Home > Interview > Open and closed questions.....what works best?

Open and closed questions.....what works best?

Hi everyone,

So, Ive been in a sales job now for quite a while, however the other day we had a sales training session to keep everything fresh in our heads. During the training, one of the techniques we discussed was open and closed questions.

We were told that we should always use open ended questions to try and get as much out of our client as possible. I can obviously see why they have told us to do that, however it got me thinking about how I personally sell.

When on the phone to a potential buyer, I start by asking the questions that I need to know the answer to in order for me to know the needs of that customer. However, many of my questions are very much straight to the point and I would class them as closed rather than open.

Far enough, you may find out more with open questions, however through my experience, using closed questions can get an answer there and then and hopefully seal the deal quicker.

What does everyone else think? And do you tend to use open questions more than closed or vice versa? - by nard1
How many children do you have? How old are they? Do you plan on sending them to college? Closed.

Tell me about your children? Tell me about their schooling? What plans do you have for their college? Could you tell me a little about what you're doing to prepare for that wondrous event? Can you tell me a little about you employers benefit plan for you and does it help you plan for your childrens education? Open.

Closed is clinical. Its like a white sheet of paper.

Open is live. It paints pictures in full living color.

Aloha.... :cool: - by rattus58
It depends on your intent.

If you are focussing on controlling the course of conversation, then the differentiation of open ended vs. closed questions takes on more meaning.

If your intent is to engage the prospect and work towards striking an harmonious chord that would lead to doing business, then the questions and answers can flow freely and naturally without a tactical agenda.

The risk in all sales "techniques" is always transparency.

When I sell, I ask questions in a purely inquisive manner, and with an inquisitive intent. Some are open ended and some are closed. Conversation is conversation. - by Ace Coldiron
I wholeheartedly agree with Ace,
There's a time and place for both but most importantly, don't lose focus by worrying too much about whether your question should be open or closed.
And anyway, if you get a No, a Yes, or a one word response as lucidly outlined above by Rattus, it's real easy and quite natural to follow up by asking why they responded in that way, and now you've an opened the question.
I also often find that a one word response, like an emphatic No! or an enthusiastic Yes! can provide a more concise insight into what you need to know than a lengthy dissertation.
It's not what we say, it's how it's how we say it.
Cheers - by Tony1905
It depends on your intent.

When I sell, I ask questions in a purely inquisive manner, and with an inquisitive intent. Some are open ended and some are closed. Conversation is conversation.
I like this answer..... :)

Aloha... Tom :cool: - by rattus58
I have never been someone who has liked selling and find it easier to go into it naturally rather than with some robotic motions of what to and not to ask!

I have had numerous training on what to ask and when but honestloy do find that when you put it into practise it entirely depends on who you are talking to as to what would be the best approach!

You have to be good at judging the person you are talking to, the rest should just flow naturally!

This is a great thread though - ots good to see what others think and find useful! I am on here for tips and guidance after all thmbp2; - by Neelam
Nard, you should use an open communication style where ever possible with prospects. However, when you find yourself unable to gather keyinformation or if the prospects is "wandering", shifing to "closed probes", you can comfortably direct the prospect back to the topic at-hand.

Can you see where that would be useful? With this simple 'closed probe', I've just moved you into a position of agreement.

"Open probes" are questions asked, the answers to which can be pretty much anything:
1. utilized when the prospect is a "low reactor" (ie. little reaction to anything being discussed); or,
2. utilized when the prospect is stalling (unless you take control, the only response might be 'yes' or 'no');
3. typically 'who', 'when', 'what', 'why', 'how' type of lead-ins;

"Closed probes" are questions asked, the answers to which can ONLY be 'yes' or 'no' and are used when the sales person need to gain control of the discussion.

Where some will say that this is manipulative, I'm certain that if you truly understand the sales mandate ... at times we must manipulate the suspect in order to move through the sales cycle.

Good luck & Good selling!
Pat - by OUTSource Sales
Hi everyone,

Wow, thank you for all your replies - all of which have been extremely useful. I completely agree that you shouldn't go into a call worrying about what you ask, but with a clear outcome of what you want to achieve at the end of the conversation. I think me worrying about open and closed questions is actually distracting me from having a natural tone over the phone - and I strongly believe that you will be a much stronger sales person if your personality comes across to your client.

