In the sales world, if you want to close a deal, you need to get your prospect talking. And in most cases, you’ll need to rely on open-ended sales questions to keep the conversation moving.
An open-ended question is an interrogative prompt that invites your prospect to speak openly with you—and the best open-ended sales questions are simple conducive to more dialogue.
Below, I’ve compiled a list of my favorites open-ended questions for sales.
Characteristics of Effective Open-Ended Questions for Sales
Most of the questions on this list will have the following characteristics in common. If you choose to develop your own open-ended sales questions (as I encourage you to), you’ll want to keep these characteristics in mind as well.
- Reliance on the 5 Ws. The 5 Ws (Who, What, When, Where, Why, and sometimes the 6th, How) can mostly help you open the door to more conversation. Some of these (like “Who”) can technically be answered with a single word or short phrase, so be careful how you word them.
- Conversational nature. Conversations build relationships, so it’s important that your question be conversational in nature. If you sound like you’re conducting a survey or reading a script, people aren’t going to respond favorably to your questions.
- Demand for consideration. The best open-ended questions are ones that require your prospect to think through their response. If it can be answered right away, it’s probably not going to lead to a productive conversation.
Closed-ended questions, by contrast, tend to be more limiting. Generally speaking, if a question can be answered with a “yes,” “no,” or if it’s a multiple choice question, it’s closed-ended.
Open-Ended Sales Questions Examples
Here are 21 good examples of open-ended sales questions you can ask—and why they work.
1. Tell me about your business.
This isn’t technically a question, but it’s a fantastic way to open the conversation with your prospect. One of the best things you can do early is get someone talking about their business. People love talking about themselves and their passions. If you’re talking to a business owner, you’re talking to someone who lives and breathes their business, day in and day out. They want to talk about it!
You’ll get more details you can use to tailor your sales pitch, and even if you end up losing the sale, you’ll walk away with greater knowledge of their industry. Best of all, you’ll be hearing this in their words; you won’t be making assumptions or guiding them with leading questions.
2. What are your goals?
Sales can be considered a practice in problem solving. To close a deal, you need to solve someone’s key challenge or issue—or get them closer to a goal they’re trying to achieve. Figure out what those goals are, so you can get closer to helping your prospect solve them.
Simply asking this question helps your prospect feel like you care about their priorities and not just your own. It helps to establish trust and gives you a clear picture of what they need.
3. What would be your idea of a successful outcome if we do business together?
This question further helps your prospect feel like you want to get a true understanding of their problem and devise a perfect solution. It also helps you form a plan that is more likely to conform to their expectations so you can follow through on being successful.
4. What do you like and dislike about your current service provider?
If you’re offering products or services that this business is already using, ask them what they think about their current vendors. The “are you satisfied with your current service provider” angle may be a bit tiresome, but this is still an important way to learn what you’re up against.
5. What’s making you consider switching to a different vendor?
If your prospect is currently working with a competitor of yours, figure out why they are exploring other options. In many cases, you’ll get firm direction; they may be looking for a better price, more features, or just a more supportive customer service team.
In any case, you’ll get valuable information you can work with.
6. What are your biggest pain points currently?
This is a more direct question, and it could provide you exactly the information you need to make a more effective sales pitch. What challenges does this person face, and what do they wish could improve?
7. Why are these such pain points?
You can also dig deeper to learn why these are such pain points. For example, budget may be a pain point—but is that because they have a restrictive boss who refuses to spend more, or because they feel like all the current solutions on the market are overpriced?
8. How do you consider products before buying them?
Try to get inside your prospect’s head, and be open about it. They might tell you they start with price and budget, then work backward, or they might tell you that their biggest priority is finding a team they trust.
Whatever the case, you’ll learn their priorities and thought process, which you can use to tailor your approach.
9. What about our company, product, or service attracted you to us?
They might reveal that they like something specific about what your company offers, which gives you insight about your strengths in the eyes of this prospect. Build upon your strengths!
10. What is your average day like?
Understanding the “average” day for a prospect can help you figure out their personality—and discover what they might be missing. For example, do they find themselves overwhelmed with work?
Are they detail-oriented? Do they work alone, or with others? It’s on them to provide these details, and their choice of what they provide will tell you a lot about them.
