Advice: Learning the Basics of Sales?

A picture of Jered Sobel

Have you ever watched a new salesperson work through his or her first number of fresh opportunities? Every moment, no matter how seemingly insignificant, has a strange intensity to it. That is because they don’t know what to expect, they don’t know what negative (or positive!) consequence will come each little action they take. Each little positive interaction they have is a triumph. Sometimes new salespeople may not recognize that a specific positive interaction may not have been the best outcome possible.

I recall a conversation I overheard between a manager and a relatively new salesperson. The salesperson was recapping her day and stated, “It was a pretty great day! Everyone was pleasant to work with, they opened up and shared with me. I gave some great presentations. I think there was a lot of value built!”

The manager paused for a second, thinking about what he had heard. He then asked, “How many did you sell?” The salesperson shook her head negatively.

“Well, then, it was a horrible day,” he explained. “You worked really hard all day, but since you are paid strictly on commission, you didn’t earn anything today for all that work you put in.”

The salesperson had learned how to get from greeting the customer to doing a great presentation. She didn’t know how or where to take it from there. A deeper dive into why she was having great experiences but was unable to close the deal revealed what it always does: the experience she was having wasn’t the best scenario to be in.

I have been working on a series of videos for Sobel University during the last few months. I have been focusing principles to guide your behavior when no one else is looking.

All the best sales techniques and processes should derive from core principles. As an example, if you have a principle in place such as: “Thou shall not defame clients,” then at no point should there be a technique or process used that results in insulting a customer.

Let’s go back to that salesperson I mentioned earlier. The challenge faced by the salesperson has two parts. First, “Where did she learn the basics of sales?” Secondly, “Does she know how to apply those basics in today’s world in a variety of circumstances?”


Let’s Talk About the Basics


What wins any game is the flawless execution of fundamentals. In college basketball’s March Madness tournament, the team that is disciplined defensively and makes its lay-ups/free throws and has mastered the other fundamentals of basketball has a good chance of winning the national championship. The fundamentals define the game’s end score.

This is no different than helping that next customer. If the core sales fundamentals are cemented in place, there will always be a good chance of helping that customer go camping in an RV you’ve helped them obtain. However, if the fundamentals are not in place and adhered to, new circumstances like amount of floor traffic changing, leads to varied and changing end results. A winning score becomes less certain.

Have you ever seen a salesperson struggle to adapt when they didn’t know what their proper next step should be. I certainly have. That missing next step in a salesperson’s tool box decidedly indicates sales fundamentals are either unknown or not practiced.

As the world seems to be changing on a weekly basis this year, salespeople must have the fundamentals in place. In my basketball analogy I mentioned, the fundamental of knowing how to dribble the ball and being good at it are two different things. Constant training and practicing are required for achieving excellence. That is true for the fundamentals of sales, also.

It begins with those first customers you saw in 2020. With those potential clients, you should have initiated your normal sales process while building urgency by emphasizing how the cost of manufacturing is going up, along with possibly higher fuel prices due to the world we live in. Potential customers should have been reminded that 2020 models were now being built with 2020 labor rates and materials costs. Remember, back then we were looking at uncertainty over tariffs? Doing these things translates into applied fundamentals.

In February, when the world changed again, customers were still coming through the doors. An added conversation about how supply chains were going to be having issues with receiving material and parts from around the world could have been added. This situation would create supply-and-demand issues that would result in less availability and higher prices. Creating urgency in the sales process is a sales fundamental.

A month later, before any state issued a “stay at home” order, I was providing focused training on how RVs are the perfect place to quarantine and be safe. I was regularly having conversations with managers and salespeople, telling them this was not like the recession in 2008. I explained how floor traffic would drop, how people would be conditioned to buying online. I explained how what we saw in March was not a financial crisis like back in 2008. The sales techniques and their application garnering leads and marketing had to be adjusted, while retaining the same basic sales fundamentals.

