I think I first learned about the difference between open and closed questions during my time studying GCSEs at College. I want to keep this article brief, and give you my thoughts on which of these types of questions work better in a sales pitch!
If you are new to these terms, allow me to quickly and briefly explain:
Closed questions are questions that are asked to ensure either a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response is given, or perhaps only a strict choice of answers is offered. An open question relates to a question in which the answer will require slightly more thought and will be more than just a one word answer.Let’s think of some quick examples of both just to make it all a bit clearer:
– Would you like that in red?
– Is that your final answer?
– Is he dead?
– What colour would you like that in?
– What are you thoughts on that?
– How do you feel about it all?
You can see that closed questions tend to lead to a one word, short answer whereas an open question can lead to a long, thought of, in-depth answer.
In sales, for years, poorly trained people have tried to use closed questions to push customers into making buying decisions that they potentially may not want to make. It became a form of basic manipulation that so many sales people prided themselves on however in using them gave sales as an industry a bad name. I had an experience of it recently myself;
A local sports team had approached me to discuss sponsorship opportunities and to discuss what could be on offer. We met, and the meeting went well. A couple of days later, this person called me up to see if I was in a position to sign up to a sponsorship/advertising opportunity. Whilst we were talking, without any form of warning, this person immediately asked me:
“So which package would you like to sign up to: the £1500 package, or the £1250 package?”
I was gobsmacked. This is a prime example of a closed question being used badly. I responded;
“Well, I have not said that I want to go ahead with a package at all. I think it is best I go away and think about this and I will come back to you.”
Here is the thing with closed questions; they can really put peoples backs up. Closed questions may have worked in the 1970s and 1980s, however we are moving towards a more ethical age of selling in which sales people need to be more like consultants; willing to help, support and problem solve for their customers. It is in my professional and personal opinion that open questions always work better. They engage the customer. They open up a more meaningful, exciting and thrilling conversation that can lead to anywhere possible. Sure, some may argue that by asking open questions you put too much ‘power’ in the hands of the prospect but to me; this is the better place to be.
I want my customers to be in control and I want my customers to be leading the conversation. As a sales person, my job is to support and help the customer; not to sell to them.
Just imagine how the earlier example would have gone if the club owner had asked me:
“Rob, were there any packages that appealed to you?” or “Which of the packages do you think would benefit your business the most?”
I would have been a lot more engaging and will have been willing to talk a little more about my needs as a business owner and I am sure we could have come away with the right package for us both.
So, if you are tempted to use closed questions to lead, manipulate and control your prospect; don’t! You may find out that you are only pushing your customer away to a place where your competitor will sweep them up.
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