How to ask open-ended questions to qualify a prospect?

Open-ended Questions

Sales qualification is a process that companies take very seriously because otherwise, they are spending (read: wasting) valuable resources, both material and human, on prospects and sales that will never materialize. Businesses now realize that not every prospect is a good fit. And to segregate them from good ones, they need to know every prospect in a lot of depth and detail, most of which cannot be researched. It can only come from an insider. Hence, the sales personnel started asking open-ended questions to get your prospects to talk.

Let’s see how.

What are open-ended questions?

Open-ended questions

Open-ended questions are those that cannot be answered in one word. They are your conversation-starters and also the questions that keep it going.

The questions falling under this category are answered with a perspective, which tells a salesperson a lot about the prospect. The information is extremely useful and personal and mostly cannot be gathered in research.

Open-ended vs. closed-ended questions


Open-ended questions are ones that are imperative for a conversation between a sales rep and a prospect. They start with ‘why’ or ‘what if’ or any other interrogative that can prompt a long explanation from the prospect. And give them a chance to steer the conversation to something that is bothering them.

Open-ended questions bring a lot of quality information when you are on your discovery call, build a rapport and supplement your research.

Closed-ended questions are usually very specific and can be answered in one word. Maybe it is a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ question, or a quantity estimate that can be answered to the point, without beating around the bush. They are helpful when you are looking for a definite quantitative answer.

A mixture of both open-ended and closed-ended questions is ideal for a successful discovery call. They are both important and it is up to the rep to use them appropriately to understand the prospect better.

How to ask open-ended questions?

1. Turn some closed-ended questions into open-ended questions

open-ended questions

The simplest way of getting more open-ended questions on your list is to identify and modify your list. Go through the questions you have prepared for your prospect. Actually, keep a conscious lookout for every question that you ask a person, be it your family or colleagues.

Identify the closed-ended questions you ask. Think about whether you would have got more fruitful information if you had asked an open-ended question instead. If yes, just modify it with one of the open-ended interrogatives.

You can apply this only to your client interactions. But if you start doing this on a daily basis, it will become natural for you. Sometimes, open-ended questions do harm as well, so you must learn to balance.

Related Post: Most Effective Sales Pitch Examples, Tips and How to Create One Guide

2. Ask an open-ended question after a closed-ended question


This method is your backup plan. It might just happen that you have prepared your open-ended questions. But in the spur of the moment, it just becomes cold and closed. If that happens, follow it up with an open-ended question.

For example, ‘did our product help you?’ can lead to an awkward silence with a yes or a no. So, follow it up with ‘if yes, please tell me in what ways?’

But again, it is a backup plan and should not be used a lot, because it might make you look disoriented. If you missed an important question, this can help you find your way back.

3. Leverage open-ended questions to strike a conversation


The main purpose of an open-ended question is to start a conversation and provide you with valuable information that research cannot. It is normal and probable that something they said will take you entirely off the script you made and onto another topic.

Don’t get thrown off by that. Keep a rescue question or plan handy that will guide you back. If you deviate from your planned questionnaire, it means that your previous question was successful.

It shows your prospect that you were actively listening and it builds a rapport with them. With the knowledge that you will get, you can become their trusted advisor.

Some examples of these questions

1. What has prevented you from solving the problem until now?

problem solving

When you ask this question, you get a lot of insights into why they had been putting off looking into a solution until now.

Maybe the problem was not on their priority list. Maybe they don’t think there is a solution to the problem or maybe there were problems in deciding what kind of solution they want.  A prospect can moreover be activated by an occasion to see into arrangements.

Learning about what was preventing them from buying a solution will help you determine how much the company prioritizes this and how to navigate the potential problems you are going to face in closing the deal.

2. How does the purchase approval process work?

purchase approval

While you are researching a company and preparing a pitch, it is important that you know the key decision-makers. You also need to edit your pitch according to their positions, interests, and preferences. It also helps to have an inside pawn to champion your cause.

That is why, when you ask the prospect about their approval process, you are asking them about who all will be involved as a decision-maker.

Talking about this will also bring you the details of the decision-makers and the best way to contact or meet with them. In any case, it means more information that you can use.

3. Has your company ever used a product/service like this? If so, what happened?

It is quite possible that your prospect might have tried a product like yours in the past and it did not work out for them (they would not be here otherwise).

Likewise, people say, learn from your mistakes and from others as well. Ask this question to get a history of what product they used earlier.

This means you will get the problems they faced with your competitors and also their expectations from your product. If you think it matches, you are on the right track. But if it does not, you should inform them and make a friend for life. Also, you now know what you do better than your competitor.

4. What are some of the best decisions you’ve made last year?

Best decision

Trick question. You actually want to ask them where their focus was last year. So, you instead make it a proud moment for them to celebrate and also get your information.

While they will be sharing their success and good decisions. You will be taking mental notes on what works and what is important for them.

Then what you do is, present your product in that light and make it sound like the best decision they are going to make this year. Obviously, this cannot be your first question, you will need more context, but it is definitely a helpful one.

5. What are the top priorities for your business at the moment?

top priorities

If you want to seek clarity on their priorities. This question is a much softer and broader approach than directly hitting the nail on the head. Your prospect talking to you about what features were on their priority list will give you an idea of their business situation.

This also means that you can align your product with their priorities and make it more important to their business than it was previously.

It will resonate with your prospect better if they know where exactly your product helps them. If it resonates with their priority, they are more likely to be buying.

Final Thoughts!

Sales qualification is also a value-adding process. When you are asking your prospects open-ended questions about them and their company, you assure them that you are willing to put in the time and effort to listen to their problems and offer them a solution, irrespective of whether they buy it or not.

However, this only happens if you are asking them the right questions. The good questions will bring out the information you need. That will either help you convince them or make them understand that maybe your product is not for them.

In either case, they will look at you as someone who genuinely wants to help them. Even if they don’t make a purchase, they might refer you to someone else, or come back later for another product.

Open-ended questions dominate the discovery call and are the way to achieve all of the above.

If you still don’t know what questions to ask, don’t hesitate in seeking advice from expert B2B sales and marketing consulting firms. They will be able to supply you with a foolproof blueprint on how to get into the prospect’s mind and seek all the necessary information.  

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