off like a militant drilling questions to just get to the information they want that allows them to pitch their product!
Instead, we can demonstrate our professionalism when we use the three ‘I’ approach so that our open-ended questions include:
Intent. I’ve seen sales pros launch right into a list of questions that might seem irrelevant to the prospect. The prospect thinks ‘What’s this have to do with anything?” Instead, we need to explain the intent of the line of questions so the prospect can put it in perspective and answer thoughtfully.
An example: Yesterday I received a call for someone who had something to offer. They immediately asked me “So, what are you working on?” My response? “Wow, that’s broad, in what context?” They responded, “Whatever context you choose.” Well, I was confused. I knew what this person was selling and thought, should I answer my question based on that narrow interest or is he really trying to find out more?
So, I turned it back to him and said, ‘What are you working on?” And then he responded. After 15 minutes I knew the flavor of his focus and we continued.
But why should I have had to work that hard? If I knew where the discussion was going we could have both saved time.