Some Help Growing Tomatoes

 The legendary Dale Carnegie was once invited to a dinner party, and the hostess called him aside and said, “Mr. Carnegie, I wonder if you can help me.  Doctor (Name) is a guest tonight.  He’s a botanist and rather shy, so I hoped you might spend a few minutes with him and draw him out a bit, make sure he has an enjoyable evening.”

It’s Fable Friday again, and today I want to share an instructive story about how and why we ask questions.  You may recall an earlier post when I demonstrated how effective questions help you sell by leading the customer through the self-discovery process, in that case how to sell insurance.

In my training workshops, I always ask learners what are the three most important reasons why we ask questions.  They generally respond with only one:  to get information in order to learn the customer’s needs, and what and how to sell.  Of course this is true, but the other more powerful reason is to conduct self-discovery.  And the third is the one we will examine today.

Back to our story.  Carnegie is introduced to the botanist and in an effort to engage him in conversation, says “I understand you’re a botanist.  You know, my wife and I are planning to grow tomatoes this summer.  I wonder if you can give me some ideas or tips.”

Of course this was music to the botanist’s ears, and for the next two hours he instructed Carnegie on the science and art of growing fruits and vegetables, which Carnegie thoroughly enjoyed, despite making no further contribution to the conversation himself.

When he thanked his hostess at the end of the party, she said “Oh no, thank you Mr. Carnegie.  Dr. (Name) just left and he told me you were the most interesting conversationalist he had ever met!”

So we can see that the third and often most important reason for asking questions is that they demonstrate that we are interested in other people, how they think, what they know, their opinions and feelings, what worries them, the way they would like the world to be, and so on.

Demographers, who study the human population for the purpose of selling things to us, call these “A, I, O’s”, which stands for “Attitudes, Interests and Opinions.”  People love to be asked their opinions on just about anything.  Try it the next time you are invited to a cocktail party. “What do you think of the team’s chances in the playoffs?”  “How is your son doing with his piano lessons?”  “I understand you are a triathlete.  How do you train for that kind of event?”  People will be eating out of your hand.

You don’t believe me?  Years ago when I worked for a market research firm, I oversaw the screening for a focus group and made the mistake of writing in the invitation letter, “There will be a $50 stipend for your attendance at this focus group.”  One lady showed up at the appointed time with a check made out to us in the amount of $50! I guess she wanted to be heard.

So the next time you aren’t sure what you should say in a sales conversation, try asking your prospect for his or her opinion on anything.  They’ll love you for it, and it’s a great way to…

Think Like Your Customer

About Gregory LaMothe
I teach people how to sell things. I own the company ActionSystems. Visit my website at

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