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Nine Skills Imperative for Your Sales Success

Mark Rodgers has worked with literally thousands of people over the last 25 years and have developed a solid model for sales development. If you want to be successful in this or any business, you need to have exceptional product knowledge, superior language skills and process proficiency. Here are some quick questions to ask yourself and your team.

I  remember it like it was yesterday …The year was 1984, Van Halen was on the charts with that ridiculous song called “Jump,” Gretzky was still on the ice, and Ronald Reagan had announced he would be seeking a second term. Harley-Davidson had just come out with their Softail model (1984 ½ with a kicker!) and I was a long-haired college sophomore (mullet!). The place was my academic advisor’s office.  
“What about job security?” I asked the curmudgeonly communications professor Cove Hoover. Cove’s slate grey eyes pierced my young adult consciousness as he furrowed his bushy white eyebrows disapprovingly. In a voice that would make James Earl Jones jealous, he said, “You, Mark Rodgers, are your own job security.”

Like Paul on the Road to Damascus, this is when I had my epiphany. I was in control of my career fate. If I wanted to be successful, I had to acquire necessary skills, become expert at their use and seek out opportunities to use them in a way that maximized my return.

Huh. Ain’t that a kick in the head? It was, for me, a liberating idea.

Development isn’t easy, which is why so few people actually engage in it. Have you ever known someone who tells you they have 25 years of experience, but you very quickly find out they have one year of experience that they’ve repeated 25 times?

I once had a person tell me they bought our book and it didn’t improve their sales. I asked if they read it and used any of the ideas. They said, “No.” I responded, with no small amount of derision, “It isn’t a magic book. It takes tenacity, it takes resolve and it takes self-discipline to improve and ensure your success.
If you want to move forward in this business, you better get busy on the tough work of self-development, because I have news for you — customers are getting smarter by the minute.

We’ve worked with literally thousands of people over the last 25 years and have developed a solid model for sales development. If you want to be successful in this or any business, you need to have exceptional product knowledge, superior language skills and process proficiency. Here are some quick questions to ask yourself and your team.

Product Knowledge
Can you give three clear, concise and compelling reasons why someone should do business with you?
This is known as your value proposition and is the most basic question you can be asked. Although a more general type of product knowledge question, you’d be shocked at how many people, dealer principals included, can’t answer this question. You’ve got to be able to articulate how doing business with you benefits them.

Can you tell me the basics of your products without having to look them up in the brochure?
You certainly don’t need to be able to recite gear ratios, but you should be able to tell me things like fuel capacity, dry weight and mileage without running to an app. Some ask, “Why remember something you can easily look up?” One word: credibility. This is your profession, the way you earn your living. Shouldn’t you have some level of expertise in it? I have another word for those who have to look up the basics: lazy.

Can you tell me something about your product that isn’t in the brochure?
This is a real key to your success in today’s marketplace. Everyone, and I mean everyone, does Internet research before making a significant purchase. What you need to provide is a smack in the head, “aha!” moment, information they can’t get anywhere else. Read voraciously, ride enthusiastically and get insights from as many people as possible about your products. Then synthesize this information into key differentiators. People spend time with those who improve their condition.

Language Skills
Do you ask interesting and thought provoking questions?
“What kind of riding are you planning on doing?” Please, for the love of all that is creative; tell me we can ask better questions than that! It’s a fair enough question, but it has seen its day.
Here are some more interesting options”

  • “It’s your day off, it’s just you and your motorcycle, what do you do and where do you go?”
  • “If you could have Willie ‘G’ design just one more bike, what would it be?”
  • “What do you think was the best motorcycle of all time? Why?”
  • “If you had to choose between form or function in a motorcycle design, which would it be?” “If you had to describe your riding style in just one word, what would it be?”

Do you use excellent word choice and language to communicate?
“Our savviest customers put 20 to 25 percent down on their motorcycle purchase. This puts them in a terrific equity position.” The word ‘savvy’ here is aspirational, everyone wants to be it. “Here’s what I’m going to recommend, let’s pick out the motorcycle that’s right for you, then, we’ll introduce you to our business manager.” ‘Recommend’ is a term that connotes authority and expertise. People defer to experts. ‘Recommend,’ ‘suggest,’ and ‘advise’ are all what I call ‘expert language.’ Some words are simply more compelling than others.

Can you use metaphor, simile and analogy well?
Forget about defining each, just try and use language that evokes powerful mental imagery.

  • “This 45 degree angle V-Twin is the heart and soul of this motorcycle.”
  • “The powercoated clear on this paint job is as hard as a diamond.”
  • “Hitting second gear on the Harley-Davidson V Rod is like a F18 Hornet launching from USS Nimitz.”

Don’t overdo it with these; a little goes a long way. But with judicious use, descriptive language can be very persuasive.

Process Proficiency
Can you prove you understand that sales success is really a series of small agreements and that you know how to obtain them?
The science is irrefutable. People who make small agreements early in a relationship are much more likely to make bigger commitments later. I was working with a dealership person who was responding to an Internet lead. As he thrashed at his computer’s keyboard I inquired about his email’s objective. He temporarily halted his abuse, looked at me like I was as dumb as a bag of hammers and said incredulously, “I’m trying to sell this guy a motorcycle!”

He didn’t get it. You don’t try and sell a motorcycle via email. You try and get the prospect to return your email. That’s the first “yes” you should be trying to achieve.

Do you have a defined and demonstrable progression to your sales process?
Establishing a relationship with someone is all well and good, but too intangible to manage effectively. Step one: capture name and contact information. If you can’t write down a prospect’s first and last name, cell number and email address after speaking with them for 15 minutes, what in heaven’s name are you doing out there?


For each step of your process, you need to be able to provide observable proof that you’ve reached that next step. Whether it’s having them sit on the bike or compete a test ride evaluation review, you need an outcome that indicates you are moving forward. As an aside, you need to realize that you have to establish rapport in order to capture contact information. If that’s not understood, go back to square one.
You know how to ask for the business?

More than 60 percent of all retail transactions are not consummated because the salesperson doesn’t do one thing: ask for the business. Do you demonstrate regularly that you can ask professionally yet assertively for the customer’s business? Because not being able to do this classifies you as nothing more than a professional visitor.

These are by no means the only skills necessary, but they are a great start to giving you substantive, real world targets to calibrate your own development.

I remember it like it was yesterday … It was 1988 and it was my second day at Hannum’s Harley-Davidson. I had just met Rita Hannum who as about five feet nothing and often came to the dealership directly from her tennis workout. She stood intentionally close with a burning, intense demeanor only a dealership owner knows and said, “Mark, here at Hannum’s you’re only one of two things. You’re either an asset or a liability. Which of those two things will you be?”

Needless to say, the conversation left quite an impression since I’m still talking about it all these years later. To be an asset and to experience success yourself, you have to acquire necessary skills, become expert at their use and seek out opportunities to use them in a way that maximizes your return.
In this business, you’re either an asset or a liability. Which of those two things will you be?  

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