From a distance, winning sales conversations appear effortless. But a closer look reveals a method: the one-two punch of open and closed probes.

Successful sales people win and sustain profitable business by encouraging prospects to reveal opportunities, by exploring solutions jointly, and by confirming fit. There is an art to it, and the palette they use contains well-placed open (long answer) and closed (yes or no) probes.

Using Open Probes 

Open probes cast the widest nets. With phrasing like “Tell me about…” or “What’s important to you…” or “How should I…” skilled sales people influence prospects to
1. Uncover general needs. “What measurements do you use to gauge the success of your business?” Answers to these types of probes provide context for opportunities as prospects share their needs in broad strokes.

2. Gain a customer’s perspective on a specific solution. “Tell me about what you’d like to see happen.” With a potential sale on the table, probes like this one help to confirm value and to facilitate buy-in.

3. Maximize message retention. “How does this program compare to what you have now?” When prospects repeat a sales solution in their own words, they’re far more likely to understand and remember its value.

Using Closed Probes
Closed probes help to lift and define key points from active conversations. Questions beginning with “Do”,”Will”, “Can”, and “Is”, prompt defining responses. When sales people use closed probes, they:

1. Confirm an opportunity. “Are you saying that you need to lower your supplies inventory?” Rephrased in the form of a closed probe, an opportunity can be better defined and confirmed.

2. Isolate an objection. “Aside from that one issue, has everything else met your expectations?” By confirming that everything else is acceptable, you remind your customer how much has been agreed upon, and define the conditions for closing the sale.

3. Close a sale. “If I can delivery Tuesday, will you place your order today?” Sometimes called the “Overcoming Objection Close”, it confirms the removal of a final hurdle.

Putting Them Together
Striking an effective balance between open and closed probes is no easy task. In sales-training at Laddawn, we often do an ice-breaker exercise to illustrate just how difficult a challenge it can be. Here’s how it works. A sales person in training is asked to find out as much about the person sitting across the table as possible. However, the student must use open probes only (the conversation is stopped with the first closed probe). Sound easy? In 5 years of using this ice breaker, I’ve yet to see the exercise move past 4 questions.

The most successful sales people pick and choose their probes as selling conversations unfold. They shift seamlessly from open to closed probes as they identify and confirm buying triggers – then back to open as they assess progress and fit. Work to balance your dialog through skilled probing and you’ll generate what we all want; productive and satisfying sales conversations.

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