11. What’s stopping your or your team from reaching your goals?
Everyone has both organizational and personal goals in their career, and we’re all trying to achieve those goals. Inevitably, something is going to stand in your way. So what obstacles are in this prospect’s path, and how do they envision getting rid of them?
12. What kind of budget are you working with?
Even if budget and spending aren’t a common point of objection in your line of work, it’s a good idea to learn what kind of spending flexibility your prospect has. You might also be able to apply this information to similar businesses in the industry.
13. Do you run events (online or in-person)? If so, when is your next event?
Depending on the product or service you offer, you could ask your prospect about their next big event—something the business is preparing for or looking forward to. This could be a gateway to helping them prepare more efficiently, or get more results from this event’s execution.
14. How much time do you spend doing (task) currently?
If you’re trying to improve your prospect’s life or work in some way, try to figure out how much time they spend on navigating this area currently. For example, if you’re offering a product that can streamline their business financial management, ask them how much time they spend on payroll or accounts receivable.
This could be closed-ended, depending on how they respond, but it usually invites more conversation to follow.
15. What would you do with an extra (time/money)?
Most products and services allow you to save your customers time, money, or both. If you feel confident you can save them this time and/or money, ask them what they might do with the extra.
For example, “what would you do if you had an extra hour every day?” It’s a good way to get to know your prospect better, and a great segue to explaining the benefits of your offer.
16. When was the last time you purchased (similar product/service)?
Get to know the purchasing habits of your prospect. You might be surprised to learn how often or how recently they bought a product like yours. Or you might learn that this person is fairly unfamiliar with your industry.
17. How did you feel about that purchase?
If they’ve made a similar purchase in the recent past, or if they pay for a subscription service, ask them how they feel about that transaction. Are they happy with the customer service they’ve received? Do they feel like the product or service was worth the money they spent?
Again, this is a critical opportunity to learn how your product or service might do better.
18. What questions do you have for me?
As you inch closer to wrapping up the conversation, make sure you give your prospect a chance to ask questions of their own. Give them time; they may not have all their questions and concerns on standby.
And of course, make sure they feel comfortable reaching out with questions after this meeting or call is over.
19. What do you think about my offer?
If you make a formal pitch, including an estimated price, ask them what they think about the offer. They may tell you it’s more or less than what they truly need, or that they’re concerned about something specific.
It’s your chance to make adjustments, or provide counterpoints to their main concerns.
20. How would you like to move forward?
You may have a plan for how to follow up with a prospect, but it’s still important to ask them how they’d like to move forward. For example, they may need to talk with their boss about their options, or they may be waiting until next quarter to make a purchasing decision.
This open-ended sales question will inform you.
21. What’s changed since our last call?
If you follow-up with a prospect, consider asking them how they’re doing in general, or ask them what’s changed since the last call. You might get a “nothing’s changed” answer, but otherwise, you’ll open the door to an informative new conversation.
Though not directly included in this list, it’s also valuable to generate questions based on common objections. Figure out what usually stops people from going through with a sale, and turn those into questions you can ask future prospects.
For example, if people typically find your product too expensive, or don’t have the budget for it, ask future prospects a question about their current budget, or what they think a product like yours is worth.
Now that you’re armed with these open-ended sales questions, keep leveling up your sales process! You can start by getting more data on your sales team’s productivity with a tool like EmailAnalytics. With EmailAnalytics, you’ll learn your average response time, your busiest senders and recipients, your busiest times and days of the week, and more. Sign up for a free trial today, and learn how you and your team’s email habits are affecting your sales!
Jayson is a long-time columnist for Forbes, Entrepreneur, BusinessInsider, Inc.com, and various other major media publications, where he has authored over 1,000 articles since 2012, covering technology, marketing, and entrepreneurship. He keynoted the 2013 MarketingProfs University, and won the “Entrepreneur Blogger of the Year” award in 2015 from the Oxford Center for Entrepreneurs. In 2010, he founded a marketing agency that appeared on the Inc. 5000 before exiting it in January of 2019, and he is now the CEO of EmailAnalytics, and co-host of the podcast The Entrepreneur Cast.