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Open-Ended Questions for Sales Set You Apart From Your Competition

Graphic Showing Question MarkThrough research with buyers and sellers spanning over 25 years, I’m convinced that there’s one tool, above all others, that accelerates sales cycles and win rates. It’s why I recommend building your skills in asking open-ended questions for sales success.

Let me start with a little bit of background. My first book, DISCOVER Questions® Get You Connected, includes eight purposes for asking questions. I devised this model after 20+ years of field sales observations and buyer interviews. My new book, co-authored with Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner, too, is based on research with buyers and sellers. It provides the behavioral blueprint for seller behaviors based on buyer preferences.

Asking Open-Ended Questions for Sales Positions You as a Leader

Those two bodies of work overlap because buyers strongly prefer sellers who ask powerful, purposeful questions. DISCOVER Questions® Get You Connected will help you to be the leader the buyers want you to be as described in Stop Selling & Start Leading. Introducing the frameworks that come out of both bodies of work will help to connect the dots.

Jim and Barry have been working for over 30 years to understand what it is that effective leaders do that causes others to willingly choose to follow them. They pinpointed these behaviors and created an evidence-based framework known as The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership®.  These same Five Practices, according to our recent findings, provide a behavioral blueprint for making more sales.

Our recent findings are based on our research with B2B buyers and from sellers telling us about their “personal best” sales. The Five Practices explain why and how you can step into your full potential as a leader to guide your buyers through and help them achieve their vision and the possibilities of the future that they're setting out to achieve.

The Five Practices are:

Model the Way: Find your voice by clarifying your personal values; and set the example by aligning your actions with the values you profess and the values you share with your buyer. (To do this, it’s important to also know your own and your buyers’ values!)

Inspire a Shared Vision: Envision the future by imagining exciting possibilities; and enlist others to share in this vision. Enlisting your buyers in a common vision starts with appealing to your shared aspirations and, of course, knowing what the buyer’s vision is for the future.  

Challenge the Process: Search for opportunities by seeking innovative ways to continually grow; and experiment and take risks to learn and constantly generate small wins. In addition to challenging yourself, once you’ve earned buyers’ trust they’d like you to introduce new ideas to them, too.

Enable Others to Act: Collaborate and cooperating to build trust; and strengthen others by sharing decision making and power. With buyers, this includes dignifying their contributions and giving them an opportunity to participate in creating what they want.

Encourage the Heart: Celebrate shared values victories to create a spirit of community; and recognize others’ contributions by showing appreciation for their excellence.  Buyers need encouragement as they struggle inside their own organizations to garner support for your solution.

To lead by using these Five Practices, you can ask purposeful questions that open up opportunities for you to be a guide to your buyer.

You’ll want your questions to be open-ended because close-ended questions just won't get you as much information or be as valuable. With purposeful, open-ended questions, you’ll gather information to guide your buyers and lead them to exciting new places they want to go.

With DISCOVER Questions®, there are specific kinds of questions that align very neatly with the Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership®. Here are some examples so you can get a quick start.

1. Value Questions Help You Model the Way

Model the Way pertains to finding your voice, knowing your personal values, and aligning your actions with your values AND with the values of your buyer.

The “V” Question from the DISCOVER acronym is a Value Question. The best way to identify and fully understand your buyers’ values is to ask Value Questions. The purpose of a Value Question is to surface and mine for more information about what the buyer values and why.

Example of a Value Question: “Tell me more about the corporate value of ‘making a difference every day’ and what that means to you and the work you do.”

With this question (phrased as a command statement that serves as an open-ended question would), you will learn what this particular company value means to the individual buyer or buyers that you're talking to. You’ll have context for what motivates them and what's important to them. Later, you'll be able to use this information to align your actions and any solutions you offer. You’ll also be able to demonstrate shared values, if there’s any natural overlap, as you work together.

2. Outcome Questions Help You Inspire a Shared Vision

Inspiring a Shared Vision means breathing life into an ideal picture of the future and engaging others in a way that causes them to join you in a quest toward that vision.

The “O” in DISCOVER stands for Outcome Questions.  To discover what your buyer sees as a desirable future state, use an Outcome Question. These are questions that tap into any hopes, dreams, plans, goals, or visions of the future they already have.

Example of an Outcome Question: “What are your personal goals this year in service of the company's vision to become the number one provider in the US?”

Any question you ask that helps you understand what your buyer hopes to achieve is going to be an Outcome question and will likely point to the shared vision that you can create together.

3. Solution Questions Help You Challenge the Process

Challenging the Process leads to innovation and experimentation. It may require taking risks, and it certainly involves learning and growing when mistakes are made.

The “S” in DISCOVER represents Solution Questions. These questions plant seeds for consideration of new ideas. They promote thinking about alternative ways to do things, testing the waters before you fully introduce solutions without buyer interest or getting buyer input.

Example of a Solution Question: “What are your thoughts about competing aggressively for the market share that's up for grabs now that XYZ competitor has left the marketplace?”

What you're doing with a Solution Question is bringing a new idea to the forefront but not positioning it yet as the solution. Instead of presenting your own idea, you're giving your buyer a chance to have a voice in shaping it. You’re providing an opportunity to explore something new together and to co-create  insights and innovations. You’ll be more effective in getting the buy if you first get the buy-in that comes from being involved.

4. Rationale Questions Help You Enable Others to Act

Enabling Others to Act involves collaborating with buyers and strengthening them.

The “R” in DISCOVER Questions stands for Rationale Questions. These questions help you understand the criteria for your buyers’ decisions and how decisions are made.

Example of a Rationale Question: “Describe the steps you took to develop your current strategy and select the partners you've been working with.”

When you understand the process, you can dignify it and collaborate within it. You’ll be dignifying the buyers’ preferences and past decisions by determining how to integrate what’s come before into anything you suggest going forward toward a new decision. You'll be fostering collaboration and demonstrating that you want to cooperate. Doing so builds trust because it shows you already trust and respect what the buyer has done before.

5. Example Questions Help You Encourage the Heart

Encouraging the Heart magnifies and celebrates shared values and victories. You’ll be building a spirit of community and recognizing excellence in your buyers.

The “E” in DISCOVER stands for Example Questions. These questions immerse the buyer in recollections that compel a contrast – between present state and desired future state or between a before/after state.  

Example of an Example Question: “Describe the before and after situation and the impact you made by going in this direction.”

As you ask for comparisons and contrasts to get your buyer telling stories about what they've done before, you’ll understand context for what worked and what didn't, plus what opportunities are still out there for you. With this kind of a question, you're going to get some rich storytelling from your buyer and you’ll be able to find praiseworthy accomplishments to recognize. In this way, you'll be encouraging the buyer to continue moving forward with you and building on what they've done in the past.

Tap Into Your Full Potential

Use DISCOVER Questions® to step into your full potential. Our buyer research In Stop Selling & Start Leading says that creating a two-way dialogue with questions will positively differentiate you and create incredible bonds with your buyers.

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The CONNECT2Sell Blog has been discontinued as our focus has shifted to leadership at every level. Research with buyers demonstrates that buyers respond favorably when sellers show up as leaders. If you'd like to step into your full potential as a leader (and boost sales!), take a look at our free and affordable courses on