Sound Sales Advice

The 7 deadly sins of sales and how not to commit them

By Jeff Sheets

When addressing a topic like sales, my sincere hope is to give you ways to think about how your dealership can sell better. By examining what not to do, you can head in the opposite direction and achieve greater success.

All salespeople suffer through slumps when they’re unable to reach customers like they did in the past. They can develop bad habits that gradually continue, and over time, repeat them with little or no thought because they become part of their routine. Salespeople need to break that vicious cycle by doing something differently. If you have employees who are starting a sales position, good early training can be very helpful, so they don’t develop bad habits and can enjoy success.

Regardless of your dealership’s current situation, I want to assure you that there is a better way for you to achieve sales success, and not committing the following seven sins is a great place to start.

#1 Lack of product knowledge

I list this sin first because you need to make customers feel that you have some information that helps them see your product as fulfilling their needs in some way. I realize that many of today’s tech-savvy customers are pretty knowledgeable because of easy access to an abundance of information via the Internet, but you should possess some knowledge that makes you look like an expert in the field. It may be repair information based on your service department’s experience with a product. It could be a manufacturer’s memo telling you something that the general public may not know. Whatever “expert” information that you’ve acquired, you need to be able to pass it along to your customers to deepen their knowledge. You may also need to discredit bad information that your customers might have found prior to visiting your dealership. In either situation, your goal should be to follow the Boy Scouts’ motto of “be prepared.”

#2 Failure to get to know your customer

I think most customers want to feel that salespeople care about, and understand, their needs. If you don’t ask questions, then you’ll never get to know the person that you’re trying to sell to. The questions don’t always have to be product related either, although that is the ultimate goal. When I don’t know a person or I sense an uncomfortable situation, I often use the weather as a great icebreaker — no pun intended. I tell customers that it’s either too hot or too cold, too rainy or too snowy, too windy or very calm, or just perfect, and then ask them if they feel the same way. Sometimes, a non-sales-related introductory question can trigger the sales process, so you can ask more direct questions about what they are looking for and find the right solution to fit their needs. Sometimes, your customers want to give you more information than you need. But if you develop a relationship with your customers, then you stand a much better chance of selling more to them in the future.

#3 Not asking for the sale

I’ve heard salespeople do a fantastic job with customers of asking questions, developing rapport, and providing great information, only to not hear them ask for the sale. Generally, they will say, “Well, let me know if I can answer any more questions, and here is my business card.” When I hear this in an OPE dealership, I politely pull the salesperson aside at an appropriate moment and ask, “Why did you take that approach?” I realize that many times the customer has said, “We’re just looking.” But, how many of you have said that even though you fully intended to buy something? Sometimes, customers don’t tell you their true intentions, or they aren’t even sure of them until someone asks them if they want to buy an item. You do your customers a disservice when not asking them for the sale because you could end their journey for whatever it is they’re looking for — right then and there — and save them the time and effort of going elsewhere or possibly making a return trip. ASK FOR THE SALE!

#4 Discounting the price is the solution

Discounting can be a problem for an OPE dealership, especially if every salesperson is doing it. Your profit margins are fairly small on most products, so you need to maximize your profit on each product. Ask yourself, “If I sell this product today for less, would someone come in and buy it for more tomorrow?” If it is a high-demand product and you’re in the height of your sales season, then don’t discount it unless it’s old inventory that you want to get rid of. After the season, depending on what’s leftover, you may need to discount the item, especially if you’re going to have to pay interest on it. A good salesperson finds more than the price to talk about and shows a customer why the product is worth the investment.

#5 Forgetting others who might be involved in the decision

A great two-part question to ask customers is: “Who else will be involved in your buying decision, or who else would you like me to talk to?” Find out why those people are important to the buying decision and what is most important to them. Those questions will separate you from a lot of salespeople who won’t even think to ask them, and the customers’ responses will deepen your knowledge of the sales situation.

#6 Lack of excitement about your dealership or products

This is the sin that gets me fired up the most! When I’m in a dealership and notice a salesperson is not enjoying what he or she is doing and not engaging the customer in a positive experience, I get really upset. Your level of excitement must be higher than your customers, so that you can help them get excited about whatever you’re selling. As a salesperson, you should pick several things about each product that you can highlight that are better or innovative in some way and make sure you highlight those things as much as possible. It might be your award-winning service department or how much you enjoy the opportunity to work there and help people. Elevate your level of excitement, and it will translate to your customers.

#7 Failure to listen

You can do everything right when it comes to asking the right questions, presenting a great product, and even attempting to close a sale, but if you have not really heard your customers express their concerns or addressed their objections, you are destined to lose the sale. We live in such a fast-paced society that I think the art of listening has been lost. We can get so distracted by a myriad of things going on at any given time that we tend to forget this foundational principle in all parts of our lives, not just the sales process. Learn to listen well, and you will know what it is your customer wants and needs with very few surprises.

There are so many other sales don’ts that I could have covered in this article, but these are the seven biggest ones based on my dealership visits. As Harry F. Banks said, “A salesperson minus enthusiasm is just another clerk.” I really think that is one of the foundational building blocks of doing well in sales. If you are not enthusiastic, then you’re probably guilty of committing the other six sins in this article. I want all of you to think of your customers first and give them what you would want if you were a customer. You would want the best, and that is what you should aspire to be.

Jeff Sheets is the founder and owner of OPE Consulting Services. Whether a business is thriving or struggling to survive, Sheets’ rich experience in both the corporate and not-for-profit sectors allows him to partner with business owners to customize unique strategies for their needs. For the past 11 years, he has worked extensively with hundreds of outdoor power equipment dealers to create best practices in business structure, personnel management and financial profitability. For more information, he may be contacted at or (816) 260-5430. You can also follow him on Twitter @opeconsult, connect with him on LinkedIn, and visit his website at