I also like what OUTsource Sales has said regarding closed questions keeping the sales cycle moving. More often than not, the seller needs to take control of the discussion if the receiver is unresponsive, and I can bet your bottom dollar they are more likely to respond to closed than open.....OR......they just hang up on you and so you move onto the next call!! - by nard1
Hi everyone,

I also like what OUTsource Sales has said regarding closed questions keeping the sales cycle moving. More often than not, the seller needs to take control of the discussion if the receiver is unresponsive, and I can bet your bottom dollar they are more likely to respond to closed than open.....OR......they just hang up on you and so you move onto the next call!!
More likely to respond?? What do you mean by respond? You mean yes, no, I don't know? True. Will you get helpful information? You might if you have a well designed yes, no, specific question/questioning technique in place. The reason Ace's answer of being conversational is important is so you can move through phases like this without triggering any frustration/animosity/pressure in your tone.

There is always a mix of questioning techniques whenever you are soliciting information. If you are problem solving... fishing if I may, the best way to lure your client out from under the rocks is through open ended questions, but you might have to attract his attention with one that is closed.

Aloha... :cool: - by rattus58
I use open ended questions when I want information . This information can be for me or for the client to realize the urgency of moving forward. Having them hear it in their own words.

I use closed ended questions to confirm facts or believed facts.

If I understood this widget has caused a slow down (which means) and that is costing you money?

Why do you feel that this widget is costing you money? I want them to explain to me the urgency in replacing this widget that is costing them money. - by rich34232
I use open ended questions when I want information . This information can be for me or for the client to realize the urgency of moving forward. Having them hear it in their own words.

I use closed ended questions to confirm facts or believed facts.

If I understood this widget has caused a slow down (which means) and that is costing you money?

Why do you feel that this widget is costing you money? I want them to explain to me the urgency in replacing this widget that is costing them money.
All of which is a great and effective mix of conversation, engagement, and just plain good selling. - by Ace Coldiron
I watched a training video at work the other day, and it had explained that open-ended questions should be used to build rapport, while closed questions should be used to lead the customer to the sale.
But there are downsides to both. Open ended questions allow the customer to state an objection more easily, while closed questions can be pushy.
The right combination of both is necessary to close the deal. What that combination is depends on the situation, because every customer is different.

I dont know if that helps any, but it was fresh in my head and I wanted to share it with everybody. - by radanders01
I watched a training video at work the other day, and it had explained that open-ended questions should be used to build rapport, while closed questions should be used to lead the customer to the sale.
But there are downsides to both. Open ended questions allow the customer to state an objection more easily, while closed questions can be pushy.
The right combination of both is necessary to close the deal. What that combination is depends on the situation, because every customer is different.

I dont know if that helps any, but it was fresh in my head and I wanted to share it with everybody.
What do you mean by "Open ended questions allow the customer to state an objection more easily,?" I kinda like knowing the territory I'm traversing before I run out of water.

Aloha... Tom :cool: - by rattus58
Ralanders, good SR's pray for objections because that's where you get the chance to shine!

If you've taken any formal sales training, you may remember the four basic customer attitudes: 1) acceptance, 2) skepticism, 3) indifference, and 4) objection. The key to understanding the fourth, objection, is to recognize it for what it is … a request for assistance.
Consider this, whenever a customer objects to buying, it CAN mean that the customer is:
> sincere in voicing what he feels is a very real reason for not buying; OR,
> covering up” his real reason for not wanting to buy; OR,
> making random objections to “buy some time to think it over”; or,
> truly not understanding the benefits you are trying to sell and needs more information.

Objections fall into three generic categories:
1. misunderstandings:
a) easy objections to handle;
b) usually the result of a customer lacking information or being misinformed about a particular facet of the B1 offering;
c) handled as if they are “opportunities”: i) probe to confirm the customer’s need; ii) make a support statement to clear up the misunderstanding; and, iii) be prepared to offer proof;
2. drawbacks:
a) somewhat more difficult to manage usually a result of the product failing to provide a benefit which the customer considers to be important; OR,
a) the customer simply does not like something about your product or service;
3. conditions: generally VERY difficult to overcome, as conditions are usually something which really exists that neither Business One Communications nor the customer can overcome - if it is true;

I hope this helps.

Good luck & Good selling!
Pat - by OUTSource Sales
Certainly it's no crime to go off topic on a thread when the subject matter of objections takes center stage. As many of us know, different and opposing points of view are welcome on SalesPractice. So--here are thoughts derived from my own experience in sales, and from interaction from knowledgeable and successful others in the field.

