Every salesperson talks about “Closing the sale.” The best salespeople understand that before you can close the sale, you must open it.

What is opening?

“Opening” means using well designed and delivered questions to thoroughly uncover as many aspects of the buying decision as possible. Too many salespeople mistakenly concern themselves with only the technical aspects of the sale, and neglect entirely some of the other issues.
Most competitors are able to meet the prospect’s technical needs. The sale often goes to the supplier who takes the time to understand the personal and situational aspects of the buying dynamics.

Personal illustration

I made a joint sales call with a client’s salesperson which illustrates this important skill.
After measuring the area and recording the specs for some new equipment the prospect was interested in, the salesperson I was coaching said to the prospect, “I’ll fax you a proposal in a couple days, OK?” He had done an excellent job of noting the technical requirements, but a non-existent job of “opening ” the sale. As the salesperson was preparing to leave, I intervened and asked the following “opening” questions.
In order to qualify the prospect, I asked, “What’s the possibility of you ordering this within the next few weeks?”  His response? “None at all. I’m just collecting information for the budget.”
The salesperson would have vainly tried to close a sale that was never opened! He didn’t realize that because he didn’t take the time, nor have the courage, to correctly open the sale.
Here are the rest of the questions I asked.

  “What’s your situation?”
The answer to this helps you understand the underlying motivations for the prospect, and gives you a broad view of the pressures on him/her. The more you understand the situation from the prospect’s perspective, the more prepared you are to close the sale.
“What are you looking for in a proposal?”
This is a simple question that so many salespeople neglect to ask. It helps you understand specifically what interests your prospect. Don’t assume you know the answer. You may be surprised!
In my illustration, the salesperson assumed the prospect wanted a quick, thorough proposal. That assumption almost killed the sale.
Delivered with the right tone of voice (friendly and concerned), “Why” questions can be powerful tools for you and the prospect to understand the motivation for his/her interest, as well as the thought processes that led him to you. A “why” question can also frequently reveal some other approach to the problem and provide you with opportunities for other solutions.
  “How will the decision be made?”
The answer to this question helps you understand the decision-making process and thus deal with the customer in the way he/she wants to be dealt with.
All of these “opening” questions pave the way for you by further revealing the prospect’s situation, motivations, interests and processes.
If you take the time to prepare them and have the courage to use them, you will gain sharper insights into the mind of the prospect and the situation he/she is in. Doing so will provide you far more information with which to close the sale when the time comes.
The best “closers” are often those salespeople who take the time to properly “open” the sale.