Fable Friday: The all-time best sales question ever

Last year my friend JoAnn and her family, along with her brother and his family, took a vacation to Europe.  Long trip, lots of people, lots of mishaps.  At one stop they were confused about how to find their hotel, when JoAnn’s brother Tom said, “Let me handle this.  I speak Spanish.”

Well, the relevancy of Spanish was in some question as they were in Amsterdam at the time, but Tom took control, stopped a pedestrian and shouted, “POR FAH-VOR, DOAN DAY ess-TAH EL HOTEL HEEL-TON.”  The man looked at Tom for a few seconds, in the way a dog looks at a card trick and then replied in flawless, unaccented English, “If you’re looking for the Hilton, just go down this street and turn left at the corner. It’s on your left.”

I’m sure it’s happened to all of us at one time or another. Try as we might, we just can’t find the exact right thing to ask, or what to say.  I remember reading a story about a famous Chilean scientist who visited a California university to spend a year there collaborating on an important project. Sent to greet him at the airport was one of the top people in his field from the university.  The American scientist agonized over what he should say to his South American counterpart and when they finally met, all he could come out with was, “It must be really interesting to come from a country that’s long and narrow.”

Because I teach people how to sell things, I’m often in workshops where we discuss and practice so-called “killer questions,” the best questions we should ask a prospect or client on a sales call.  I’ll give you one of my favorites, which has never failed me.

Some years ago I flew across the country at my own expense for a one-hour meeting with a large banking prospect.  I knew I couldn’t afford to leave the call and then wonder if I’d asked all the right questions. So as I was wrapping up I simply said to my prospect,

“I’d like to think we’ve covered everything, but just to be on the safe side, could you help me?  What question did I not ask you that you think I should have asked?”

As it turned out, it was the perfect question, as my prospect discussed two issues that were important to him that I never would have considered, and it led to a great project.

So the question worked because it 1) was customer-centric, 2) got the prospect highly engaged, and 3) resulted in a successful call.  Rather than feel like he was doing my job for me, my prospect felt that he was partnering with me to find a solution, and that’s just how all sales calls should go.  You try it on your next call and see what you learn.  It’s the greatest sales question of all time in my experience.

By the way, getting back to Tom and JoAnn, the family had the last laugh for the rest of the vacation.  Each day one of them would say to Tom something like, “Hey, how about today we go visit the BEEB LEE OH TAKE UH!”

Think Like Your Customer


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

5 Responses to Fable Friday: The all-time best sales question ever

  1. Valerie Fletcher Adolph says:

    Great stories! They reinforce your theme so well.

  2. As I brace myself for my next professional adventure, I will make sure to revisit this. Thank you! Elizabeth in Kansas City

  3. Suzykedz says:

    Great story – and reminds me of the year I spent an entire summer studying Dutch in preparation for an upcoming business trip, only to arrive in Holland and find that everyone spoke perfect English! Too funny.

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