O-P-C: The Framework for Asking Thoughtful Questions


verb; gerund or present participle: pitching

  1. to throw or fling roughly or casually.

“He crumpled the can and threw it into the alley.”

By definition, “pitching” is done without care and often ends with a lackluster result. While the definition we use in sales may be more targeted, the outcome is the same.

I know what you’re thinking: Julie, this seems like semantics. Besides, what’s the harm in an occasional pitch? It might even work every now and then.

The harm is this: B2B buyers can now evaluate solutions without interacting with sales professionals. Prospects who choose to engage sellers are seeking trusted advisors who are equipped to solve their most pressing business concerns. Resorting to pitching with these individuals is a surefire way to damage your credibility, personal brand, and, by extension, your company’s reputation.

What’s the solution? It’s a curious one.

We have a saying in America, “Curiosity killed the cat.” It’s a warning that being too inquisitive can get you into trouble. In B2B sales, it’s the opposite. The saying should be, “Curiosity helped the sales rep make president’s club.”

Conveying curiosity through thoughtful questioning and active listening builds business relationships by demonstrating sincere interest and elevating the conversation above the transactional.

The key is to be genuine in your interest, consultative in your approach, and remember that discovery is an ongoing element of any effective sales cycle. To ensure that you truly understand the potential buyer’s issues, business problems, priorities and motivations, you’ll need to master O-P-C questions.

  • Open-ended:

These questions further high-level business conversations by allowing for expansive answers. Remember to keep these simple instead of complex and be careful not to lead the prospect in any way.

By leaving the answer open, you’ll gain crucial insight into a prospect’s thinking. If you listen carefully, you’ll also learn the unique word choice they employ.

  • Probing:

Here’s your chance to drill down further, uncover the most pressing business challenges, and determine the value that the right solution will provide. Probing questions often result in “yes” or “no” answers and are meant to clarify.

Don’t be afraid to hear “no” either. It’s all about respectful persistence and formulating a mutual understanding of which problems are worth solving.

  • Confirming:

Once you believe that you’ve identified those impactful issues and solutions, test your accuracy. Here’s where those active listening skills pay off. Be sure to mirror the prospect’s terminology when confirming business issues and motivations.

Top sellers have long prized the ability to ask phenomenal questions. When we surveyed more than 150 senior sales leaders and asked about questioning techniques, top performers scored an average of 8 on a 10-point scale while the rest of the pack came in at 5.3. Once you master this approach, you’ll be in good company and well on your way to marking more deals closed-won.

If you want to dive deeper into the benefits of curiosity and thoughtful questioning, check out:

Of course, hearing a “no” late in the stage cycle is another matter. For the complete guide to handling sales objections, join us on July 15 at 10 am Pacific.

Until next time, happy selling,