4 Open-ended Questions That Work

When I was a kid, my father, a doctor, would take me along with him when he made his rounds at the hospital.

I was always amazed at his focus and humanity. While my father was asking insightful questions of his patients, I was dreaming about lunch at the Strathmore Deli in Manhasset…I could just taste the roast beef piled high, steak-cut fries and huge vanilla milkshake (too much sharing here?).

Back to my father. I was enamored with his sincerity and genuine interest in whatever his patient said to him. He was as calm and collected as you’d want a surgeon to be.  He had a great way of getting more information from his patients which helped him provide better care.  His trick? Asking the right open ended questions.

4 Examples of Open Ended Questions That Work

On an almost daily basis, I find myself asking at least one of the following probing questions, looking to give my clients an opportunity to provide more information that allows me to find new ways to help them. I recommend you try these the next time you are in a sales meeting:

1. Really?

I’ve never discovered a better word to draw a client out. Asking this is an invitation for your client to tell you more. If asked sincerely and curiously you’ll be amazed at how frequently a client will open up to you. Really? connotes a desire to go “on the journey” of what’s befallen your client. Remember, in business, most people want to talk about themselves.Therefore, the more we create a climate of interest and discovery, the more a client will disclose. The more they disclose… the more your relationship grows!
It communicates you are interested in understanding the full picture not just a cursory understanding. It says “I’ve got time”, your situation and its history is important to me.

2. Why?

A classic open-ended question. Just asking “Why?” illustrates your curiosity and nonjudgmental demeanor. Asking this will often elicit an emotion or belief that is core to understanding your client’s point of view. It tells you their reasoning/rationale for the issue/challenge. It opens the conversation up versus closing it down, which you don’t want. If a client continues to speak about the issue, let them. Don’t cut them off or even slightly open your mouth to respond back to them, just let them go. Clients can see you eagerness to respond or worse begin to answer their challenge too soon. Doing this will illustrate poor timing on your part and worse selfishness.

3. Why now?

This probing question uncovers what’s urgent now. It also uncovers what is dearest to your client and what they must make happen. You actually can’t go any farther with your idea or recommendation without knowing why the issue is mission critical now? Asking this question will also bring forth their frustration. You want to know why it’s come to a head. It will also crystallize their compelling event. That phrase; “compelling event” is a great phrase to solve for when meeting with prospective and current clients. Once you find it you can fix it. Clients know their time frame so should you.

4. What’s the impact?

Now we begin to move the conversation from being interesting to being urgent. Notice how your client explains the impact of the market issues they are facing. They will get deep into the problem. The deeper they go, the more your relationship strengthens. You actually don’t know the real impact of their challenge until your client explains it. The more they explain the impact the closer they are to acting on it. This data builds your case for your solution. The more your client speaks to the future they desire the easier it is to play back that future when you present your recommendation. They paint this picture, you don’t. Remember, they own the dream, you own the process.

Try these out. Did your client open up more and did you get more information to work with? 


Post updated: 10-24-2017

12 replies
  1. Anne
    Anne says:

    I’ve been missing the Strathmore Deli lately. My grandmother, aunt and uncle dined there every Saturday night (lunch was at the Bird Cage at Lord & Taylor). I joined them many, many times as a child in the seventies. I so clearly remember the small rye loaves, sliced and perfectly sized for the plastic bread baskets. I remember the roast beef and the steep driveway to the left and so much else of that long-time time. Thank you for mentioning the Strathmore.


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