10 open questions to kick-off conversations with sales prospects

Salespeople are only successful when they have conversations with prospects. Every conversation serves as an opportunity to engage. A conversation is a chance to define needs, understand pain points, and come up with solutions. But you need to kick off a conversation for this to happen.

No matter how or where you have these conversations — on the phone, online or in-person — a route into the important topics needs to be made. Here are 10 ways to engage a prospect and kick off a sales conversation the most effective way.

10 open-ended questions for sales conversations

#1: “How’s business going?”

When engaging co-founders and owner operators, this question is a really useful icebreaker.

Depending on the level of trust already established, how you were introduced (or whether this is a cold pitch), and rapport already in-place, this can take things to the next level. Asking a business owner how things are going is opening a highway straight into the downtown center of their company.

Founders are always going to talk about ups and downs. Big wins and larger goals. Hopes and fears. What’s keeping them awake at night and what could happen, if they could solve this or that problem.

“How’s business?” could be asked many different ways. The point is, this one is broad enough to get someone talking about what they’re passionate about, while also giving a clear direction that can be taken to get to pain points and solutions.

#2: “Your focus is X: Why did you specialize in this?”

Another way to get a prospect to open-up is to talk about why they went into a particular sector or specialism. What problems were they trying to solve, and why?

Talking about the Big Why is a great way to get to know a prospect better. It also leads nicely into pain points and goals they’ve got, and therefore, how you can potentially help them.

#3: “What are your goals for the next [3, 6, 12] months?”

Getting to know goals and timelines for them is useful. This way, you can see how closely what you’re offering overlaps with strategic objectives and goals. If there’s clearly a pressing need, then now is when you introduce a product/service offering as a way of helping a prospect achieve a goal.

#4: “What priorities does your boss/board have for the next [1-3] years?”

Depending on the size of a company, a manager with a specific goal might be out of alignment with senior managers and even the board. In Enterprise-level companies, this can happen. When it comes to landing a sale, you need to be sure that a manager with budgetary authority won’t be blocked by those above them.

Ideally, a manager or department head making a purchase should have C-suite support. This question is designed to understand where everyone you are speaking with sits in the hierarchy and who has support. Or what support they need to get to go ahead with what they want to buy.

#5: “What is currently holding you back from achieving your goals?”

Now, with this question, we are getting into pain points.

If there are problems you can solve, then wonderful. But this question could uncover something else of equal value: It’s another way of saying, “Do you have a budget to solve this problem?”

#6: “Is this a current priority?”

One way or another, you need to know how badly they want to solve this problem. Is it a priority, or are there other projects/teams competing for this budget? Getting an understanding of where everyone sits and what a company is working towards is one of the best ways to clearly determine how soon a prospect might want to go ahead.

#7: “If this was a priority in the past, what prevented a solution from being implemented?”

It could be the case that a prospect has already attempted something similar, and it didn’t work. If that is the case, you need to know more, and why it didn’t work. Was it budget, resources, project inertia; what was it, and how can you avoid them being put-off an idea as a result of past problems?

#8: “Who else would benefit from this solution?”

Again, depending on the size of the company, a prospect might know other departments that would benefit from your solution. One meeting or call could lead to multiple conversations. Or other small business owners will know others who are struggling with the same pain points.

Always remember that every conversation is the chance to open other doors.

#9: “What are your biggest challenges right now?”

Use this to get a clear appreciation for overall challenges and goals. Try to understand what they’re struggling with and other ways you might be able to create value.

#10: “If this were to be implemented, what kind of ROI are you hoping for?”

Agreeing and then implementing a new solution in any company takes time.

And with every project there is a sense of urgency. If that doesn’t exist, then it probably isn’t a priority, no matter how enthusiastic someone might sound. Try to understand whether or not something is urgent, and how soon a prospect wants to see an ROI.

Prospects looking for quick results might be disappointed if something is going to take time to get rolled out. Use questions such as this to align needs with demand, budget and expectations.

Of course, there are dozens of other questions you can ask. Once you’ve got a prospect engaged, take time to get to know their business and what they need. Use open-ended questions to make progress and tailor solutions around prospect pain points.