Inside Sales “Questioning Skills” for Online Sales

B2B marketing

Inside Sales “Questioning Skills” for Online Sales

Since COVID-19, online sales have become a common practice, but many people may be facing challenges in how to improve the results of their sales efforts. In this issue, we would like to share with you the key points of non-face-to-face communication that we have cultivated in our 24 years of inside sales representation. In particular, we will share how to listen to the issues that customers have by utilizing open and closed questions.

Inside sales calling techniques for online sales

Online sales require more skill in listening to customer information carefully and delivering appropriate proposals than face-to-face sales. Let’s consider the questioning skills that are necessary to get the right answers when listening to information from prospective customers.

There are two types of questions: open questions and closed questions. By appropriately combining open and closed questions, you can listen more deeply and increase the appointment and closing rates.

What is an open question?

An open question is a question format that does not limit the scope of the person being asked the question.

▼Example of an open question
“What is your favorite sport?”
“How was your experience at the seminar?”
“What is your company currently doing to attract new clients?

An open question is a question that is posed in order to develop a “conversation” from there. The purpose of an open question is to ask for the other person’s thoughts, and it has the advantage of eliciting a variety of responses. It is important to be open to listening to the customer’s thoughts and not to stereotypes on the part of the questioner.

On the other hand, open questions have the disadvantage of being highly abstract and vague. Also, because there is no limit to the range of answers, it forces the respondent to think. If you ask open questions too many times in a row, you may tire the other person.

What is a closed question?

A closed question is a question that can be answered with either a Yes or No .

▼ Closed Question Example
“Do you like soccer?”
“Were you satisfied with the seminar?”
“Are you interested in strengthening your new customer base?”

The advantage of closed questions is that they are only one-answer questions, so the answer is clear: “Yes” or “No,” and the respondent can answer immediately.
The disadvantage is that it is difficult to expand the conversation, making it difficult to proceed smoothly.

Listening with a combination of open and closed questions

Open and closed questions have their own advantages and disadvantages.

The important thing is to understand the characteristics of each and apply and utilize them. It is not always the case that “Always ask the first question with an open question! Closed questions for closing! It is not necessary to use them in a specific way for each situation. By combining the two and using them in different ways, deeper communication is possible.

Let’s look at some specific examples.

Q. “How did you come to attend our seminar?” >> Open Question
A. “Well, I was just curious.”
Q. “Are you considering implementing a tool?”  >> Closed question
A. Yes, I am.
Q. “There were also seminars A and B that introduced the tool, but why did you choose C (this seminar)?”  >> Slightly closed question
A. “I was also interested in A, but C was the one that came closest to solving the issues that we want to consider as a priority in our department right now.”

Three key points to improve results

Point 1: Insert “somewhat closed” questions in the middle of a question

It may seem to go against the definition of a closed question as a yes-or-no answer, but it is effective to insert a “somewhat closed” question that limits the number of answer choices, but still has several options.

In this case, it is important to keep the options open for further discussion.

Closed questions may end up sounding like a guided interrogation if the questioner’s mindset of leading the interviewer to the assumed issue comes to the fore. While keeping such an attitude in check, use “slightly closed” questions to narrow down the answers.

Point 2: Elicit further information with 5W1H

You want to extract deeper information from the customer’s answers. In such cases, you should be aware of the 5W1H.

Who (who) What (what) When (when) Where (where) Why (why) Whom (to whom)
How (How) How much (How much or how much)

▼Example of 5W1H questions
A. “We are following up after exhibiting at the show, but not as successful as before.”
Q. “Is it your sales representative who is making the follow-up calls?” >Who

You can dig deeper with 5W1H questions utilizing keywords from the customer’s answers.

Point 3: “Why?” Importance of “Why?

If you have a question or feel that you have a “point” to make, immediately ask “Why?”


This has been a report on how to listen to the issues customers have by using open and closed questions.
The inside sales call method can be applied to sales activities under telework and remote work, as well as to online sales.

The writer of this article.
Miyuki Saito

Manager, Global Solutions Department

Over 15 years of experience as a marketing manager, product manager, promotion, etc. for various global B2B companies.

Has executed many projects to support foreign companies wishing to start sales activities in Japan to expand their business overseas.

Graduated from the University of California, Berkeley.

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