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21 Powerful, Open-Ended Sales Questions

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Written by Mike Schultz
President, RAIN Group

Broad, open-ended sales questions are great for helping you find out what's going on in your prospects' and clients' worlds. They are essential to sales success. In fact, "listened to me" and "understood my needs" are two of the top five factors most separating sales winners from second-place finishers.

Sales questions also help you connect with buyers personally, understand what's important to them, reshape their thinking, and create better futures for them. The importance of asking the right sales questions cannot be understated. (Hint: you need to ask more than "what keeps you up at night?")

Following are 21 open-ended sales questions you can use that will help you complete the picture of your clients' needs. These questions can be separated into four categories:

  • Rapport
  • Aspirations and Afflictions
  • Impact
  • New Reality

These four categories are the core of the RAIN SellingSM Framework.

Download 50 Powerful Sales Questions

One thing to note about open-ended sales questions: they don't need to be complex. Oftentimes the basics are all you need.

21 Powerful, Open-Ended Sales Questions
Rapport

These questions help you build and strengthen genuine connections and trust with the buyer, setting the table for the rest of the conversation:

1.    What's going on in your business these days? How have things changed?
 
2.    What are your plans for this weekend?
 
3.    It was good to hear the short version of your background at the meeting, but since we're out for lunch and have the time, I'd love to get the long version. What's your story?
 
4.  I have to say, I really like the way you not only have your company values up on the wall, but also comments from your team about what the values mean to them. How did you come up with that? I'm guessing you learned a lot about your company and team. Anything stand out?
 
5. You mentioned you want to retire in a few years. What are you thinking of doing then?

Aspirations and Afflictions

A lot of sales advice only focuses on the pain, leaving half the potential needs still uncovered. It's important to know what's holding the buyer back and it's equally as important to find out where they want to go. These sales questions focus on uncovering both the buyer's pain (afflictions) and their goals (aspirations):

6. Why isn't this particular technology/service/product/situation/issue working for you right now?
 
7. Many of our clients are reporting problems with areas A, B, and C. How are these areas affecting you? What do you think about them?
 
8. What's holding you back from reaching your revenue/profit/other goals?
 
9. What goals and objectives do you have in general? For this area?
 
10.  (Assuming the buyer set the meeting) Why did you ask me to talk with you today?
 
11.  (Assuming you set the meeting) As I mentioned earlier, I'd like to share with you a few ideas that have helped our clients succeed in the X, Y, and Z areas. Before we get going, what else might you like to cover by the time we're done with this meeting? What will make this meeting successful for you?

Impact

The following questions focus on how working with you is going to improve your buyer's world:

12.  If you could overcome these challenges, what would happen to your company's financial situation?
 
13. If you were to make this happen, what would it mean for you personally?
 
14. How would implementing these changes affect your competitiveness in the market?
 
15. How do you think the Board of Directors would evaluate the success of this initiative?
 
16. If you don't solve (insert the particular challenge here), what kind of difficulties will you face going forward? What won't happen that you want to happen?

New Reality

These questions enable you to paint a picture for the buyer of where they want to be and how working with you can get them there:

17.  If you were to wave your magic wand and fast-forward to 3 years from now, how will this all look different?
 
18. (In early sales discussions) You mentioned you're not having a great experience with your current provider. If you work with us, what are you hoping will be different?
 
19. (In later sales discussions) Given all we've talked about, what do you see as being different if we were to move forward together?
 
20. What does success look like for you… your business…this project…our work together?
 
21. If there were no restrictions on you—money, effort, political issues, and so on—what would you change? Can you tell me why you say that?


As you prepare to ask any open-ended sales questions, bear in mind that the most difficult task is not sounding too contrived. While we've suggested wording here in this article, feel free to use the concepts, but make the wording your own when you ask the questions. For more questions like these, download our free guide, 50 Powerful Sales Questions.

Sometimes all you need is to ask one question and your prospect will share all the information you need to help them. Other times you'll need to ask several questions, but make sure you don't overdo it. You don't want to make your prospect feel as if he's on the witness stand.

This article is about asking questions, but don't forget that the most powerful sales conversations tend to balance inquiry (asking questions) with advocacy (talking, educating, giving advice).

Additional tip: If the buyer answers a question and you want them to expand further, ask them, "How so?" or, "Can you tell me a little more about that?" You'll be surprised at just how much you can learn, and the difference it will make in your ability to help them succeed.

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Topics: RAIN Selling Sales Conversations