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Open questions in sales conversations

Different types of question generate different responses. For example, an open question cannot usually be answered with a “Yes” or a “No”.  Open questions can be used to get people talking.

Here is an extract from Telemarketing Results by Nigel Temple:
Telemarketing Results by Nigel Temple

Have you ever come across Rudyard Kipling’s six honest serving men:

‘I keep six honest serving men

(They taught me all I knew): their

names are WHAT and WHY and WHEN

and HOW and WHERE and WHO.’

Mind you, I feel sorry for poor old WHICH, who presumably was either burnt at the stake of knowledge or ran off with the Wizard.

Incidentally, these questions can be prefixed with:

”It would be very helpful if you could tell me…”

“I hope you can help me.”
(Most human beings respond positively to a request for help)

”I was just wondering….”

It goes without saying that the way in which you ask these types of questions will make all the difference to the conversation. It is best to form some rapport first. The customer is then much more likely to be forthcoming.

Incidentally – pool your knowledge in this area. When you discover an effective question: write it up on a flipchart / whiteboard so that your colleagues can use it.

Reflective questions:  This type of question restates information. It gives you the opportunity to check that you have understood the other person correctly.

An example would be: ”If I understand you correctly…”

The use of this approach proves that you have listened well and understood what has been said. You will find that reflective questions give you a chance to collect your thoughts. Having asked this type of question – don’t say anything. Wait and see what happens. Quite often, the person you are calling will turn the issues over in their mind and become more positive.

Directive questions: Having used open questions for discovery and reflective questions to keep you on track – you can then start to use directive questions to move towards your objective. For example: “Would this help…?”

”When do you think it would be more convenient to talk?

By the way, only ask one question at a time. Give the customer a moment or two to reflect and answer your question. Don’t be concerned by silence (unless it lasts for more than say an hour). Don’t ask multiple questions in bursts.

Nigel Temple is a sales and marketing consultant, trainer, speaker and author. Find out more here:

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