What’s new?”  I was asked that question yesterday from someone I hadn’t spoken to in a while.  Talk about an open ended question!  It doesn”t get more open than that, does it?

Problem is..I was tongue tied. I had no idea of where to start to answer that really open-ended questions so I said ‘Not much.” And the conversation pretty much ended there.

‘Not much.’ was my response to a really open ended question?  Surprise, surprise. Of course, this might be the “How ya doin’? question that people ask as a greeting instead of a real question where they want a response.  But maybe not.  I just wasn’t going to work that hard to figure it out or ask for a clarifying question.  Instead of connecting us and starting a conversation, this very open-ended question left us with silence.

Open ended questions – and  the power of asking for information and listening – is central to great collaborative selling.  Yet asking a Who, What, Why, When, How question takes more skill and expertise than just the way the question is worded.  The value to the prospect, and you, the sales pro, comes when the open questions are used with intent!

To be effective and valuable, great open-ended questions need to be:

  • Targeted to the situation and person
  • Open, but not too broad where the person doesn’t know where to begin
  • Prefaced with the intention of the line of questions and a why you are asking
  • Relevant and timely
  • Followed by open ears and a paraphrase of what you heard

people talkingLet’s go back to the opening question ‘What’s new?” to initiate contact with someone you haven’t seen in a while.  Following the tips above, a more effective approach is:  “Hi Nancy, I haven’t seen you in a while. How is your new Sharpenz business going?”  or “How is the end of the school year wrapping up for your family?”  or “Last time I saw you, you mentioned that Kevin was in college. How have you adjusted to him being out of the house?”

Now, those are open questions, targeted to me, open and clear, and timely based on something they know about me (or better yet, tied into something we discussed in the past showing they listened the last time we were together) that connect me to something I can talk about!  They are a great conversation starter – and in business a great conversation and connection leads to sales opportunities.

The intent of these opening questions might not be stated, but the action of asking a relevant, personalized and meaningful clearly shows the intent of wanting to really connect with me and begin a conversation.

When you want to start a productive conversation, skip the “What’s new?” common greeting and make an intentional great connection.