And Why Closed Questions Are A Bad Thing

But first, let’s recap: We’ve learnt about Features, Advantages and Benefits and we’ve decided that the smart approach is to find out exactly what Benefits the customer is looking for.

We’ve also discovered that in corporate and public sector sales there is always more than one person involved in the purchasing procedure. And that our task is to identify these stakeholders in the buying process, the Buying Decision-Makers, to make sure they are in the loop and satisfied with our proposal.

The question is, how do we go about finding out who these buyers are and exactly what Benefits they’re looking for?


We ask.

We ask sales questions, but not just any sales questions, we ask Open Questions.

Why Do Open Questions Work? ← (Including This One).

For us salespeople there are two, and only two, classes of questions:

Open Questions (OQs) and

Closed Questions (CQs).

The definitions of these are straightforward:

OQs encourage open-ended answers and discourage Yes/No answers.

CQs encourage Yes/No answers and discourage open-ended answers.

To keep it even more simple there are only six words Open Questions begin with:


A major reason we like OQs in Sales is that it’s very difficult for someone to reply Yes or No to a question beginning with one of these. If they do, it’s probably time to make your excuses and leave.

Why do we want to avoid Yes/No answers?

We are after information, facts, data.

We also want to uncover feelings, opinions, impressions, viewpoints, surrounding those facts.

We want to test the level of commitment from the customer at this particular stage of the sales process.

Plus, on a deeper level OQs have 5 powerful effects:

1. They CONTROL the conversation. That’s because you, the questioner, are directing where the conversation is going, not the answerer. (But paradoxically your customer thinks they’re in control because they’re doing all the talking! Win/Win.)

2. They unearth buried treasure, sometimes revealing concerns or opportunities even the customer themself was unaware of.

3. They demonstrate your CREDIBILITY. Anyone ever said to you: “That’s a good question.”? It’s your intelligent Open Questions about the issues confronting your customer that demonstrate your knowledge, experience, and expertise. NOT the verbal diarrhoea about how big your company is, its long history, cutting edge products, highly skilled people, lightning fast delivery, proud service culture, etc etc. All of which is just an irritating Features dump, and which the customer has heard over and over again from your competitors.

4. They make the customer THINK. A big part of your role here is to help the customer understand the issues they’re facing and the implications of those issues, (which of course your solution will address).

5. Open Questions build RAPPORT with the customer by showing that you’re interested in them and their problems and you’re there to LISTEN. So the image of the silver-tongued, glib, smooth-talking salesperson is completely at odds with today’s professional who spends more time listening than talking.

What About Closed Questions? (Or: Are Closed Questions A Good Thing?)

Closed Questions begin with Is, Are, Do, Does, Have, Has, Will, Would, Can, Could etc etc and often give you a Yes or a No answer.

Problems: If you keep asking CQs and getting Yes/No answers it will seem like an INTERROGATION when what you really want is a CONVERSATION.

The customer doesn’t have to think much about the answer if they don’t want to. They encourage simplistic answers to searching questions.

So, best to avoid Closed Questions unless you definitely want a Yes/No answer or YOU KNOW WHAT THE ANSWER WILL BE.

What To Ask The Customer About – The 5 Issues You Can’t Ignore

No matter where you are in the Sales Funnel (more on this later) you need to be fully aware of how you stand with the customer in each of these areas. You should be pretty clear on where the gaps in your understanding lie for each issue, and thus what you need to find out.

The five areas are:

Customer Needs/Wants

Buying Decision-Makers



Competition (Yours and theirs)

Open Questions are one of the key sales techniques and play major roles in these other stages of the sales process:

Overcoming Objections

Asking for Commitment


The final word goes to the author and poet Rudyard Kipling:

I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.

To Your Sales Success!