An open-ended question is designed to encourage a full, meaningful answer using the subject’s own knowledge/feelings. It is opposite of a closed-ended question which encourages a short or single word answer. Open-ended questions tend to be more objective & less leading than closed-ended questions.

Open-ended questions begin with why or how or phrases such as Tell me about… Often, they are not technically a question but a statement that implicitly asks for a response.

Open-ended questions are one of the most important tools for those who sell (as long as you listen). They help you gather information, qualify sales opportunities, and establish rapport, trust and credibility.

Open-ended questions are ones that require more than one word answers. The answers could come in the form of a list, a few sentences or something longer such as a speech, paragraph or essay.

Open-ended questions require a response with more depth and a lengthier response. Open-ended questions are also helpful in finding out more about a person or a situation, whether it’s during an interview, at a party, or when getting to know a new friend.

An open-ended question is one that compels a person to volunteer more information. A closed-ended question, on the other hand, is one that can be answered with a simple yes or no response. Knowing the difference between the two will help you tremendously.

If you consider yourself a professional, own (absolutely know) a repertoire of powerful open-ended questions … questions that are answered by more than a simple yes or no … questions where the prospect / customer gets directly involved in the sales discussion

Ask the question and let the prospect/ customer give you their answer.

No leading.
No prompting.
No interrupting.

Just in case you’ve not had the opportunity to put yours down in writing, here are some of my favourites. You should have several additional questions specific to your industry, but these’ll get you more than started.

Write down the ones you find valuable. Memorize them with your team. Practice them on your drive in or on the way to your next appointment. Print them out. Post them near your phone. Pass them on to your team.

What prompted you / your company to look into this?
What are your expectations / requirements for this product/ service?
What process did you go through to determine your needs?
How do you see this happening?
What is it that you’d like to see accomplished?
With who have you had success in the past?
With who have you had difficulties in the past?
Can you help me understand that a little better?
What does that mean?
How does that process work now?
What challenges does that process create?
What challenges has that created in the past?
What are the best things about that process?
What other items should we discuss?

What do you see as the next action steps?
What is your timeline for implementing / purchasing this type of service / product?
What other data points should we know before moving forward?
What budget has been established for this?
What are your thoughts?
Who else is involved in this decision?
What could make this no longer a priority?
What’s changed since we last talked?
What concerns do you have?

How did you get involved in…?
What kind of challenges are you facing?
What’s the most important priority to you with this? Why?
What other issues are important to you?
What would you like to see improved?
How do you measure that?

What were the most important wars fought in the history of the United States?

What are you planning to buy today at the supermarket?

How exactly did the fight between the two of you start?

What is your favourite memory from childhood?

How will you help the company if you are hired to work for us?

What do you plan to do immediately following graduation from college?

What types of decorations do you plan to have for your friend’s birthday party?

What was your high school experience like?

How did you and your best friend meet?

What sites do you expect to see on your vacation?

How do you go about booking tickets for a flight?

What were the major effects of World War II for the United States?

How do you go about purchasing a home

Close-ended Questions

Close-ended questions can be answered in only one word or very short phrase. Close-ended questions can also be used in the situations mentioned above, although they have the potential to end the conversation.

Examples of close-ended questions are:

  • Are you feeling better today?

  • May I use the bathroom?

  • Is the prime rib a special tonight?

  • Did that man walk by the house before?

  • Can I help you with that?

  • May I please have a bite of that pie?

  • Would you like to go to the movies tonight?

  • Is math your favourite subject?

  • Does four plus four equal eight?

  • Is that haunted house really scary?

  • Will you be going to Grandmother’s house for Christmas?

  • Did Dad make the cake today?

  • Is there a Mass being held at noon?

Examples of close-ended questions turned into open-ended versions:

Close-ended

  • Would you like vanilla ice cream?

  • Have you ever met Joe before?

  • Where did you go to college?

  • What is your best quality?

Open-ended

  • What is your favourite flavour of ice cream and why?

  • How did you meet Joe?

  • What do you feel was most beneficial about your college experience?

