Improve your sales: Open v Closed questions


Hello and welcome to edition five of my sales blog. What’s the difference between open and closed questions? “That’s easy” I hear some of you cry, well I suppose knowing the difference is easy, I guess. Open questions provide you with an answer that can’t be answered by replying yes or no, whereas closed questions can only be answered by yes, no or don’t know.


Open questions always begin with who, what, why, where, which, when and how. This means the very first word in the sentence of an open question always begins with one of these words. Open questions allow you to engage with your customers in a consultative manner. Open questions enable you to expand on a customers issue also known as ‘driving the wedge’. Of course the bigger and more time sensitive your customer’s problem the more likely you will be able to fit your solution to their needs sooner rather than later.


This doesn’t mean you never ask closed questions. The skill in questioning clients is to only ask a closed question when you know the answer, or you are looking to complete a line of questioning so that you can move on to the next line of questioning, clear?


Well, many years ago I was a policeman and couldn’t help notice the way in which solicitors would question an accused on the stand in a trial.


For example, picture the situation; the solicitor is about to question an individual on trial for drunk and disorderly behaviour.


Solicitor (S) “Where were you on the night of 12th December?”

Accused (A) “I was walking along Church Street in Preston.”

S “Who were you with?”

A “My mates.”

S “Why were you there?”

A “I was celebrating my pals birthday.”

S “What did you do to celebrate your pals birthday?”

A “I had a few beers.”

S “How many beers did you have?”

A “About ten pints.”

S “How did you feel?”

A “A little giddy.”

S “How were you walking?”

A “Unsteady.”

S “What did your eyes look like?”

A “Glazed.”

S “How was your speech?”

A “Slurred.”

S “Is it safe to say you were drunk?” – Closed question

A “Yes indeed I was.”


All the questions with the exception of the last question were open.  The closed question enabled the solicitor to complete his line of questioning. He established what he needed and then moved on to his next line of questioning, which will again be led by open questions.


Yes I know the example is a little tongue in cheek, however the principles are exactly the same. If you want to ensure an excellent rapport with your clients, whilst exploring their issues to be able to offer your solution quickly, keep your questions open until you are as sure as you can be of the answer to the closed question.


In summary;

  1. Ask open questions to uncover or widen your clients’ issues.
  2. Ask closed questions when you know the answer and you want to move on or gain commitment from your line of open questions.
  3. Plan your questions beforehand to support you in the process.


Finally, once you’ve read this article, make a decision that every question you will ask from now until the end of the day begins with either, who, what, why, where, which, when and how. You will notice first how difficult it is until you’ve practised but everyone you speak to will be much more engaged, which is nice.


Thanks for reading my blog; if anyone has any questions, thoughts or considerations with regards to what I ‘ve said then don’t hesitate to contact me.


You can also check out our website for further information.


Happy selling – Cheers Ali