Getting the right people on your dealership’s sales staff is one thing; coaching them to be highly successful in their craft is an even more challenging task. Having collaborated with more than 400 dealers in the past 20 years, I have identified five common characteristics of rock star-caliber sales professionals. Let’s review.

1. They Have Exceptional Listening Skills
A prestigious university once offered two elective courses on their spring semester schedule: “The Art of Speaking” and “The Art of Listening.” So many students registered for The Art of Speaking that it had to be expanded to three different sections. The Art of Listening class never happened, because only a few students signed up. Everybody wanted to learn how to talk; nobody wanted to learn how to listen.

For the real-deal sales professional, listening to customers isn’t limited to just hearing words. Listening is an art form. High-performing salespeople are in touch with a customer’s mood, attitude and storyline, as well as their articulated needs.

A Boston sales professional once told me about the time she decided to stay with an elderly husband and wife while they completed their purchase paperwork in the finance office. She encouraged them to share their story about a planned move to Central Florida. She poured them a coffee, brought them bagels from the lounge, and listened attentively as they proudly talked about their sons, who had recently assumed control of the family’s nationwide paint supply business. The entire purchase process was smooth and efficient, and the couple left happy.

About three months later, one of their sons contacted the dealership and wanted to speak with the woman who treated his parents like family. Their paint business was interested in negotiating leases on several trucks for their paint stores in the Florida market. Being a good listener might not pay off with every customer, but when it does, the results speak for ­themselves.

2. Their Product Knowledge Is Impeccable
A friend of mine was interested in purchasing a 2016 Camaro and wanted the salesperson at the dealership he visited to explain the differences between the RS and SS trim packages. The bewildered salesperson’s response was, “Excuse me for a few minutes while I go to the Chevy website and print that out for you.” My friend didn’t want a piece of paper. He wanted a conversation with a knowledgeable sales pro.
Here’s a list of basics items that are mastered by successful sales professionals:

  • Thorough familiarity with the features and benefits of your entire product line
  • Available colors, styles and models
  • History of the product and unique manufacturing processes 
  • Product warranty and servicing information
  • Your dealership’s unique sales proposition
  • Knowledge of your competitors’ products
  • Knowledge of your competitors’ sales proposition
  • Marketing trends that impact the sale of your product

I was having dinner in a city where I was serving a client dealer. In casual conversation, the waiter mentioned that he had just bought a new car and the salesperson didn’t know how to set up his Bluetooth feature. That’s inexcusable. If my eight-year-old grandson can sync his iPad with my playlist, shouldn’t a sales professional be able to sync his own product with his customer’s phone?

3. They Have a Whatever-It-Takes Attitude Toward Service
Having a servant’s heart is a relationship-building mindset that eludes the majority of mediocre salespeople. I bought a new car a few months ago. After building it out on the manufacturer’s website, I wanted to have it delivered to my home by a dealership that I trusted in Jacksonville, Fla., which is a good three-hour drive from me.

What you should probably know is that I’m not the world’s best customer. My expectations are extraordinarily high, my patience is limited, and I’m easily disappointed by simple service mistakes.

So when my vehicle was ready for delivery, I anticipated a legendary service experience — and that’s exactly what I got. The salesperson went above and beyond to guarantee my complete satisfaction. The vehicle was delivered to my home on the day and the time I expected it. Final paperwork was completed on my dining room table, and then I received a professional and thorough explanation of the vehicle’s features and benefits. The salesperson and his driver offered to buy me lunch, but I was off to a meeting, so they returned to Jacksonville.

I received all the customary follow-up contacts from the salesperson as well as a beautiful gift for purchasing from the dealership. I could not have scripted a better purchase and delivery experience. The salesperson later friended me on Facebook and I’ve since recommended several of my friends, relatives and business contacts to him.

4. They Are Skilled at Overcoming Challenges and Obstacles
It’s not uncommon for car deals to encounter bumps along the proverbial road to the sale. Whether it’s the offer on a trade-in, the down payment required or the interest rate, challenges and obstacles are inherent to the business. Having said that, sales professionals who know what they’re doing are experts at creating a stress-free experience for their customers.

As a 30-year automotive sales veteran once told me, “No two sales deals are exactly alike. And because of that, it takes a dealership with extraordinary teamwork to consistently exceed the customer’s expectations.”

He recalled a husband and wife who wanted to welcome their 24-year-old son home from active duty in the military by presenting him with a new Dodge Charger on Christmas Eve. The soldier was scheduled to arrive at the airport at 5 p.m. His parents wanted to have his Christmas gift waiting in the driveway when they got home.

When the salesperson took delivery that morning, he noticed that the customized wheels were not what the customer ordered. The vendor that installed the wheels was closed for the holiday. With the help of the service director, he was able to locate an alternate supplier in the space of a few hours. He personally went to retrieve the correct wheels, had them installed, and made it to the couple’s home before they left for the airport — complete with a big red bow.

5. They Grow and Develop Long-Term Customer Relationships
True sales professionals understand that selling a car is substantially more than a business transaction. It can be the beginning of a long-term relationship — even with customers who only want to know what you’ve done for them lately.

Another salesman friend of mine drives what can only be described as a “monster” truck. One day, in the midst of a tropical storm, a customer of his who works as a hospice chaplain called to ask for his assistance. He had a dying patient to attend to and his car was unable to navigate the heavily flooded streets. Without hesitation, my friend stopped what he was doing and left the dealership to give the chaplain a ride.

When his customer shared that experience with his colleagues and congregation, word spread pretty quickly in the community that this particular sales professional merited consideration for their automotive needs.

While these five fundamental habits describe the behavior of highly successful sales professionals, there is one undeniably important quality that enhances their credibility and effectiveness. See, without a foundation of impeccable integrity, the five habits cannot sustain themselves. Warren Buffet said it best: “Look for three things in a person: intelligence, energy and integrity. And if they don’t have the last one, don’t even bother with the first two.”

Tom McQueen is’s automotive industry expert, and has consulted with more than 400 dealerships on performance improvement and employee engagement. Email him at [email protected].