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OPEN Question Selling

OPEN Question selling is a unique selling technique that many professional salesmen use . It’s all about asking questions in a particular order so that you lead both yourself and the customer toward a mutually beneficial solution.

Operational Questions : Understand your customers situation and gather general information
Probing Questions        : Uncover your customer's biggest problems and needs
Effect Questions           : Explode the problem into other areas of business
Nail down questions    : Direct customer towards discovering your solution

These types of questions asked in a specific sequence  will allow you to:

• Understand your customer’s situation  - eg. So when do you make most of your calls?  Do you make most calls at a particular time of day?  Is your mobile the main phone you use?  Customer answers: I need to make most of my calls during the day, and I do not have a landline

• Uncover their main problem – eg. So why are you looking to change your plan, is there a particular reason?  Why do you feel your current plan is not working for you?  What are you mainly looking for in a new plan?  Customer answers: I want to keep costs down and be able to phone internationally

• Explode the problem into other areas of their lives – eg. So do you ever call internationally?  Do you ever use the internet on your phone? Are there specific circumstances when your current plan is expensive?  Customer answers: sometimes I need to make calls in the night because of time differences.

• Direct them to discover for themselves the payoff for buying your solution – 2000 minutes with insurance means that…… your monthly regular calls will be included and you’re completely covered if you lose your phone.

So now let’s look at each of these in detail...

To help you grasp the idea more , try to think of yourself as a doctor

 What does a doctor do ?
•  Note history and symptoms
•  Check the body
•  Diagnose problem
•  Consider best solution
•  Discuss and agree treatment` 

To do all this doctors tend to ask you a lot of questions, a lot of TED (Tell, Explain and Describe questions) and open ended questions – what exactly were you doing when you first noticed this?  How exactly does it make you feel?

In this sales questioning model (OPEN Question selling) we want you to take a somewhat similar approach to that of a doctor. Doctors usually ask a lot of open ended questions specially at the beginning to get you to talk more about your problems so they can diagnose it accurately.

•  Note history and symptoms – listening to the perceived, stated problem  for example : I need to be able to contact my children after school regarding picking them up from school
•  Check the body – ask questions around the issue – how many children?
•  Diagnose problem - eg. So you need to be able to talk to your children every day, 4 calls at a certain time in the day – afternoons mainly
•  Consider best solution – We have a family package which has 500 free minutes per phone per month
•  Discuss and agree treatment – if you all have this package, you have the cheapest option available, which will allow you all to speak to each other and co-ordinate pickups and identify your locations easily etc…
 Consider yourself as a doctor, your job is to ask questions to try to find out what the patient (customer’s) problems are and below is the questioning tool to help you do just that.

Operational Questions:

• Begin the sale
• Uncover the customer’s general situation and general problems
• Gather general information about the customer
Operational questions need to be open ended  like “ Tell me about .... “ , “ Describe to me .....”  , try to get the customer to open up and start talking about themselves.
Most people like talking about themselves but one word of caution using operational questions is that they can easily sound as an interrogation specially when you ask too many in a row and this is why they need to open ended.

Examples of Operational questions:

• What service are you using now?
• How long have you been with your current provider?
• What is your average monthly bill?
• How much do you use the internet in a typical day?
• What is a typical day like?

Probing Questions:

Probing questions, as the name suggests, allows you to delve deeper into the customers needs.
Now that you learned some general information about your customer, you may have a solution in mind, but we need to clarify further if it’s the right one.  Now it’s time to start uncovering problem areas with probing questions

These questions should reveal areas of difficulty or dissatisfaction your customer is experiencing.
A key thing to know about probing questions is that Every probing question should lead into a solution your product can provide for those needs.  You may well have a solution in mind, but make sure with these questions that your solution is the right one.

Every question you should ask must be geared towards a solution you already have but bear in mind you may uncover information that leads you to offer a different solution if it is more appropriate.
Generally, people don’t suddenly realize they have a problem.
Instead the problem begins as a minor dissatisfaction, a feeling that something isn’t being done as well as it might be.

Every probing question should lead into a solution your product can provide for those needs.  You may well have a solution in mind, but make sure with these questions that your solution is the right one.
Every question you should ask must be geared towards a solution you already have but bear in mind you may uncover information that leads you to offer a different solution if it is more appropriate. 

When you have asked the right operational questions and have been listening to the customer’s answers, you should be able to connect a probing question to at least one area of potential dissatisfaction.
And as we said before, connecting them to the customer takes the edge off and turns what could sound like an interrogation into a friendly chat with a professional salesperson who is actually listening to customer needs and providing solutions.

Examples of Probing Questions:

• Do you have a problem getting your email on the go ? – (Aiming for a specific solution you provide)
• Do you run out of credit sometimes ?   (Aiming for a specific solution you have)
• How much do you pay monthly in recharging your pre-paid line?  (Aiming for a specific solution you have)
• Cost: “You talked earlier about cost being a big factor, can you describe what concerns you have had in the past with pricing?
•  “You mentioned that you do travel a lot , do you have any difficulties in the service while travelling?”



