One of the areas of sales that cause confusion, even amongst seasoned sales professionals, is the difference between open and closed questions. The answer is easier than you think!

It is not helped by the over-simplistic way in which sales questioning techniques are often taught. The emphasis is often placed on the question and what types of words fit the type of question. That’s questioning 101 and won’t get you very far in the world of consultative selling.

Instead of trying to understand the type of question we should instead seek to understand the type of response we want to gain from the question. The response can be either close-ended or open-ended.

Close-ended responses
Have you ever asked someone what they would like to drink and they take forever to make up their mind? Next time try something like this:
“What would you like to drink, tea or coffee?”

The response is close-ended even though the question begins with the word “What”

You have closed the number of options from infinite to just two: Tea or coffee

I begin with this example because most people are taught that open questions begin with Who, What, Where etc and closed questions get a Yes/No answer. That is true but misses the point. With closed questions we are looking to close the available responses. It could be you require a Yes/No response or alternatively it could be something like:

“How would you like to pay, cash or cheque?”
“When is best for you, Tuesday or Thursday?”
“Would you like to go ahead with the standard option or is the deluxe option better for you?”

So, when you are looking to close a sale make sure you use a close-ended question.

Open-ended response
To open up a conversation you need open-ended questions. Questions that do not limit the response.

Questions like: “What have you already done to solve this problem?”

There are all sorts of things you can do to influence the responses you get back. For example, by adding the word “specifically” to an open question will get you a more definite answer if the person you are speaking to is being vague.

You can even turn a close-ended question into an open-ended by changing your voice tone so that it is clear you are expecting a more detailed response. For example:

“Have you tried to solve this problem before?”

Mastering open and closed questions
The easy way to remember the difference is that if you want to open up a conversation you ask open-ended questions and if you want to close down a conversation you use close-ended questions.

In our training on sales questioning techniques we get people to focus more on the type of answer they want and less on whether it is an open or closed question. When we are in control of the questioning process and we are clear what information we want at each stage of the sales process then knowing the right kind of question to ask becomes very easy.