The common notion that an objection is "a request for assistance" is merely that--a notion. It is constructed as a segue to advance another notion that objections are opportunities. They can be opportunities only if viewed in the correct light.

Objections are stances, specifically stances of resistance by buyer/prospects. They are, regardless of validity, a supporting referral for not moving forward at a particular moment in time.

"Overcoming objections" is often taught as an act of removing objections, when in fact removal or dispensing is far less common than transcending objections. In short, objections often remain, right through the act of purchasing, because they have been WEAKENED BY COMPARISON.

The scales are often tipped in another direction through the efforts of a salesperson who is bent on engaging all of the factors involved.

"Your price is more than I wanted to pay." is an objection.

"Your price is more than I wanted to pay. Can you put this together to fit my budget?" is a request for assistance.

"Your price is more than I wanted to pay, but I need to get this done, and I'm inclined to have you do the work because of your reputation for service." is an example of a weakened objection transcended by other factors.

Resistance exists in all areas of life, and nature itself, as one force among other forces. - by Ace Coldiron
Ace, I'm not sure where you're headed with your comments about objections being a request for assistance as a "notion". Xerox based part of their sales training on this premise.

The idea of "removing objections" seems to me unrealistic as what Xerox trains is "recognizing objections". Here's my point: conditions (one type of objection) cannot be "removed". For example, "...we're within a week of bankruptcy..." is a objection/condition which cannot be removed. It MUST be uncovered, identified/clarified, and the SR must move on.

My comments come from 30+ years of B2B sales. My formal sales training comes from Xerox, 3M, Apple Computer, etc. I am currently offering sales consulting services.

Ace, I'm not sure that the language utilized in your post is helping you put forward your thought on the topic. Perhaps, you could re-word your post.

Good luck & Good selling!
Pat - by OUTSource Sales
I think for the prospects who has known the salesperson, saying non-business topics can help. IBM even once require the first 3 questions from its salespeople should not related to business.
However, for brand new/cold-call prospect, may be a good idea to ask intriguing questions like "how often your staff cannot concentrate in office work and have a low morality?" (learn that from Jeff Gitermor's book)

How many children do you have? How old are they? Do you plan on sending them to college? Closed.

Tell me about your children? Tell me about their schooling? What plans do you have for their college? Could you tell me a little about what you're doing to prepare for that wondrous event? Can you tell me a little about you employers benefit plan for you and does it help you plan for your childrens education? Open.

Closed is clinical. Its like a white sheet of paper.

Open is live. It paints pictures in full living color.

Aloha.... :cool:
- by SEO-Tampa
OUTSourceSales voiced the following:
Ace, I'm not sure where you're headed with your comments about objections being a request for assistance as a "notion". Xerox based part of their sales training on this premise.
There is a distinction between models for learning and models for selling, and even companies like Xerox should make that distinction clear. Perhaps they did but failed to re-word it to your liking.


He went on:
The idea of "removing objections" seems to me unrealistic as what Xerox trains is "recognizing objections". Here's my point: conditions (one type of objection) cannot be "removed". For example, "...we're within a week of bankruptcy..." is a objection/condition which cannot be removed. It MUST be uncovered, identified/clarified, and the SR must move on.
As I said before, removal is not a prerequisite for transcending an objection. Weakening by comparison, whether or not taught by Xerox, or within OUTSource Sales' field of experience, is highly effective. It should be taught, but first it should be understood.


Credentials are always important and he shared his:
My comments come from 30+ years of B2B sales. My formal sales training comes from Xerox, 3M, Apple Computer, etc. I am currently offering sales consulting services.
SalesPractice is a good way to get exposure for those services and I wish you well in that endeavour.


He offered this advice:
Ace, I'm not sure that the language utilized in your post is helping you put forward your thought on the topic. Perhaps, you could re-word your post.
I was very pleased this morning to receive a comment from Jeff Blackwell who said, "Excellent post!"

I think I'll stay with the language I've used in over four decades as a top producer in sales and mentor to some very successful people who I take great pride in. I wish I could have done more, but I gave up coaching years ago, and I am involved in two separate businesses which keeps me hopping. And--I'm still a sales leader in my industry.

Thanks for your advice and comments and best of luck in your own sales consulting. - by Ace Coldiron
How many children do you have? How old are they? Do you plan on sending them to college? Closed.

