Asking Better Questions

"Do you have a budget in mind for this or have you not gotten that far yet?"

"Will this product meet you needs or would a different product be a better fit?"

"Is your company thinking of purchasing this product right away or later in the year?"

Sound familiar? I have spent many, many hours monitoring sales representatives' calls and one thing that I have consistently noticed is that most have a tendency to ask two questions at once. Trying to get information from a prospect in this manner leads to several problems.

How the Customer Will React

By asking the customer two questions at once, you are really offering them a choice. They will select one of the two options. Guess which one they usually pick? Typically, they select the response that either gets the sales representative off the phone or makes them look like a poor prospect. Why? It's human nature. It's the easy way out. People resist being sold to.

The Appearance It Creates 

Giving prospects one or two responses to choose from can make the salesperson look as if they are a poor listener or trying to hurry the sale. Sometimes it can make them come across as insecure, eager to please, afraid of rejection, manipulative or inexperienced. Once the prospect thinks any of this, they are unlikely to treat the salesperson seriously and enter into a meaningful conversation with them.

Ask Open Ended Questions Instead

The best way to avoid this situation is for the sales representative to learn how to phrase questions in an open-ended fashion. Zig Ziglar refers to those types of questions as "open door" questions. In his book Ziglar on Selling he says, "Open door questions allow the persons being questioned to go wherever they like with their responses."

Open-ended questions give the salesperson the chance to hear a prospect's answer in its entirety. It allows them to better bond with the prospective client and learn what they need to know to move the sale along. 

The questions above could be re-phrased this way:

Before: "Do you have a budget in mind for this or have you not gotten that far yet?" 

After: "Could you tell me about your budgeting process for a purchase of this nature?" 


"What are your thoughts on the budget for this purchase?"

Before: "Will this product meet your needs or would a different product be a better fit?" 

After: "From what you have seen so far, what are your impressions of our product?" 


"Based on what you know at this point, how might you see your organization using this product?"

Before: "Is your company thinking of purchasing this product right away or later in the year?"

After: "What are your thoughts on a time frame for this purchase?" 


"Where does the purchase of a product like this rank on your priority list right now?"

Asking a customer two questions at once impedes the communication process because the prospect is not left to their own devices in answering the question. So the salesperson doesn't get a thoughtful response. This can lead to a conversation that goes nowhere or causes difficulties later on in the sales process. 

Though asking two questions at once might work at certain points in the sale, it's better to learn how to ask one question at a time, especially during the information gathering stages of the sales process. The best questions will encourage the customer to provide more, not less, relevant information.

Though my clients come from many different industries, the challenges they face are similar. In "Sales Management Tips," I regularly answer questions that have been posed to me by my clients. I hope the answers will help you to solve some of the sales dilemmas you face in your own sales organizations. If you would like to ask a question, please contact me. The identity and affiliation of those submitting questions will be kept confidential.