Questioning Myths that May Be Costing You Sales Part 2: When Not to Use Closed Questions

Make the prospect think before saying yes and it will strengthen your position.

In Part 1 of this article, we saw that closed questions can be very useful at the opening stages of the call because they are easy to answer. That quality is ironically what makes them least useful during the closing stages of the call.

Again, this seems to challenge long-standing sales lore. As salespeople, we’re told to ask for the close and to lock in agreements when the time is ripe. A typical example of a closed question would be:

“Do you see the value in speeding up the process?”

The idea is that if the customer says yes, (and you’re sure she will based on the conversation to that point), store you don’t let them off the hook—you continue the positive momentum by asking a series of questions calculated to elicit yeses until you finally ask for the proverbial signature on the dotted line.

What’s wrong with this approach? The easy answer is that it sounds pushy and unprofessional, but it goes deeper than that. Again, it goes back to the question of how easy it is to answer. Because it’s so easy for the customer to say yes in this case, they often do it without engaging their thinking, and their agreement is actually quite fragile. This can cause several potential problems:

• They may feel pressured, causing them to dig their heels in and come up with additional objections.

• Their immediate yes may later lead to buyer’s remorse after they’ve had a chance to think about it.

• If they have to explain their decision to an approver, they may not be fully equipped to defend it.

If any of these problems occur, your impatience for a quick close may lose you the sale or at least seriously delay it.

Now, imagine the question just posed in this scenario was re-worded as an open question:

“What value do you see from speeding up the process?”

In this case, the customer has to think about the value to answer your question intelligently. There are several potential benefits to this:

• In thinking about their answer, they are in effect “taking mental ownership” of the solution; they have to envision what it would be like to implement it.

• By answering the question, they are in effect hearing about the benefits from the person they most trust—themselves.

• It reduces the chances of buyer’s remorse in which the customer will later renege on a deal that they felt themselves pressured into.

• If they have to get agreement from others internally before signing the deal, your question (and follow-ups to the first answer) will help them rehearse their reasoning.

Your follow-up question should also be open:

“What would you see as the next steps to make it happen?”

In order to answer this question, the prospect has to go through the mental effort of planning the rest of the steps to close the sale. So, if you do get a positive answer, you’ll know it’s one you can rely on.

In effect, by making it harder for the customer at the close, you’re strengthening your chances of success.

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