For those potential customers that didn’t want to part with cash in these uncertain times, we had to play on the principle of “Kobiyashi Maru” made famous by the fictional Star Trek movies. If you are a movie buff, you may recall from the movie the ultimate lesson: the no-win scenario does not exist. Ever.

In March, we had to train salespeople on how financing rates were at record low and how that could be an advantage in the sales process. Salespeople should advise customers to not pull their cash out of a declining stock market which would equate to losses but instead finance out the purchase with amazingly favorable terms. When the market bounced back, they could then pay it off while having paid very little interest. There were a number of other techniques discussed, as well, from delaying payments to customer stimulus packages that allowed us to find many other ways to help our customers.

As states started to shut down and adjust work rules, I was pushing dealerships hard to take advantage of the time without traffic to follow up with previously sold customers. It was a time to study hard and plan for future sales—another sales fundamental.

The techniques I am explaining here are based off of core fundamentals exemplified in the book Principle Centered Selling. It states, “Because of our clients, we exist,’ and there is a whole section on “Empathy” that is really insightful.

We should be reaching out to our customers with empathy first, finding out what we could do to help them. Relationship strengthening and leveraging expertise are fundamentals deployed through the concept of empathy.

As an example, if you were lucky enough to help a former customer through those calls attain needed parts or supplies, you had a chance to improve the relationship for future business. Those relationships will last through that customer’s future buying cycles. Did you recognize that opportunity and act on it?

We continue to exist as an industry because when selling conditions get difficult, we work together to take extra care of our customers. As a result, they stay in this industry with us. At the same time, I have watched many stores struggle as salespeople and managers fail to invest the time in developing their client bases. They were content to take advantage of the record amounts of floor traffic during the last number of years. They were not prepared to help customers from home if need be as is now a current trend.

What has been fun throughout the first half of this year was to watch those individuals who have spent the last year working hard to develop themselves and what that equated to. Their success has been a stark contrast compared to those that didn’t make a similar investment in themselves. There are a great number of dealerships that had a profitable April. There was an even greater number of salespeople on track for a record sales year. I hope you are one of them!

Recently I was training a salesperson who had yet to return from furlough, and I was asked, “What is it you are seeing that is making so many people so effective right now? Is it a special marketing thing? Is it a product or a website thing?”

After pausing to reflect, I said, “The difference is in their preparation over the last year or two.” I then gave an example of a dealership that was viewed as a small less significant sibling to its sister stores, based on its smaller market size.

Managers there hit the reset button a couple years ago and implemented training every morning. Their staff had been working with one of my trainers on a regular basis. In 2020, they were profitable in April and were on track for a record May. Those other sister store didn’t see the same results.

I also told him of a good-sized dealership in a great market that had three salespeople and a manager carry 80 percent of the store’s normal sales. Why? Because they decided more than a year ago that all four of them would learn everything they could. I talked about a store with a previous May sales record of less then 50 units. It recently had a single week in May with close to 40 deliveries. The increased 2020 May sales numbers happened because the staff decided that it was time to step it up in 2020. They starting to implement the necessary work last fall.

No one knows what is going to happen next, but we do know the world is going to change again. We have to be constantly working on fundamentals and not be afraid of adapting techniques to positively impact unexpected changes.

Being able to do this stems from working on core fundamentals long before they are needed — making sure fundamentals are always in place and a focus point. Along with maintaining that core comes studying the industry and training on processes to ensure we are current and relevant in the ways our customers need.

All the work we did last year put us in the position to succeed with what life gave us this year. As campgrounds open and campers are itching to get their new RVs on the road, never forget what it took to get them there.

The best salespeople and dealerships look beyond the next ‘up.’ What you practice today establishes the groundwork for your success tomorrow. Always ask yourself, “what is the hard work beyond what I am doing now that’s needed to better position myself for whatever comes next?”

Author bio:

Jered Sobel serves as faculty at Sobel University, a company dedicated to training top dealerships and salespeople around the country. His previous experience includes working as a dealership salesperson, hiring dealer staff and working as a general sales manager.

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