Using open ended questions to improve your bottom line
We’re always looking for new ways to help you boost your bottom line, and this week we’ll be discussing the secret art of… conversation! That’s right, we’ll be showing you how opening up your customer conversations with open ended questions will increase your sales, and improve your customer relationships. So, what is an open question? To explain this a little further, we’ll discuss what a close ended question looks like. A close ended question can only be answered with limited replies, such as ‘yes/no’, so asking something like, ‘Has this worked well for you?’, would be a close ended question. Contrastingly, an open ended question has limitless possibilities of reply, such as asking, ‘How are you?’, or ‘What are your ambitions?’, asking open ended questions opens the channels for communication, enabling rapport and fluid conversation.
Are you at a loss with how to open your conversations? Never fear, we’ve collated our favourite open ended question methods for encouraging and enabling conversations with customers.
The warm up
During the beginning phase of your conversation, your focus should be on building a relationship and rapport with the customer. This should not be a phase for hard sell or interrogation, but a space to get to know your customers as people. Ask general questions that establish their business and career, and provides you with a broader picture of how you are best placed to help them. If the customer has travelled to visit you, enquire as to their journey, the length of their stay, and where they have come from. If you’ve travelled to visit your customer, enquire as to the local area, how long your customer has been in their current location, and the current situation of their business.
As the atmosphere warms, and the coffee flows, gradually guide the conversation to being more focused on the customer’s business. Take the opportunity to enquire about the current challenges their business may be facing, and how things are changing within the industry. Find out why the customer has agreed to meet with you today, and what they are hoping to gain from your conversation. Do your research before you meet with your customer, try to calculate where their business bug-bears may lie, and when you get to this section of the conversation, you should be well placed and researched to answer confidently.
As you get to know your customer more, seek to align yourself with what they ultimately aspire to. What challenge would they like to overcome, and what’s holding them back from this? What works for them as a business, and what is less effective? Where do they see their business heading, and is this the correct destination? Once you’re aware of the landscape in which your customer operates, you can cater your pitch and offerings to suit, engendering customer loyalty and, ultimately, satisfaction.
Having established your customer’s situation, ask questions that tie the two of you together. How does your customer view your relationship as working? What would they like to achieve whilst working with you? It is always useful to have case studies on hand at this point, have you worked with a similar customer before? How did you help enable this customer to achieve success, and how can this be emulated with the customer in front of you?
Knowing when to ask
There’s a time and a place for open questions and conversations, and it is not during the closing of a sale. Once a sale is tabled, take charge of the conversation, asking only closed questions and guiding the conversation to the natural conclusion of a sale. It may be effective to reverse the roles at this stage in the conversation, and invite questions from your customer.
The follow up
Once the sale has been concluded, the floor is yours for open ended questions once again. Take the time to check in with your customers regularly. How have they found the experience of working with you? Is this going as they expected, or are there elements that they would like to change going forward? The use of open ended questions in your customer follow up enables a culture of continual client feedback, customers will find you attentive and customer focused. This should lead to an increase of trust in your relationship, and therefore, an increase in sales.
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Borg and Overström are a manufacturer, and trade-only supplier, of innovative, quality, water systems.
We take pride in working with our clients to help them to develop their businesses, providing tailored sales, marketing, and technical training and advice.