Poll most salespeople on their favorite tool to close a deal and they will likely tell you discounts, exclusivity, or limited-time offers. As a business owner who loves to sell, I cringe when I hear any of these, because they are what I call weak sales techniques. Discounts spawn price wars--which breed disloyalty from your customer base. Exclusivity is a nice idea, but what happens when your item gets beaten in the market by the next best thing that's exclusive to someone else? And limited-time offers cost money and aren't sustainable longterm, which pisses customers off. So if you need to find a way to close faster and sell more, there is only 1 thing that will do the trick every time, in any industry. Ask open-ended questions.

Most salespeople think of contact with a prospect as their moment to shine--they wind up the big pitch, talk about all the attributes of their product or service, and then try to convert the monologue into a conversation with a lame "Does that sound like something you'd be interested in?" And 9 times out of 10, they are met with an answer like "not right now", "no, thank you", or "I'm good". All of which bring the sale to a grinding halt, and make sales people hang up the phone shaking their heads in frustration.

Instead of thinking of the sales call as the time to talk, I think about it as the time to learn. I am calling on my prospect not to show him how much I know about my product, but rather to ask questions that will allow me to get to know him better. "Yes" and "No" questions won't get me that knowledge. Open-ended or free-form questions will.

I'll use an example from my business. I can call a prospect and ask him if he has heard of my company, explain that we make great jewelry, mention a few new items, and then tell him some prices so he can situate us in relation to the competitors he might be currently buying from. As I finish all my sharing, I can then pause and hope he will decide he likes something I have said and decide to buy something. More than likely, however, he will say, "Ok. Sounds good. If I need anything, I'll let you know." Not only did I not engage him, I discovered nothing about him or his business that I didn't already know when I dialed his number.

If, on the other hand, I call a potential customer and start by asking what type of jewelry is selling best for him these days or what type of jewelry requests he is getting from his own clients, his answer will be something like "I sell a lot of nose jewelry these days," or "I have a lot of people looking for rose gold jewelry now". Those answers help me to understand his world. They also provide a roadmap to how my company, my product, and I can best help him. I don't need to waste his time telling him about all of my products. Instead, I can further qualify what type of nose piercing he is doing, and then offer information about our jewelry that would work for that type of piercing. Or I can hone the products I share with him to only the new rose gold line we offer, saving him time and providing him the information he will truly find valuable--which will give him the knowledge he needs about my offering to feel ready to make a buying decision.

A prospect never minds being sold, and doesn't hesitate to make a purchase when he feels his needs have been met. The only way to know if and how I am able to meet them is by digging deep with questions that don't presume to know things I truly have no way of knowing. Every potential customer is different--and if you just take the extra few minutes to get to know him, you will close the sale with ease. No discounts, pressure tactics, or badgering necessary. Just a few well-placed and open-ended questions to get the ball rolling is all it takes.