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Effect Questions:

Effect Questions inquire about the consequences, implications or effect of a buyer’s problem. An effective sales person asks effect questions to develop the customer’s problems to the point where it gets so big that the customer needs a solution to it.

It can be a big mistake to assume that customers are aware of their problems. But you can avoid that error by asking probing questions to bring areas of dissatisfaction to the customers’ attention. A second major error is making the assumption that the customer has given thought to the effect that a problem has on the business. Effect questions take each problem and place it under a microscope for further examination of its consequences.

These questions ask what will happen if this problem remains unresolved. Could this problem create X situation? Does it cause . . . ? How does it affect . . . ?

Importance of Effect questions

Effect questions are the most powerful questions of the OPEN Question Selling Technique because they give the customer the “headache” that makes them feel the need to find a solution.

Benefits of Effect questions

(1) it helps the customer see how a problem is affecting his/her life/work/family
(2) it helps identify which problems are having the greatest  impact.

The whole reason for asking effect questions is to make the problem too big to ignore.And this is really where the magic of sales comes in. You basically go into a customer’s space (virtually!) to make them think about the effect of doing nothing. These questions help them to visualise - whether it’s in their office, on the road, or at home and you not only uncover problems, but also you ask questions that make the customer realise that the problem they’ve been chugging along with comfortably is now too big to ignore. Remember our doctor metaphor ? Asking effect questions is when the doctor identifies where it hurts and then presses on the place where it hurts most to confirm he identified the cause of pain and the patient cries out from pain. it's the same thing , here you want the customer to feel how discomforting his/her current situation is and how finding a solution is so important to get relief. 

Let’s look at some  Effect questions examples.

How will this problem affect your future profitablity?
What effect does the reject rate have on customer satisfaction?
What effect does that have on your output?
You only have three people that can use them. Doesn't that create work bottlenecks?
It sounds like the difficulty of using these machines may be leading to an employee turnover problem. Is that right?
What does this turnover mean in terms of training cost?
Could that lead to increased cost?
Could that lead to customer service problems?
Will it slow down your growth?

Effect Questions
Are strongly linked to success in larger-ticket sales
Are more difficult to phrase than either Situation Questions or Problem Questions.
A problem can generate many implications. You may have to ask several of these for each problem
Are essential to moving sales forward
Make the problem seem more acute to the buyer
Help to make the customer (and the seller) aware of hidden complications or of potential difficulties that may arise if steps are not taken to remedy the immediate problem.
By definition these questions make the customer uncomfortable? Be careful not to offend or upset

Always remember that good effect questions are always:
• Around saving money
• Around family members/friends/Spouse..etc.
• Around personal image and look
• Around time and convenience

Nail down Questions:

Before we get into Nail down questions, there is a very important point you should be aware of, this is something that real professional sales people are well aware of and to master this requires some practice and a high degree of self control.
Usually sales people uncover the problem and then move in for the close. The problem with immediately telling your customer your solution is that it does not give the client the opporutnity to think for themselves about the benefits. Nail down questions, however, build the solution up so that the client really want to know  what it is .  In other words you are asking the client to uncover for themselves the benefits of finding a solution.  Following are some examples for nail down questions
so in light of that, now you should STOP and do not offer your solution right away. Ask Nail down questions to let the customer uncover and think of the benefit themselves. That is the real benefit of asking these types of questions.

Nail down questions build up the value of your proposed solution in the customer’s mind. Nail down Questions are:

Are linked to success in more complex sales.
Increase the likelihood that your solution will provide the payoff that answers the need.
Focus the customer's attention on the solution rather than the problem
Encourage the customer to outline the benefits that your solution will provide his or her company
Pre-empts objections
Enlists customer buy-in.

Examples of Nail down questions:

Would it be useful to double your internet connection?
If we could improve the quality of this operation, would that help you?
Is it important to solve this problem?
Why would you find this solution so useful
Is there any other way that this could help you out?
So would you be interested in a way to control this cost?
Would it help you if ................?
Would you be happier if.................?

The problem with immediately telling the customer about the solution is that it does not give them the opportunity to think for themselves about the benefits. Nail-down questions, however, build the solution up so that they really want to know what it is. In other words, you are asking the customer to uncover for themselves the benefits of finding a solution.

Here’s how nail-down questions sound: Go through examples in the slide.
That’s why nail-down questions are so important. They don’t just lead you to closing the sale, but also they actually help your customers realise the value of their decision and feel good about it. Not only that, when other people ask them why they made that decision to buy, they will remember the value and the importance of the product because they were the ones who, in fact, had to think about it and verbalise it to you!

So when you ask a nail down question think of it this way:
you are helping the customers to make the best decision possible because when they realise the value and the importance of this decision, they will feel really good about it.

 If you are more interested in this effective professional selling technique , we strongly recommend you read the OPEN Question selling book (Published by McGraw Hill ) - check out our E-books section soon it will be availabe there for sale soon.

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