Tell me about your children? Tell me about their schooling? What plans do you have for their college? Could you tell me a little about what you're doing to prepare for that wondrous event? Can you tell me a little about you employers benefit plan for you and does it help you plan for your childrens education? Open.

Closed is clinical. Its like a white sheet of paper.

Open is live. It paints pictures in full living color.

Aloha.... :cool:
Now that is absolutely wonderful! Kinda like Baseball, Mothers and Apple Pie! - by MPrince
OUTSourceSales voiced the following:
Ace, I'm not sure where you're headed with your comments about objections being a request for assistance as a "notion". Xerox based part of their sales training on this premise.
There is a distinction between models for learning and models for selling, and even companies like Xerox should make that distinction clear. Perhaps they did but failed to re-word it to your liking.


He went on:
The idea of "removing objections" seems to me unrealistic as what Xerox trains is "recognizing objections". Here's my point: conditions (one type of objection) cannot be "removed". For example, "...we're within a week of bankruptcy..." is a objection/condition which cannot be removed. It MUST be uncovered, identified/clarified, and the SR must move on.
As I said before, removal is not a prerequisite for transcending an objection. Weakening by comparison, whether or not taught by Xerox, or within OUTSource Sales' field of experience, is highly effective. It should be taught, but first it should be understood.


Credentials are always important and he shared his:
My comments come from 30+ years of B2B sales. My formal sales training comes from Xerox, 3M, Apple Computer, etc. I am currently offering sales consulting services.
SalesPractice is a good way to get exposure for those services and I wish you well in that endeavour.


He offered this advice:
Ace, I'm not sure that the language utilized in your post is helping you put forward your thought on the topic. Perhaps, you could re-word your post.
I was very pleased this morning to receive a comment from Jeff Blackwell who said, "Excellent post!"

I think I'll stay with the language I've used in over four decades as a top producer in sales and mentor to some very successful people who I take great pride in. I wish I could have done more, but I gave up coaching years ago, and I am involved in two separate businesses which keeps me hopping. And--I'm still a sales leader in my industry.

Thanks for your advice and comments and best of luck in your own sales consulting.
Ace

Even though at times your language is "way" above me I absolutely love reading every word. If I can acquire only a fraction of your sales knowledge that will be fine!

Warmest Regards - by MPrince
Words mean things.

As a speaker, writer, and salesperson, I am passionate about selecting the right word (that doesn't mean I always do, but I'm still passionate about it).

Open-ended questions elicit (1) longer responses (more words); and (2) more information. So if you're at a stage in the selling process where you want your prospect engaged in the process and you want information, you'd be well-served by asking open-ended questions.

On the other hand, if you're at a stage in the selling process where you need to (1) clarify information, or (2) ask for the sale, you'd be well-served to ask a closed question. When I was selling furniture in a furniture store, my favorite closing question was, "Do you want to buy it?" At closing, you don't want open-ended chit-chat, you want a yes or a no.

I disagree with those who equate using the right question at the right time as "mechanical" or "robot-like."

If I want my wife to do something for me, I've learned there's a way to ask which is more likely to get the response I want than if I ask a different way, wherein I'm more likely to get a response I don't want.

The same thing is true of business partners, employees, bosses, and friends. Language works, but you have to use the right language at the right time. Know the right language and you'll get more of the responses you're looking for!

Skip - by Skip Anderson
Words mean things.

I disagree with those who equate using the right question at the right time as "mechanical" or "robot-like."

If I want my wife to do something for me, I've learned there's a way to ask which is more likely to get the response I want than if I ask a different way, wherein I'm more likely to get a response I don't want.

Skip
Ok... this is valuable... Now....how is it you'd suggest I ask for an increase in my allowance from the missuse.... :)

Much Aloha... :cool: - by rattus58
Ok... this is valuable... Now....how is it you'd suggest I ask for an increase in my allowance from the missuse.... :)

Much Aloha... :cool:
Hmmm. Maybe I need to start a new training division...I see $$$ in my future.... - by Skip Anderson
Weeeeel.... git too it..... :)

Much Aloha... Tom.... :cool: - by rattus58
Haha you guys are funny! Women are never fooled lol! - by Neelam
Haha you guys are funny! Women are never fooled lol!
Hey you wit the icecubes... a man's gotta have insensitive you know, or we's stops trying fer the purrfect solicitations... sn; - by rattus58
Hey you wit the icecubes... a man's gotta have insensitive you know, or we's stops trying fer the purrfect solicitations... sn;
;st hehe! Icecubes??? - by Neelam
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