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Asking Questions in Sales - What You Need to Know

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Written by Mike Schultz
President, RAIN Group

This RAIN Group Article was originally published on the InsideSales Blog.

Asking incisive sales questions is essential for success.

The questions you ask help you uncover buyer needs and desires, connect with buyers, and demonstrate your expertise.

By asking questions, you can discover the buyer's buying process, learn about the key decision makers involved, and qualify the opportunity. Questions allow you to ensure that you and the buyer are on the same page.

A lot of sellers do too much talking and presenting, and when they do ask the buyer questions, it's the same old "What keeps you up at night?" clichés.

Asking your buyer the right questions not only provides you with a treasure trove of important information, but it can also differentiate you from the sea of sellers vying for the buyer's attention.

To help you make the most out of your meetings, we've outlined different types of questions you can ask and why they're important to use in your sales conversations.

Open-Ended Questions

Open-ended sales questions can't be answered with a simple "yes" or "no." These types of questions require further explanation to be answered.

Open-ended questions get buyers talking. These are the most commonly talked about types of sales questions, and they play an important role in your conversations.

You need to understand what's going on in the buyer's company, their needs and desires, and their expectations so you can propose the best solution.

There are no "correct answers" with open questions. If you need more information about a particular point, you can ask follow-up questions.

Asking questions that are open-ended is a great way to get vital information. The problem is, too many sellers rely on these questions alone when there are other kinds of questions that can be just as valuable.

Closed-Ended Questions

Closed-ended sales questions will elicit a "yes" or "no" response.

Closed-ended questions are rarely talked about in sales, and they're often shunned. After all, your goal as a seller is to get the buyer to open up, right?

Asking questions with yes or no answers surely won't accomplish that—or can they?

These questions are particularly helpful for diagnosis and ruling things out (or in). You can learn a great deal of information by asking a series of closed-ended questions.

For example, when talking to a sales leader, I might ask them the following:

  • Are you convinced your salespeople maximize the revenue and business they can capture from your existing accounts?
  • Have you ever thought your sellers might not be knowledgeable enough to be comfortable (or credible) talking about the other products or services your company offers?
  • Do you think your team leaves opportunities on the table by not uncovering needs that are actually there?
  • Are your salespeople able to recommend the right solutions?
  • Do your people waste their time and energy on leads that aren't likely to pan out, or provide the revenue or profit you need?
  • Do your sellers get beat up and cave during negotiations?

As you can see, asking specific closed-ended questions can help you determine what's going on relatively quickly.

It also gets the buyer thinking about the different areas that could affect their sales team's overall performance. They might not have properly pondered these types of questions before.

By asking questions like these, you can quickly hone in on what's important and explore further. If you want to turn these into open questions, simply ask, "How so?" after they answer. 

Related: RAIN Selling: Keys to Leading Masterful Sales Conversations

Follow-Up Questions

Don't take what your buyer says at face value. Ask them to dig deeper.

Question why they think a certain way. Ask them how they plan to accomplish what they intend.

Follow-up questions allow you to get to the underlying cause of a problem so you can address the root of the issue rather than just symptoms. It's extremely important that you understand the full picture of what's going on in order to craft the most comprehensive and impactful solution.

You can only do this by asking follow-up questions and gaining greater insight.

Follow-up questions can also push buyers to think in a different way. They may be basing the direction they want to take on a set of assumptions, and you know that one of their assumptions is false.

By digging deeper into the topic, you understand why they're thinking the way they are, allowing you to steer them in the right direction. 

Additionally, follow-up questions show you're listening and engaged in the conversation. You can demonstrate your expertise and build your credibility by sharing insights on how you've seen other companies address a similar problem.

These are all important elements to win the sale.

Categories of Questions to Ask

Aside from the types of questions previously discussed, it's also important to note the areas wherein you need to ask questions. The purpose for asking questions isn't only to uncover needs, though that's a major part of it.

Think about the questions you need to ask across these categories: 

  • Problem and Possibility:  "Needs discovery" questions are always essential to find out the buyer's aspirations and afflictions.
  • Process: If you don't uncover the buying process, you'll have trouble qualifying the sale, facilitating the purchase, and actually getting a win.
  • Page: These confirming questions ensure you and the buyer are "on the same page."
  • Perception: At various times, you should ask questions to check the buyer's perception of how things are going. Sample questions include:
    • Is this discussion meeting your expectations?
    • Does this solution make sense to you?
    • How is the process progressing on your end?
    • Does anyone seem to be hedging, and do we need to get them on board?

It's important to ask questions in each of these categories. If you want to know which specific questions to ask, check out our free guide, 50 Powerful Sales Questions.

The Value of Asking Questions

Sometimes all you need to do is ask one question and the buyer will share all the information you need.

More often than not, you'll need to lead several lines of inquiry to get the full picture. Don't limit yourself to one type of question. Conducting an interview with a potential client should help you understand the full story.

Leverage these three types of sales questions to cover each of the key categories. This will allow you to lead the best conversations and ultimately win more sales.

RECOMMENDED READING >> 21 Powerful, Open-Ended Sales Questions

Topics: Sales Conversations Consultative Selling