Infocusselling’s Blog

April 11, 2008




APRIL 2008

If you think you have it tough in your market, consider the auto dealer. Not only does he have to compete with other brands offering similar products, but also with other dealers who sell the exact same product with the same incentives and financing. Over a six-week period from early February to mid March, I visited 13 dealers and spoke with 14 salespeople. I had multiple telephone calls with 4 salespeople at another 3 dealerships, plus 5 dealers via the internet, for a total of 21 dealerships and 24 salespeople, representing three brands. I drove 15 different trucks. It started out as a search for a new truck, and ended up as a case study—in how NOT to sell a car!

What actually happened during my case study was astounding. Of the 14 salespeople I met face-to-face, and 3 more that I had multiple telephone conversations with, only 2 out of 17 (13%) asked more than 2 additional information questions to develop an understanding of my primary buying trigger. A surprisingly low 9 of the 14 face-to-face contacts and 4 of the 8 telephone and internet contacts (13 out of 22, 59% overall) asked, “What color would you like?” Only 6 of those 13 (27% overall) got into the color issue by asking more than one color related question. Had more people asked, “What about the white or gray do you like?” they would have found out that my intent was to put graphics on the truck to match my boat. If you want to help a buyer spend a lot of money with you, find out what is really driving his or her decision. If you are not in the car business, how does this relate to you? Because the core concepts of good selling transcend all industries. The good salespeople heard what I said, listened for what I did not say, and asked the appropriate digging questions to find out the rest of the story. Excellent questioning skills are critical for success in any sales position and the more competition in your market, the more important they become. How many times do you listen to the first thing a prospect says and think you know the rest of the story? You are either assuming the rest of the story or you don’t care. If it is the former, here’s a secret about buyers—they all play a little poker and never show their full hand. If you think your prospect has told you all of the details and factors in their decision in their answer to your first question and that it is now time for you to start pitching, you are seriously mistaken and must read the full case study which will be released soon at If it is the latter, that you don’t care, you need to get out of sales now before you ruin the reputation of your employer.

Another category was the salesperson’s ability to connect with me, to understand my buying style. The best salespeople quickly figured out my communication and decision making style and adapted to me right away. I am what is called a high-D or dominant on the DISC communication style model. I want broad discussions with minimal details, am going to make quick bottom line oriented decisions, and want to feel like I am in charge of the buying process. People who try to impress me with product knowledge are likely to irritate me by telling me things that I did not ask about. One salesperson asked me if I knew what a hemi was. Looking at his age, I replied that I remembered when hemis were out long before he was born. His next question was more insulting. “Do you know about the MDS system?” I responded, “Yes, I do know how it shuts down cylinders.” He then went on to explain how it worked and how it would make a big difference on fuel economy. I did not ask for any explanation and I never mentioned fuel economy as a buying criteria. A much better question would have been, “How important is fuel mileage in your new truck?” to see if it mattered at all. Keep your questions open to drive communication. If the question can be fully answered “yes” or “no” it is the wrong type of question to ask if you are looking for a complete understanding of your prospect’s wants and needs.

Follow through and returning calls was a category to test whether sales people would live up to their promises and if they had a system for staying in touch with prospects after a visit. I test drove one truck that did not have a hitch but the truck had an adequate tow rating. We spent several minutes comparing the undersides of trucks with and without hitches and it looked like an easy bolt on, although there was one bracket we could not decipher. I said, “This truck would be perfect if we can get a hitch on it; everything else is exactly what I am looking for.” He said he would check with service first thing on Monday and call me before 10:00AM to let me know if service thought it would be a problem to install and how much it would be. He never called. Not like he didn’t call until 3 or not until Tuesday, he never called at all. This was an example of a 0 score on Follow Through. The quality of emails and faxes, the fourth category, was very wide. Some of them were good and included questions about needs, preferences, options, and usage. Others lacked tact. One salesperson was very honest during a telephone call that the dealership really did not want my trade in. No problem. I said that I had a few options on the car and that I would look into them. Then sent me an email saying, “Hope you get rid of the Mazda before this beautiful truck sells.” Get rid of? Even though I was going to trade in or sell the Mazda, do you really want to imply that I need to “get rid of” my car while you have a “beautiful truck”? A much better email would have been, “We hope that you are able to find a new home for your Mazda before someone else buys this truck from us.” This would have implied that while they did not want my car, it was a nice car in need of a good home, and that there were other people looking at their vehicle to build more urgency in my process. This was a high score on follow through but a low score on quality due to the message inside the message. I received another email from a salesperson who told me that a deal was pending on the truck on which I inquired and that I “could check back in a few days to see if it was still available.” I could check back? I’m glad I have his permission to pick up my telephone or keyboard and reach out to him to spend my money. Does he realize that I am the buyer and that it is his role to help me buy and not my role to help him sell? A much better response would have been, “Unfortunately, there is a deal pending on that particular truck and I will know in a few days if it went through. In the meantime, what is it about that truck that is of most interest to you?” This was another high score on follow through because it was fast, but a low score on quality due to the message inside the message.


If you want to be successful at selling, and especially if you have a lot of competition, differentiate yourself by understanding and connecting with prospects better than your competition. Use an intentional question sequence to get to the core of the issue. For every goal stated, there is a lot more detail that will help you get the commitment you seek. For every stated want or need, there is an underlying issue that you must discover to help your prospect buy sooner and buy bigger. Learn how to read people and how to dig beneath the poker-playing prospect who shows you half a hand. When you are an expert in communication and questions, the biggest differentiation in your business will be top line sales and bottom line profits. Stay focused on the prospect, dig deeper with each question, and get ready to pocket more cash.


Jeff Bowe, Principal of ACTUM Group is a sales trainer and sales coach who focuses on helping sales people improve their skills and increase their income, while increasing corporate profit as well. For more information on Jeff, click here Jeff can be contacted at or 317-577-3750.




  1. Jeff,
    Love this blog. I relate as I hate to be over whelmed with details about something.

    Comment by sscalph — April 12, 2008 @ 10:52 am

  2. Jeff – Your posting is great. Your experience confirms that the majority of sales people suffer from what I call the 3Ps virus where they spew price, product or proposal (promotion) without truly making a connection to the potential customer.

    Comment by Coach-Lee — April 15, 2008 @ 9:41 am

  3. You are both right! Some people like and need details and others do not. If you are like me who does not want details, you can talk me out of a sale. I watched this happen at Sears when I was a child. My dad and I (Ok, really just him) walked in to buy a riding lawnmower (I think so he could keep me busy more). We had been looking at them for two years and were ready to go. The guy would not shut up long enough for my dad ( a great salesman) to schedule a delivery date! When we walked out, my dad gave me one of my first lessons on selling–when someone is ready to buy, shut up and let them buy.

    So, talk less, sell more.

    Good luck out there!

    Comment by INFOCUSSelling Team — April 17, 2008 @ 8:58 am

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