  • How can your top qualities help our company to thrive and grow?

From these examples, it is clear that close-ended questions are used to elicit a short, quick response, while open-ended questions are gateways into conversations.

More open-ended questions:

Examples:

    1. How may/can I help you?

    2. Where have you looked already?

    3. What aspect are you looking for?

    4. What kind of information are you looking for?

    5. What would you like to know about [topic]?

    6. When you say [topic], what do you mean?

    7. What do you mean by [topic]?

    8. What further clues can you give me?

    9. What examples can you give me?

    10. What is it you want to know about?

    11. How will you use this information?

    12. How will this information help you?

    13. What will it help you do?

    14. Where did you read or hear about [topic]?

    15. Tell me how this problem arose?

    16. What happened that got you stopped?

    17. What are you trying to understand?

    18. Where else have you searched?

Pros: Open-ended questions develop trust, are perceived as less threatening, allow an unrestrained or free response, and may be more useful with articulate users.

Cons: Can be time-consuming, may result in unnecessary information, and may require more effort on the part of the user.

A leading question is a question which subtly prompts the respondent to answer in a particular way. Such questions are undesirable as they result in false or slanted information.

More examples of open & closed-ended questions:

Closed:

1. Do you get on well with your boss?

2. Who will you vote for, this election?

3. What colour shirt are you wearing?

Open:

1. Tell me about your relationship with your boss.

2. What do you think about the two candidates in this election?

3. That an interesting coloured shirt you are wearing

When searching for information and trying to establish rapport, use Open-Ended-Questions.  Here are the three main characteristics of the open ended question:

  • They ask the person to reflect and think.

  • They provide you with their feelings and opinions.

  • They hand control of the conversation to the other person.

That last point is important. You hand control over to the other person. However, If you are going into a close, a decision point, never use an open-ended question. You don’t want to lose control.

Salesman & open-ended questions

(All related to the garment industry)

The salesman wants to know the customer’s annual sales 

Nowadays, clothing brands seem to be growing very fast. A sales of Rs. 100 crore looks normal. Who are the bigger brands competing with you, what can be their sales?

What’s going on in your business these days? How have things changed?

It was good to hear the short version of your background at the meeting; I’d love to get the long version. What’s your story?

(Assuming they set the meeting) “What lead you to look at our company?” This allows them to start to describe their current challenges and their reason for looking to make a purchase.

(Assuming you set the meeting) As I mentioned earlier, I’d like to share with you a few ideas that have helped our clients succeed in the X, Y, and Z areas. Before we get going, what else might you like to cover? What will make the meeting successful for you?

What  quality issues do you face at present? Do you have any delivery problems?

How do you like  to describe the service you are getting from your present provider?

What improvement would you like to see in a new solution?

How soon do you need to have this solution in place?

What would you like to see improved? How do you measure that?

Many of our clients are reporting problems with areas A, B, and C. How are these areas affecting you? What do you think about them?

What innovative [products, services] has your company introduced over the last couple years?

What’s the most important priority to you and your company right now?

Who, other than yourself, will be involved in making the buying decision?

What budget has been established for this?

How will the buying decision be made?

How does your company make its purchasing decisions for this type of product?

What process have you gone through in the past to buy labels?

Has that process worked well for you? How / how not?

What is the current buying system?

What are the payments terms you are currently working on?

What other data points should we know before moving forward?

Which one competitor would you like to shoot with the golden bullet?

What other factors have we not discussed? or Are there any other questions I should be asking you?

Can any of our additional services assist you, besides what we talked about today?

Have I answered all of your questions today?(In later sales discussions) Given all we’ve talked about, what do you see as being different if we were to move forward together?

Never ask questions about things that can easily be found on a company’s website. You’ll lose credibility and look like a fool.

To find out the name of the owner, ask,

Who is the great genius behind your brand, I would like to shake hands with that person.

To know the average price of garments, ask,

At what price point does the Indian consumer feel comfortable? Are your products attractively prices or do you like premium pricing? Can I assume an average price of your garment to be between Rs. 300-400?