Asking better open-ended questions
  • sales
  • Blog post

Asking better open-ended questions

Editor’s note: Today’s guest post comes from Nancy Bleeke — author, professional trainer, speaker, facilitator, and president of Sales Pro Insider, Inc.

At the start of a recent sales meeting, I was greeted by a salesperson and asked, “What’s new?”

The problem was, I had no idea of where to start to answer that question, so I said, “Not much.” And the conversation went flat.

Salespeople are encouraged to ask open-ended questions, but that one was too open-ended. It too much effort to figure out if the questioner was interested in what was really new or just using this as a neutral greeting. Instead of starting a conversation, it closed one down.

Open-ended questions— and the power of asking for information and listening—is central to great collaborative selling. Yet asking a Who, What, Why, When, How question takes more skill and expertise than just the way the question is worded. The value to the prospect, and you, the sales pro, comes when the open questions are well designed.

Great open-ended questions need to be:

  • Targeted to the situation and person
  • Open, but focused — not so broad that the person doesn’t know where to begin
  • Prefaced with the intention of the line of questions and a why you are asking
  • Relevant and timely
  • Followed by open ears and a paraphrase of what you heard

Let’s revisit the opening question, “What’s new?” If your intention is to initiate contact with someone you haven’t seen in a while, it’s weak. A more effective approach is: “Hi, Nancy, I haven’t seen you in a while. How is your new book launch going?” or “How is the end of the school year wrapping up for your family?”

Those are open questions, targeted to me, and timely based on something they know about me (or better yet, tied into something we discussed in the past, showing they listened the last time we were together) that connect me to something I can talk about! They are great conversation starters – and in business a great conversation leads to sales opportunities.

Asking a relevant, personalized and meaningful clearly shows the intent of wanting to really connect with me and begin a conversation.
When you want to start a productive conversation, skip the “What’s new?” and make an intentional great connection.

To find out more about Nancy Bleeke, visit: or learn more about how to make your conversations count with her book, Conversations That Sell.

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